Council denies Karmel Mall expansion

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The City Council has voted against further expansion of Karmel Mall, and the owner is contemplating legal action as a result, according to his attorney.

Karmel Mall was constructed in 2005 and contains more than 100 stores, including offices, a mosque and restaurants at 2910-2936 Pillsbury Ave. S. The city Planning Commission voted against a 5,600-square-foot expansion to the north, which would have brought the third floor wall flush with the second floor fronting the Greenway. The space would have been used for additional retail, storage space, a library for the mosque, and a children’s play area for shopping parents.

Basim Sabri on behalf of Karmel Properties appealed the Planning Commission’s decision, and the City Council voted to deny the appeal Nov. 20. The Planning Commission did approve smaller interior expansions to improve parking lot access.

Council Member Lisa Bender said a high-traffic center like this is typically located on major streets like Lake, Franklin or Nicollet. Bender said she isn’t convinced the expansion won’t have an adverse impact on issues like traffic. City code has changed since the mall was originally built, and the shopping center is now considered a “legal nonconforming use” on the site, requiring special city approval to expand its footprint.

“Denying this appeal does not negate the existence of this building, which is a community asset,” Bender said. “…It’s a regional destination like the Mall of America, it’s a community gathering space, and now it contains a mosque as well … This is a very high-intensity use in an area that is not zoned for that level of intensity.”

Sabri said he doesn’t see any reason to deny the expansion.

“A lot of times we deny things because it’s going to create a massive amount of traffic, or it’s going to impact the neighborhood in a negative way. I just want you to know it’s not the case in here,” he said at a Zoning & Planning Committee meeting.

Sabri pointed to a map showing the extent of commercial property surrounding the mall, and said many Karmel workers and customers live nearby. He also pointed to the mall’s $3.5 million parking ramp, recently completed without public funds, creating in total 311 parking spaces onsite.

The mall has expanded since its original construction. The Planning Commission originally required the third- and fourth-floor addition to be set back to minimize shadowing on the Midtown Greenway. While that expansion was under construction in 2014, part of the wood framing collapsed. Sabri attributed the collapse to improperly secured trusses that fell like “dominos” in the wind.

Regarding the latest expansion proposal, the city received a few letters of concern from nearby residents who said there are too many cars already causing congestion on Pillsbury Avenue.

The developer’s attorney Robert Speeter submitted a travel demand management plan that he said shows a minimal impact on the area’s traffic and parking. City staff said they were satisfied with the plan as well. The new parking ramp hasn’t filled up completely, but is well used, Speeter said.

Planning Commissioners reviewed a report documenting hundreds of parking tickets generated each month on streets near the mall. To help address the issue, Speeter recommended posting the parking meter regulations in Somali.

Business owners lined up in support of Karmel at city meetings, applauding the mall’s support for new immigrants and entrepreneurs.

“You do have a lot of people who don’t speak the language, don’t know the culture, but this is where they can land,” said Mahamed Cali.

One immigrant said that when he arrived in 1992, he couldn’t find a single person to translate for him. But Minneapolis welcomed the Somali community, he said.

“This mall is hugely successful,” Speeter said. “Most of its tenants are Somali immigrants. In 2010, 20 percent of the population was jobless. It’s now 6 percent. A lot of that is because of this.”

Sabri said he’s lived in Minneapolis for more than 30 years, and said he should be treated like everyone else in the city.

“Many of our tenants are growing, many of our tenants are getting different, new ideas,” he said. “This is their home.”