This Issue

In Step with Sustainability

In Step with Sustainability

Saint Anthony Village is winning accolades for moving toward becoming a green city.

 

By Mary Grauerholz

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Saint Anthony regional stormwater treatment and research system illustration.

For a town of fewer than 10,000 residents, Saint Anthony Village in Minnesota is more than ahead of the environmental curve; you could say the city is designing the road. In 2016, Saint Anthony—the first town in Minnesota to incorporate the reuse of water—received the state’s Sustainable City Award. Several years before that, the village became a GreenStep City in a voluntary program run by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that helps the state’s cities achieve their sustainability and quality-of-life goals.

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Joining GreenStep fit like a glove with Saint Anthony’s environmental vision for its 2018 Comprehensive Plan, which has been in the works for years. But the town didn’t stop there. Stakeholders, including residents and city officials, added an extra “chapter,” or section, to the plan to drill even deeper into a more environmentally minded community. The other chapters cover land use, housing, transportation infrastructure, and environmental and water resource goals—this new chapter focused on community sustainability specifically.

“We want to make sure sustainability is woven through all the chapters of the comprehensive plan,” says Mark Casey, city manager of Saint Anthony. For instance, Casey says, “We try to be a walkable community. How does that look? GreenStep would say, we’re going to put a sidewalk in this neighborhood to encourage walking.” That made GreenStep perfect for implementation.

But what about sustaining the work with policy and a vision toward the future? To fill in that missing piece, Saint Anthony again broke new ground, becoming the first—and so far the only—Minnesota town to use the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) ADVANCE campaign to map out an augmented framework. As Casey says, “Where the Minnesota GreenStep program focuses more on the implementation of 29 best practice strategies, USGBC’s support helped us set performance goals more holistically. Our goal was to have sustainability in our comp plan. We used ADVANCE as the vehicle to develop that plan.”

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Top: Stephanie Leonard, project manager for community with USGBC Minnesota. Bottom: Metro Cities city planner Breanne Rothstein.

In a marathon strategic planning process last year, a motley group of 30 people that included Casey, city planner Breanne Rothstein, and consultant Brian Ross—and led by Stephanie Leonard, project manager for community with USGBC Minnesota—hammered out a way to weave sustainability through its 2018 comprehensive plan.

Leonard is a USGBC staff member working to further the organization’s mission and work in local communities. As part of her role, she works with community- and faith-based partners through the ADVANCE campaign to engage new, underserved, underrepresented audiences, and also oversees volunteers in Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota. As Leonard says, “You can’t do ADVANCE without a solid group of volunteers.” The volunteers in the Saint Anthony project included students at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, who helped formulate the original plan before the gathering; city and parks employees from St. Paul and other towns who served as industry experts; and Citizens for Sustainability, a group of committed residents.

“Saint Anthony had been working for a long time on sustainability,” Leonard says. “It’s always been part of their mission. But they hadn’t really put a framework around it. They hadn’t created a holistic plan.” Leonard’s job was to “make sure people were ready to jump in.”

“At that time, we had done ADVANCE with school districts,” Leonard says. “This was the first time we moved on to a city in Minnesota.” In the June 2016 workshop, the 30 participants started the review of imperative issues facing the village: Location, Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Energy and Atmosphere, and Water. “The workshop helped create a common language around sustainability and set wheels in motion for achieving higher impact,” she adds.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credits supported agenda and discussion topics, Leonard says, specifically elements of LEED for Operations and Maintenance (O+M) and LEED for Neighborhood Development (ND). For instance, on the topic of Energy and Atmosphere, the team discussed setting reduction targets for public buildings and incentivizing private dwellings.

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Brian Ross, AICP, senior program director of Great Plains Institute.

Ryan Snow, USGBC’s director of global community development, led the evolution of the ADVANCE campaign, which expands access to green buildings and healthy neighborhoods by gathering experts and communities. The potential of ADVANCE, he says, is enormous. “The work with Saint Anthony through the campaign in Minnesota is an awesome example of how we can scale this work and focus beyond single buildings, on the health and vitality of a whole community,” Snow says.

Ross, AICP, a senior program director at the clean-energy nonprofit Great Plains Institute, facilitated the ADVANCE process and watched as industry, community, city officials, and USGBC staff, among others, worked out the foundational document. A nationally certified urban planner and LEED Green Associate, Ross helps manage the GreenStep program.

A Comprehensive Plan, Ross says, is primarily about goal setting; as he describes it, “a touchstone for the future.”

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Mark Casey (right), city manager of Saint Anthony Village, working on the 2040 update to the Comprehensive Plan by conducting a series of community engagement sessions during the Spring of 2016.

“The City’s planning consultants [WSB & Associates of Minneapolis] did a very good job of gathering stakeholders, getting the full, universal perspective, and giving ownership to the community,” Ross says. “Saint Anthony Village is one of the really early communities in the comprehensive planning process to incorporate sustainability. They’ve also folded in energy and climate goals, something that’s not historically required.”
City manager Casey says Saint Anthony is aiming much further down the road than 2018. The question he and his colleagues face, he says, is how the city should proceed in the next 10 years and beyond through that lens of sustainability, which Casey refers to as “Vision 2040.”

When the Saint Anthony City Council added sustainability in the mission statement in 2012, “It took off,” he says of the movement. Another factor that added energetic enthusiasm, he adds, was introducing “the 3 E’s”—environment, economy, and equity: “We want to make sure we’ve woven in all three pieces of sustainability.”

Before it officially becomes Saint Anthony’s Comprehensive Plan, the document will undergo review by the Metropolitan Council, the regional seven-county government. Part of that is a required “edge matching” step in which adjoining cities comment on the Plan. Then the Saint Anthony City Council will vote. Ross believes the document, with its ADVANCE underpinning, will sail through, giving the village another feather in the community cap. As he says, “They’re on the forefront of addressing sustainability.”