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Q&A with Sean Allen about his bid for city council president

Q&A with Sean Allen about his bid for city council president

Sean Allen recently announced he will be running against incumbent Randy Staver for Rochester City Council president in 2016. Allen, a native of Northfield, is co-owner of both Forager Brewery and Midwest Landing, a boutique real estate firm in Rochester. He has also been involved with a number of advocacy groups related to urban design and affordable housing.

The following are some notable excerpts from a conversation I recently had with Allen. Minor edits were made for flow and clarity.

I want to listen to what people in the community have to say. I feel like I’m pretty tuned in but there are a whole lot of people in this community — that aren’t the 300 people downtown involved in all these decisions — that need to be heard, and I just feel like they are underrepresented.
— Sean Allen

Decision to run for council president

There’s more opportunity to influence voters and the community conversation in a citywide election. That’s the bottom line. I don’t have a problem with Randy Staver. Personally, he’s a very nice guy. But I do think we need more people who are independent on the council — people who are not attached to any other organization in the community directly.

We need people who are less reactionary; we need more strategic decision making. And so, I think that’s what I would bring to the city council. 


Differences with the incumbent

Just right in the last six months, look at the liquor laws. He was the only member to vote against expanding liquor laws to what the state allows. I’m not a huge proponent of liquor sales or anything like that, but I am definitely against over-regulation. When there is an opportunity to take away regulation, and you can’t explain who is going to be hurt by that, you should not have that regulation.

I have always said that it should be easy to say yes, and very difficult to say no to things. In a market-based economy, why is the government restricting commerce and unable to explain why they are restricting it?

Issues with the planning process

While we have good people involved, I think the systems themselves are broken. For instance, our planning department is in the county. Well, we haven’t gotten any planning services because we haven’t paid for them. The planning department itself gets zero dollars from the city. I don’t think people realize this. It’s a huge problem. The only money they get is from collecting zoning application fees.

What they’ve become is a zoning administration department. So, who’s doing the planning? Well lately, DMC has been doing the planning. And I think that that’s fine; it’s good for DMC and Mayo to have their economic development needs defined. However, they should be within the framework of our city’s planning document. And we did it backwards.

We have fallen into a situation, inadvertently, where DMC is doing all this long-range planning. We haven’t been as a city. Now, it looks like DMC is leading the planning. In reality, DMC can’t do anything without the city council’s approval, and really vice versa in the downtown area. We need people who are going to stand up for the city’s best interest under DMC, and I don’t think we have that. 


General thoughts on DMC

I’ve been critical of DMC in regards to results — that there haven’t been a lot of results. But I also don’t think there should be things, like huge hotels, without having them be part of, or reflective, of the plans that are in place. What we should really be doing is looking at issues like the downtown property taxes and speculation that’s fueled that, and say ‘OK, there has to be a way for the city to actually mitigate the damage that’s being done to small business owners.'

I’m a small business owner; I totally understand it. If our taxes went up like that, we would be in a world of hurt. Everybody would be. So, how do you mitigate that? And what everybody has said so far is that the state is the problem. I guarantee there is a way to find a way to mitigate the impacts, not on everyone, but on the small business owners being forced to move out of downtown.

Because they’re not valuing these businesses based on how much revenue they bring in; they’re valuing them based on the growing property value. So, you get a few very speculative land buys and it drives everyone’s property values up and it’s not fair. Ultimately, I don’t want downtown to be huge hotels and chain restaurants. I don’t know anyone who thinks that is a good idea. 

In full disclosure, Forager Brewery is a sustaining sponsor of the Med City Beat. You can view our coverage of Staver's reelection announcement here. We also featured Staver for our recent report on DMC.

About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.

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(Cover photo courtesy Sean Allen)

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