At his final council meeting, Edina’s Bob Stewart issues parting words

January 3, 2019 Off By Delia Keith

Bob Stewart is exiting the Edina City Council after four years of service. (Submitted photo)

During the last meeting of his tenure on the Edina City Council, Bob Stewart issued his wish list for the community he’s served the past four years.

“I’ve always loved Edina,” the 1977 Edina East High School grad said during the Dec. 18 meeting, before listing a series of suggestions aimed at keeping the city worthy of that sentiment.

To Stewart, who will be replaced by election winner Ron Anderson, that means acknowledging the city does not exist on an island.

“We are citizens of Edina,” he said, “but we’re also citizens of the Twin Cities metro area. We’re citizens of Minnesota. We’re citizens of the United States and the world, and we’re merely stewards here trying to create a great place for our children and grandchildren.”

In his parting words, Stewart alluded to ongoing redevelopment conversations that have dominated debate in the city, centering on questions over population density and the community’s character. One concern of some residents has been the impact of added density on the city’s prestigious school system.

“Do not allow this red herring issue that has been raised numerous times in recent months to influence decisions,” Stewart warned.

But many building projects have relied on zoning exceptions in the form of planned use developments, or PUDs, and Stewart advised the council not to overuse the redevelopment mechanism. “There’s no point in having zoning if it becomes a free-for-all and everything is a PUD,” he said.

The affordable-housing proponent, meanwhile, thinks the city should look to all types of redevelopment, not just new apartment buildings, in gleaning funds for affordable housing. Edina’s affordable housing policy should leverage residential tear-down-and-rebuilds and the redevelopment of commercial properties as well, Stewart said. “I think we should burden all sections of redevelopment” for affordable housing, he said.

At the same time, Edina should ensure that it doesn’t sit on too many unused properties, such as Fred Richards Park and Weber Woods. “I don’t want it to get kicked down the road indefinitely,” he said.

But there are some inconvenient facts of life that Edina residents can’t expect to disappear, according to Stewart. “Congestion will continue to be an irritant,” he predicted. “It’s a fact, folks, so let’s plan on it.”

Addressing congestion means looking to mass transit, Stewart explained, and he doesn’t believe busses – even the new rapid transit variety – are the answer, since they are still subject to crowded roads.

“More transit options will be needed,” Stewart said. “ … I really think rail needs to be an option.” He expects rail “to be integral to the Twin Cities. Edina will need connections by rail.”

Stewart went on to call the concept of putting a trolley car system on the Dan Patch line that cuts through Edina “a great idea.”

He praised the direction of the city’s environmental policies, including its greenhouse gas reduction goal and an organics recycling program that is expected to arrive in 2019. But the city can do better in handling stormwater runoff by crafting a more effective policy regarding pervious and impervious surfaces, Stewart said.

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