If only 48 voters had changed their minds, the Dayton-Hudson Corporation would have lost a key zoning fight in their own home state. On March 2nd in the town of Northfield, voters approved a rezoning allowing a Target mall in their community, by the wafer thin margin of 2,667 for rezoning to 2,573 against it. (For more background on the Northfield/Target controversy, see newflash from 11/17/98). This vote nullifies a city ordinance that prohibits major retailers in rural tracts along Highway 3. Despite the gushing support of Northfield’s Mayor, the City Manager, the Chamber of Commerce, and a pro-Target astro-roots groups called the “Citizens for Target”, the people of Northfield almost killed Target. The rezoning passed by a 1.8% margin. Listening to Mayor Bill Rossman, who lost half of his constituents with this one vote, you would think some kind of mandate had taken shape. “I guess what it tells us,” the Mayor explained, “is that this town has mixed views on this. Ten years ago, it wouldn’t have come out this way. There’s a momentum to change.” Target’s underwhelming 94 vote margin should have sugggested to city officials that they need to do some serious negotiations with the anti-Target people about the future of Northfield, especially before the next Mayoral election. A Target spokesman painted a happy face on the close election results. “We’re encouraged by the vote results,” she said, “and looking forward to working with the city.” The head of the Northfield Chamber of Commerce said she hopes the Target mall will mean more shoppers downtown, even though the mall is outside of the central commercial area. She may be too busy trying to replace lost members of the Chamber to worry about mythical new shoppers. The Mayor based his support for Target on the notion that Northfield was losing millions of dollars to “leakage”, shoppers leaving the area. The “area” for the Mayor means the borders of Northfield, because right over the city line is a Kmart, which carries much of what Target has. The Kmart doesn’t count in the Mayor’s book because its over the city limits, about a mile from where the Target will locate. These voter referendums are becoming popular with big retailers (see Eureka story above), who can use their corporate money to influence voter outcome. The Target project now will have to go through the city planning and zoning process, but instead of trying to compromise on the huge size of this project, the Mayor is likely to continue to behave as if a 94 vote margin is a mandate for change.
The Mayor’s statement about “mixed views” is the understatement of the month in Northfield. Any politician that had a 49% unfavorable vote in the polls would be considered vulnerable for reelection. But not Target. They’re “encouraged” that almost half the people in the city felt strongly enough about Target that they voted against it. A retail store with a 49% negative rating? The Star Tribune headline was the only accurate assessment of the situation: “Target wins just barely”. For further details on the election, contact Stephanie Henriksen at 507-645-7086.