PLYMOUTH — After an embroiled conversation followed by several months of silence, the Plymouth City Council has decided not to enroll the city in the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program.
GreenStep Cities is a voluntary program run by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that is designed to help cities meet their sustainability goals.
The city of Plymouth was considering joining it, and a resolution to join the program was on the consent agenda at the June 25 City Council meeting but it was pulled from the agenda. Then, at a City Council work session on Oct. 22, the City Council decided not to enroll in the program and it has no plans to include it on a future meeting agenda.
At the June 25 City Council meeting, City Council member Jim Davis asked to pull a resolution to enroll the city in the GreenStep Cities program from the consent agenda to discuss it further because, as he explained later in the meeting, he’d received emails from residents with concerns about the program.
City Engineer Chris LaBounty gave a presentation on the program to the City Council and then the public was given a chance to comment. Six people shared their thoughts on the program, with the majority speaking against it.
“We don’t need a program to tell us what to do or suggest what to do. We can mine it for ideas but there is that soft pressure of going to meetings and trying to keep us with the Joneses but we are the Joneses,” said Terri Nelson, a Plymouth resident.
Minnetrista City Council member Shannon Bruce also shared her concerns with the program, saying “Once that resolution is in place, there is language in that resolution that says you will do things. You will be expected to implement their sample ordinances that are designed for more central planning government control over building regulations and private property use. You will give them access to your data. There are serious privacy concerns around that.”
Minnesota GreenStep Cities Program Coordinator Philipp Muessig told Lakeshore Weekly News cities in the GreenStep program don’t have to implement any best practice that involves building regulations or control over private property if they don’t choose to. It is up to cities to decide which best practices they want to implement in the first three steps of the program. Cities can then stay as a step three GreenStep City.
If a city chooses to move on to step four, it is required to measure and report on certain metrics, Musseig said. If the city of Plymouth was to pass the resolution to join GreenStep, it would not be agreeing to give GreenStep any metric information. If the city decided it did not want to ever give metric information to GreenStep, Plymouth could stay at step three and still be recognized as a GreenStep City.
If a city council approves a resolution and does not follow through, GreenStep does not punish the city in any way, Musseig added. The program helps cities by providing advice, ideas and recognition, but is not regulatory.
Plymouth City Council member Alise McGregor asked at the June 25 meeting whether the city could use the program as a blueprint without enrolling. Musseig told the paper cities can definitely use the best practices provided in the program without enrolling, but by enrolling in the program a city receives assistance. Musseig said he’s happy if cities are implementing best practices either way.
Months went by before the Plymouth City Council discussed the GreenStep program again. It wasn’t until an Oct. 22 work session, at which time Musseig presented the GreenStep program to the City Council, he said.
During the work session, the City Council decided to use GreenStep as a guide but would not officially enroll in the program by adopting a resolution.
Plymouth Public Works Director Michael Thompson told Lakeshore Weekly News on Nov. 4 the City Council has no plans to put enrolling in the GreenStep program on a future City Council agenda. Plymouth is already engaging in many best practices outlined in the GreenStep program, Thompson said.
They include: using efficient lighting fixtures in city-owned buildings; adopting a comprehensive plan and future-use plan; incorporating woodland best practices; and increasing biking, walking and transit opportunities.
Area cities join GreenStep
At least three cities in the Lake Minnetonka area have enrolled as GreenStep Cities. They are Minnetonka, Shorewood and Victoria.
Minnetonka joined GreenStep in December 2013 and is at step four. According to GreenStep, some of the notable things the city has done within the program include identifying and remedying street-trail gaps between streets and off-road trails/bike trails to facilitate walking and biking; adopting efficient lighting for city buildings and traffic lights; and adopting a comprehensive plan and future land-use plan.
“The city of Minnetonka is proud to be a member of the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program,” Minnetonka City Manager Geralyn Barone told the paper on Oct. 29. “Earlier this year, we were recognized for becoming just one of 21 cities in Minnesota to reach step four, and now we’re working to become one of only a handful of cities to complete the fifth and final step. The program has been impactful for our entire community, as it helps us assess and improve our sustainability efforts, which in turn elevates quality of life for everyone.”
Minnetonka received an award from the League of Minnesota Cities in July for advancing to step four in the program. As a step four city, Minnetonka has recorded a year’s worth of metrics on sustainability best practices that includes building and lighting, transportation, land use and environmental management, according to a news release from the city.
Shorewood joined the GreenStep program in June 2011 and is at step two. According to GreenStep, Shorewood has increased efficiency in public and private buildings and has changed city outdoor lighting to LED or solar-powered lights, among other things.
Victoria joined GreenStep in June 2012 and is at step three. According to GreenStep, among the notable best practices Victoria has done is adopting a comprehensive plan and future land-use plan, achieving higher intensity commercial/industrial land use and incorporating woodland best management practices.