It had been a quiet summer in St. Anthony. There were no protesters in or outside of City Hall. At the Aug. 14 council meeting, only one resident was in attendance. And then, developer Brad Hoyt filed a lawsuit and City Hall filled with protesters again.
The suit, filed Aug. 20 in U.S. District Court, alleges that the city “conspired and lied” to The Village, a limited liability company formed by Hoyt’s Continental Properties Group (CPG), to use it to close down the Lowry Grove park and remove its residents.
The suit states that The Village spent $6 million to acquire the property from former owner Lowry Grove Partnership. A subsequent lawsuit by the displaced Lowry Grove residents and non-profit developer Aeon against The Village cost the company $1 million in attorneys’ fees and costs.
The suit details the back-and-forth wrangling between the company and the city as the company sought to find a building plan that would make residents and the city happy and meet a 2008 Comprehensive Plan goal of a density of 25 units per acre. Ultimately, The Village came up with a proposal with a density of 27 units per acre, but asked for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) because it felt it could not profitably build the proposed apartment complex without it.
“In the Spring of 2018,” the suit says, “The City went through the motions of pretending to be working on” a TIF analysis. The analysis concluded that The Village could be built without TIF.
Reached by phone, Hoyt was blunt. “They [the City] never intended to [allow the building of The Village] to begin with. The fix was in on this project on the day we walked in two years ago. The whole plan was to use us to do their dirty work, to close the park, to get rid of it, and then to not approve what they had said they would approve.”
Asked about TIF, Hoyt said, “The City violated our agreement by not approving the TIF. They never actually denied it.” He continued, “They made it clear they were not going to approve any tax increment financing for the project. If they were to approve the TIF, we would probably allow someone else to step in.”
At the public forum at the end of the regular council meeting, Mayor Jerry Faust said the council couldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but later stated, “We met in a work session in May. He has yet to come before us at a public meeting [regarding TIF]. We did not make a decision. All us just kind of rolled our eyes – on an $80 to 100 million project, you need $18-plus million dollars? That seemed quite absurd. They never did come and ask for a complete denial at a council meeting.”
Hoyt is known for filing lawsuits to get his opponents to the negotiating table. In 2011, he sued Minneapolis when he was denied the go-ahead to build a 21-story apartment building near Loring Park. Although the court ultimately decided against the city, Hoyt did not receive the $11 million in damages that he wanted. A six-story building was constructed instead.
In 2015, he filed a fraud suit against the City of Wayzata after the city rejected his plan to build a five-story building in an area zoned for three. He painted one of the buildings that would have been torn down for the project hot pink. A sign with three Xs was added to the building front, which suggested an adult entertainment store was moving into the heart of Wayzata’s tourist district. The court sided with the city.
People who spoke at the Aug. 28 City Council meeting had few good words for Hoyt or the council.
Standing on tiptoe to reach the microphone, Antonia Alvarez, leader of the displaced Lowry Grove residents, was the first person to speak. She said, “So many times we came to see the city manager about the sale of Lowry Grove, and so many times, he lied to us. Why did you lie to us? Answer me!”
Hal Gray responded, “I’m very sorry, but I think you’ve been misled by a lot of people on a lot of this. The person who owned that property for years was trying to sell it and he found someone to buy it, the developer. That is a private transaction. In this country, we still have private property ownership. We [the city] have no right to get involved in a private transaction. Now you are being used by the developer. You’ve seen what he said.”
(Gray referred to a Star Tribune article which quoted Hoyt as saying, “the goal [of the City council was] to use us to rid them of the nonwhites and low-income people and make sure they don’t come back.”)
Alvarez shot back, “You will see us in court, too.” She told the council they were responsible for the suffering of the Lowry Grove residents.
Faust attempted to move the conversation along, cutting off Council Member Thomas Randle, who asked about personal responsibility. “See this example? Shutting up a person of a person of color!” said Alvarez.
Others who spoke were less fiery, but just as determined to get their point across.
Andrea Edwards said, “I feel like it should be stated that when it comes to this lawsuit, there aren’t any winners between the St. Anthony government and the developer. There’s no ‘side’ to root for. Nobody here thinks that developer had anyone’s best interests in mind. I don’t know if you were actively trying to get these people out of town, but from what I’ve seen, you didn’t do much to help them, either.”
Gloria Castillo, a former resident, spoke about how living in Lowry Grove had allowed her to attend college and get ahead. “It’s a shame that those opportunities have been lost because our houses were taken away from us. It [Lowry Grove] helped a lot of people to become better.” She urged the council find a way to include more affordable housing in St. Anthony.
Luann Zappa, a former bank vice president and Lowry Grove resident, made a plea for more deeply affordable housing in St. Anthony. “I used to live in a $450,000 house and had a good job. Anyone of us can become homeless. A financial disaster, a fire, an illness. Some illnesses befell me. Thankfully, I was able to live in Lowry Grove. Otherwise, I would have been homeless.”
Hoyt has said he will reopen the mobile home park as his “only option.” Asked if the property might be put up for sale, Hoyt replied, “I’m a real estate developer. It’s always for sale.”
Alvarez’s group planned to meet Sept. 4 at Northeast United Methodist Church to discuss whether or not they should join Hoyt’s lawsuit.
Below: Brad Hoyt’s lawsuit against the city of St. Anthony brought protesters into City Hall. Former Lowry Grove resident Luann Zappa urged the council to find ways to provide more deeply affordable housing. Antonia Alvarez met with supporters after the meeting. Hal Gray responded to the protesters. (Photos by Cynthia Sowden)