Guest Column: Debate over pace of change in Edina needs perspective

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Mike Fischer serves on the Edina City Council. Additionally, he works as architect with masters degrees in city planning and real estate Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Edina residents care a lot about our city, especially their neighborhoods. The 2008 Comprehensive Plan articulated the desire to retain the unique character of our single-family residential neighborhoods while allowing for change in about 10 percent of our city. These areas include Southdale, Cahill, Grandview, Wooddale and Valley View, 50th and France, and 44th and France districts. We continue to focus on these areas in the 2018 Comprehensive Plan.

Recently, I have noticed a trend, especially through social media, for inaccurate information to be spread throughout our community. A statement is made, someone repeats it, and after the third reiteration, it is treated as a fact. This has been especially prevalent in the past few months as some community members have been reacting to the city’s long-range planning.

For example, the city council and mayor have stated on multiple occasions that the Grandview Green (The Lid) is a “far-term plan” (30 years or more), dependent on significant changes in transportation infrastructure or technology. However, the rumor on social media is that the project is imminent. In a recent Letter to the Editor, a council candidate wrote, “The pace of rapid growth threatens to overwhelm our schools and a street system not designed for rapid growth” and also referred to Edina as a “bedroom community.”

According to the Metropolitan Council’s latest population estimates published in July 2018, Edina has grown 9.5 percent since 2010, slightly ahead of the 8.4 percent average for Hennepin County cities. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro region growth was 7.9 percent, which is slightly lower than peer regions across the country. Demographers had been predicting this metro area growth for at least 10 years.

Many people do not realize we have four school districts operating within the city boundary. Since 2010, the city has approved (not all are constructed) 1,049 multi-family housing units within the Edina School District boundaries. Three hundred and four of those units are senior housing. According to historic data, the remaining 745 units could contribute approximately 75 new students in our schools. The majority of new students are more likely to come from single-family neighborhoods as a result of generational turnover. My street has increased its population by 42 percent since 2010, as our older neighbors have passed on or moved away. This has opened new housing opportunities for young families, who have renovated or redeveloped these homes. Our personal household has gone from a young family of five to an empty nester household in 18 years.

The Edina School District enrolled 8,499 students for the 2017-18 school year, with 14.8 percent coming from open enrollment. Our current student population is significantly lower than the district’s high-water mark of 11,175 students enrolled during the 1969-70 school year. The Edina School District has been able to manage the changes in student population as the city moves through its generational cycles. For example, in one 18-year period, the Edina School District opened a second high school in 1972, then consolidated nine years later into one high school, closed Highlands Elementary in 1982, and eventually leased Highlands to the Eden Prairie School District for six years. Through all this dramatic change in student population, the district built the exceptional academic reputation we enjoy today, which I am confident will continue.

Planning for the future is the one thing we must do if we want to continue to be the premier place to live in the Twin Cities. Edina is a thriving first-ring suburb with more jobs than residents, multiple corporate headquarters, and the fourth-largest tax base in Minnesota. Our challenge is to create a range of affordability and a variety of housing types in Edina so we can provide options for our seniors, and continue to welcome new families to enjoy our high level of amenities and services while keeping our tax rates among the lowest in the Twin Cities.

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