Traffic, green space, and affordable housing were the main concerns of St. Anthony and Northeast residents attending a community-initiated meeting to discuss the proposed plans for the redevelopment of the Lowry Grove mobile home park.
About 200 people filled Doran Hall at St. Charles Borromeo church February 13 to learn more about the multi-building, 837-unit preliminary plans for the 15-acre property that sits between Kenzie Terrace and Stinson Boulevard in St. Anthony. The meeting was organized by a handful of St. Anthony and Northeast residents concerned that their neighbors weren’t aware of the plans for the development.
Northeast resident Carol Weiler, who was among those spearheading the effort, said that the meeting’s purpose was not only to inform but to encourage participation in the planning process. “I think all of us would agree that we’d like to see this project to be a livable project for everyone, for the people who live there, the people of St. Anthony, and for the residents of Northeast Minneapolis,” Weiler said.
With that aim and positive tone (“We’re not here to bash the developers,” said organizer Monique Dubos) they described the sketch plans that the development company The Village presented to the St. Anthony Planning Commission in late October, highlighted features in the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) completed on the project, and described the process by which the public can have input (see page 9 for how to access documents and other info about the proposed redevelopment).
Then they asked the attendees to share their visions for the property – what they would like to see there. From throughout the room, a handful of people almost simultaneously said “a park,” giving way to some laughter, as the plans show something very different: 37 townhomes; two 5-story complexes each with 200 mixed-income apartments; a 3-story continuum of care facility of 200 units; a 3-story senior housing co-op of 100 units; and 100 “micro-apartments” – studios and 1-bedrooms – in a 3-story building.
The discussion quickly moved into acceptance that some kind of development is likely to occur there. One person suggested “all townhomes,” and there were sounds of agreement. “Multifamily housing that is more esthetically appropriate for the neighborhood and replace the affordable housing,” a St. Anthony resident said, adding that she didn’t like the “massive structures” proposed. “I think can we have a more balanced plan but I don’t think we want to lose sight that a lot of people have been displaced and there should be some reflection of that,” she said.
Every time someone mentioned affordable housing there was applause after the comment. A man who lives on Stinson Parkway said that truly affordable home ownership should be considered for the site. “I think what’s important to remember, is that we’re moving a lot of housing that people own.
Even if you replace it with rental, it’s not the same,” he said, referring to the mobile home park residents being displaced by the project. One person pointed out that the more affordable micro-units would not accommodate families.
In attendance was Alan Arthur, the president and CEO of Aeon, the housing nonprofit that attempted to purchase the mobile home park on behalf of the residents and that is now involved in a legal case challenging the sale of the property. He was asked to describe what Aeon’s vision was for the Lowry Grove site. He said if they had the opportunity they would revamp the manufactured home park, redoing the infrastructure for 100 mobile homes, and adding 120-140 units of apartments, a community center and a park and play area.
Recreational green space and the related issue of stormwater was also brought up at the meeting. “If you’re going to have mixed income/lower income housing, you’re going to have families and they’re going to need some play area,” a Northeast resident said.
One Northeast resident weighed in on stormwater retention. “According to the EAW, all stormwater from this project is projected to go into stormwater drains, they have no plan at all for keeping it on the property and that’s not best practice in construction management,” she said, adding that greenspace concerns could be met by building in rain gardens or storage ponds. The pond and park at Silver Lake Village were mentioned by others as a good model.
The increased traffic that would result from the development, as well as the truck traffic during construction was brought up as a concern many times during the meeting. Weiler had presented a table from the EAW’s traffic study that projected that the development would generate almost 4,400 trips daily in and out of the site, with 300 and 400 of those trips during the morning and evening peak traffic times, respectively.
Weiler also shared comments on the EAW from Hennepin County, which were part of a required review process. According to the traffic study projection, 50 percent of the new trips generated by the complex would be to and from the south on Stinson. The comment said this “further complicates an already congested intersection” of 18th Avenue, and Stinson and New Brighton boulevards. Another Hennepin County comment noted that the projected growth rate used in the analysis was only 0.15% whereas the rate of 0.5% is typically used for well developed locations.
When the issue of truck traffic from construction was raised, one man said that he was told that trucks would be using Stinson Boulevard from the presently closed entrance to the property on 26th Avenue because they wouldn’t be able to make the turn from Kenzie Terrace.
This was a surprise to Liz Wielinski, Northeast’s Minneapolis Park Board commissioner, who was present at the meeting. She explained that the park board oversees parkways such as Stinson Boulevard. “We talked to the city a couple of times, and they assured us that they were not going to be bringing in the traffic off of 26th, that they were going to be going through Kenzie Terrace.” She said her staff would look into it.
When asked about this last Friday, City Planner Breanne Rothstein, who did not attend the meeting, said that she has not talked with anyone about construction traffic. She said that the city “can and will set parameters on construction, when the time is appropriate,” and did not respond directly to the question of whether Stinson Boulevard at 26th Avenue would be used.
St. Anthony officials attending the meeting included Bonnie Brever, a council member, and Dominic Papatola, who is on the St. Anthony Planning Commission. Both Papatola and Brever said that they were there in a listening capacity and had no more information than what was presented. They said they encouraged and welcomed comments and involvement in the process.
Minneapolis First Ward Council Member Kevin Reich also attended. He said that he had no decision-making power, but could communicate resident’s concerns “in a very concrete, discreet sort of way” to the decision makers. He said that he was aware that Minneapolis city engineers were reviewing the EAW and they were “seeing some blindspots.”
Reich also commended residents for paying attention to water issues. “As someone who has been working on water quality issues, where the citizenry is coming forward and demanding better water quality on a project … this is a first.”
To stay informed
There is a Facebook page, created by the organizers of the February 13 meeting SAVNE Neighbors for a Livable Community. The EAW, other documents and information about the project are available on the city’s website, www.ci.saint-anthony.mn.us. Scroll down to “Community Projects,” and choose “Redevelopment of Lowry Grove.” Agency comments on the EAW are available in the City Council’s February 14 meeting packet, also on the city website under “Agenda and Minutes.”
Below: Northeast resident Michael Gardos Reid talks after the meeting with Minneapolis Council Member Kevin Reich and Alan Arthur, the president and CEO of Aeon, the affordable housing nonprofit that attempted to buy the Lowry Grove property on behalf of the residents. Resident Ginny Lahti explained that the proposed density of 54 dwelling units per acre was greater than the target density listed in the city’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan, which specifies a desired range of 25 to 40 units per acre for the redevelopment of that area. (Photos by Karen Kraco)