Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association, June 23 meeting

Granary Road update; Stance on Grand Rounds Missing Link; "Mini-dorms"; Stadium Village development; Heated discussion over by-law changes

Granary Road, SEMI/URP update: Jim Forsyth of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED), introduced as “Mr. SEMI” by PPERRIA’s Dick Poppele, discussed the latest developments with the Southeast Minneapolis industrial Zone. Forsyth, who also chairs the Southeast Economic Development (SEED) Steering Committee said SEED is getting funding to start streets and storm water management related to the project. The project includes about 500 acres of land in Minneapolis and close to 200 acres in St. Paul, Forsyth said.

Plans for the University of Minnesota research park and a nearby private sector research park are part of a 2003-2004 legislative initiative to promote biosciences in several parts of the state.

The project will be funded with $2 million from the Mississippi Watershed Management Association , state funding totaling $5 million, the use of tax increment financing (the Legislature recently allowed the pooling of tax increment in the area, a rarity), as well as other matching money.

The first phase of the project, the rebuilding of Malcolm Avenue north of Southeast 5th Street, should be underway between August and November, Forsyth said. Malcolm Street provides essential access for the project, he said.

Construction on the research parks is not slated to begin until 2010. Forsyth said “hopefully” a design firm would be hired and negotiations with potential property owners would take place by the end of the year.

An issue complicating the project: lack of support from St. Paul neighborhoods. Forsyth said the project as currently proposed does not yet include an extension into St. Paul, because such an extension would require extending Granary Road through a small residential community in South St. Anthony and would mean the community would have to sacrifice its community garden — something many residents there oppose.

Board member Bridget Ferguson asked what the point of building a “road to nowhere” was, if St. Paul didn’t want it right now. Another board member theorized the road was being planned around the ‘if you build it, they will come’ philosophy.

Julie Wallace said that while “Minneapolis isn’t going to ram the road down the throats of St. Paul… surely [an extension of Granary Road into St. Paul] will happen eventually.” She suggested PPERRIA reach its St. Paul neighbors regarding the SEMI project.

Rock-Tenn Community Advisory Panel presentation: Bill Kahn, the Southeast Como Improvement Association’s (SECIA) representative to the Rock-Tenn Community Advisory Panel, discussed the recent study pertaining to the Rock-Tenn recycling plant. Rock-Tenn has been located on a large plot of land in St. Paul (between Vandalia Street and Raymond avenues right near the border of Minneapolis) for the last 100 years, Kahn said. When the Metro Emissions Reduction Project converted the High Bridge power plant from coal to natural gas less than a year ago, Rock-Tenn, the state’s largest paper recycling plant, lost its steam energy and began burning fuel oil and natural gas, according to Kahn’s handout.

A $4 million study funded by the Legislature and input from neighbors is guiding the decisions of the Rock-Tenn Community Advisory Panel, which will ultimately make recommendations to the St. Paul City Council about the issue of Rock-Tenn’s future energy source. Kahn said a draft study is not expected from the Port Authority of the City of St. Paul until early August.

“Minneapolis is kind of in the periphery because this is all taking place in St. Paul,” Kahn said, adding however that the plant is close enough that its emissions will impact parts of Minneapolis.

Kahn ended his talk saying “advanced thermal” is likely where Rock-Tenn will get its energy in the future. “We’re not really talking about Rock-Tenn building a burner… We’re talking about the City of St. Paul [building one].”

Grand Rounds Missing Link Comments: PPERRIA President Dick Poppele said the neighborhood organization was recently asked by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to comment on its recommended Grand Rounds Missing Link route. In a draft letter to the Park Board, PPERRIA outlined three areas of concern: traffic and safety issues and the “apparent lack of coordination between this effort and other planning that is underway for roads in [the] area,” the fact that the recommendation makes “no reference to the traffic changes that will result from the Central Corridor LRT,” and fear that a combined parkway and truck route might limit truck traffic on Granary Road — a road designed, in part, to ease truck traffic on University Avenue.

The letter was approved by the PPERRIA board.

City and PPERRIA operating on different set of rules regarding historic protection: Board member and Livability Committee Chair Joe Ring said he has been working to secure Section 106 Review for Prospect Park, with regard to the Central Corridor LRT project. (According to a government website, Section 106 Review, “requires Federal agencies to consider the effects of their actions on historic properties and provide the [Advisory Council on Historic Preservation] an opportunity to comment on Federal projects prior to implementation.”) Ring said the first meeting on the issue took place a little over a month ago.

Prospect Park is the only community along the proposed Central Corridor line that has “consulting party status,” Ring said. (On a ranked list of entities affected by the Central Corridor project, only the Capitol Building has more issues that need to be resolved than Prospect Park, he noted.) Ring said hopefully consulting party status will help PPERRIA to keep the negative effects of Central Corridor to a minimum.

Ring also noted that Prospect Park has been determined eligible for historic preservation. Prospect Park should be in the “fall cycle” for designation, Ring said, which is one year later than was previously thought.

Home demolitions: According to the way PPERRIA interprets the historic preservation policy, Prospect Park should be granted temporary historic protection while its application for historic designation is under review, Joe Ring said. Apparently the City is operating by a different set of rules, Ring said, because it has failed to recognize the status. “Right now we need to find out just where we stand with the City…according to HPC [The Historic Preservation Commission], we’re not even in nomination,” said Ring, who is concerned — along with other PPERRIA members — about property demolitions in the neighborhood.

Ward 2 Council Member Cam Gordon said PPERRIA might want to ask about having all demolitions go through the Historic Preservation process, while the historic designation is still in limbo.

Dick Poppele asked Gordon if the neighborhood could ask the City to be notified of all demolition requests until the issue is resolved. The board voted to send a letter to the city and HPC asking to clarify the issue.

“Mini-dorms” in Prospect Park: Zoning and Land-Use Committee Chair Florence Littman started her zoning report with what she called bad news. “What is happening in Como and Marcy-Holmes is finally here — mini-dorms,” she said. Littman mentioned a development at 1217 Yale Ave. that is slated to have four units with five bedrooms apiece, owned by a developer who has a “very bad reputation over in Uptown.” In the past, the Zoning Committee has tried very hard to get that part of Yale Avenue down-zoned and did succeed on having the even side of the street down-zoned. However, the side where the new development is has retained its more lax designation.

The developer who owns 1217 Yale also owns several other properties in the neighborhood, including one on Ontario Street, which also looks like it will be rebuilt as high-density student housing, she said.

“There should be some kind of moratorium on these buildings,” Littman said, adding that higher density housing could be built in better ways. “These things are built out of sawdust and toothpicks,” she said. Littman also said that the neighbors across the street from the 1217 Yale development had toyed with moving before, but that the construction of the “mini-dorm” settled the issue for them.

Plans for Stadium Village mixed-use development: While “mini-dorms” aren’t good for students or the neighborhood according to Littman, a proposed mixed-use development in Stadium Village replacing the area around Campus Pasta and Pizza sounds like a much better plan for student housing, she said. As proposed, the development would feature seven stories of student housing, one level of retail (perhaps a CVS Pharmacy), and underground parking. The project’s architect lives in the Lowry Hill neighborhood and appears to understand urban living and design, Littman said. She also said the project seems like it would work well because it features student housing near the U, as “we’ve said [it should be].”
Dick Poppele said from what he knew of the project, it seemed like student living that might finally be built to last 100 years, instead of 20.

Owner of Tower Grocery commended: Littman briefly commended the owner of Tower Grocery who voluntarily put up a fence to help block the store’s parking lot from a neighbor’s view, even though the City said it wasn’t required. Littman proposed sending the store’s owner a thank you letter for his kind action. The board agreed.

Student housing behind Hubbard Studio: Julie Wallace said she has arranged a small tour of a new student housing development (she referred to it as a “mega-dorm”) behind Hubbard Studio on University Avenue. Wallace said anyone from PPERRIA is invited to attend. Wallace said she was told by someone affiliated with the housing development that the building has a 500 person capacity and is 58 percent pre-leased. It will offer 200 parking garage spaces, she said. Parking issues will be raised by PPERRIA representatives on the tour, Wallace said.

Discussion over by-law changes gets heated: Dick Poppele led the board in discussing possible changes to the organization’s by-laws. Among the changes passed: moving the board nomination process up from February to January; changing the makeup of the executive committee by getting rid of the seven vice presidents and adding the chairs of each standing committee to the executive committee; requiring that board meetings be held the fourth Monday of each month except for August and December; and an amendment requiring at least 30 days notice for any by-law amendments.

At times, the process could be described as contentious, like when an initial vote came one vote shy of implementing several by-law changes and some who had voted for the changes began to pressure those who had passed on voting to weigh-in. “It’s taking too many hours of people’s time. It’s hours and hours of our time,” board member Lois Willand said, presumably referring to the fact that the by-law issue has been on the agenda at the last few board meetings. After switching her “pass” to an affirmative vote (the one remaining vote needed to approve several by-law changes), board member Joan Schneider headed immediately to an exit, in apparent disgust. When Joyce Barta, who was recording the votes, asked for Schneider’s name during her swift exodus, Schneider told her to ask someone else in the room — “ask Lois Willand.”

NEXT: Board meeting, July 28, 2008
MEETINGS: 4th Monday monthly, 7-9 p.m., unless otherwise announced. Refreshments, conversation 6:30-7 p.m. Prospect Park United Methodist Church, 22 Orlin Avenue SE
CONTACT: 612-331-2970
66 SE Malcolm Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55414

last revised: July 24, 2008