The East of the River Parks project team raised a bit of a ruckus on social media shortly after they posted a link to maps of the concepts for the 33 parks. One concept for Columbia Park included a housing development on the south end of the park, near the Canadian Pacific railyard. One person wrote, “Why would you put apartments on polluted land?” Another countered, “Why not use vacant land for affordable housing?”
In a letter to the Northeaster, long-time activist Gayle Bonneville wrote: “As a resident of Northeast who has been involved with the Shoreham Area Advisory Committee and related matters for over 20 years as a volunteer, I am disturbed by the second concept being circulated widely for Columbia Park. I don’t recall this “vision” being displayed at the open house at MPRB HQ that I attended earlier this spring. I was shocked to see the concept yesterday displaying “housing” – not only on park property, but on private property and on highly polluted property adjacent to even more polluted property in a Super Fund site where the landowner has previously expressed adamantly that no housing be built due to the severe and dangerous industrial nature of their operations. The state Pollution Control Agency has thus far also deemed the site unfit for housing. This is irresponsible to suggest housing at this location now or into the near future at this industrial site. It also makes a hypocritical mockery on several fronts of the city’s draft Comp Plan 2040.”
Turns out that the drawing that was posted on the MPRB website was a preliminary idea that was not a final concept. It was replaced on July 11.
The Park Board has no intentions of building housing on its land, and Canadian Pacific Railway, which owns the parcel where the building was shown, has given no indication that it’s willing to sell that particular piece of ground. So where did the building come from?
“CP Railway has property that is disposable to them,” explained Mike Schroeder, assistant superintendent for park planning. “We were at a meeting where a developer presented a concept. We didn’t initiate the conversation. But we did suggest to the developer that they come up with something more creative for a building that would face a terrific property like Columbia Park.”
MPRB’s plans for Columbia do include working with the City of Minneapolis and the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization to mitigate groundwater issues not just in the park, but for residents in the area. It also seeks a sort of “environmental justice for Northeast,” said Project Manager Carrie Christensen. That includes bringing back a version of Lake Sandy, which disappeared from city maps decades ago. The new lake at the south end of the golf course would be a conduit for storm water from residential housing. The lake is shown on the maps for both concepts.
Although MPRB is interested in doing a land swap with the railroad that would allow a larger dog park to separate big dogs from little ones, that remains to be seen. In the end, the Park Board will decide on one concept for each of the 33 parks by late September/early October. And there will be no housing on park property.