Loading-zone legislation could hamper Boulevard housing project

A suburban state lawmaker introduced legislation Feb. 28 that would dramatically alter a city-approved affordable housing project at West 53rd Street and Lyndale Avenue S.

Mayor R.T. Rybak, meanwhile, accused a lobbyist who led opposition to the project of trying to defeat it by pushing for legislation.

Rep. Tom Workman (R-Chanhassen) amended what legislative staff called a "Mn/DOT housekeeping bill" with a not-so-routine provision that eliminates city and county authority to grant variances for loading zones on state-aid roads.

The Minneapolis City Council granted the Boulevard -- a four-story, 19-unit apartment building (including 10 affordable units) with first-floor retail or office space -- a variance for a loading zone on Lyndale Avenue, a state-aid highway. Because a building permit has not yet been issued, the legislation would affect the project's current design. Developers had hoped to break ground this summer.

Although developers said if the amendment became law they could still move forward with an altered design, some city officials suggested the bill might have been aimed at killing the Boulevard project.

"It seems to me there's a circumstantial case that could be built," said City Councilmember Barret Lane (13th Ward). "There's just a strange set of circumstances that point back to the Boulevard."

Workman said lobbyist Maryann Campo, a staunch critic of the Boulevard and part owner of the adjacent South Lyndale Liquors property, had spoken to him about the amendment.

Mayor R.T. Rybak singled out Campo with a throat-clearing maneuver at the March 1 Council meeting: "Those of us with influence over some of the lobbyists who snuck this in, who should remain nameless -- [Rybak coughs dramatically] Maryann Campo - should do everything we can to make sure that we don't have people sneaking in amendments at the Legislature to try and slow some very tough work."

Campo, a Tangletown resident and former Republican legislative candidate, declined to comment on any "gossip" of her involvement. "I have no comment, it's Mr. Workman's amendment," she said.

Regarding the mayor's comments, Campo said: "The mayor should be more careful before engaging in comments like that -- you should get them verified."

Workman, who runs a solid waste hauling firm, said his amendment is aimed at preventing unsafe placement of loading zones. "Because of the way people build buildings, my employees and everybody else's employees have to sit in the middle of busy highways doing, in my case, solid waste removal," Workman said. "County state-aid highways are not loading zones."

The representative said he did not yet have a Senate sponsor for the amendment.

Workman is no stranger to the Boulevard project. In November, he wrote a letter to the city expressing concerns about granting a loading zone on Lyndale Avenue. County Transportation Director Jim Grube said in a response letter that no safety issues existed because parking was already allowed where the proposed loading zone would be located.

One of the Boulevard developers said

the amendment, if passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ventura, would not be fatal to their project. "But in order to correct it, we would have to do something very foolish and ugly, like take a chunk out of the front of the building to make a loading zone," said Lisa Kugler, co-developer of the Boulevard.

The implications of the bill could be wide-reaching, particularly as the city looks to loading zones on streets to accommodate urban design elements.

"Whether this is focused at the Boulevard or not, this is a serious incursion into municipal authority to regulate land use planning within its borders," Lane said. "You wouldn't find this generally attached onto a housekeeping bill for Mn/DOT."

The city of Minneapolis has almost 275 miles of roads that would fall under the bill's influence, including Lyndale Avenue, Lake Street, West 50th Street, Xerxes Avenue, France Avenue, Excelsior Avenue, Nicollet Avenue and Hennepin Avenue. All of downtown's roads -- with the exception of 12th Avenue and Nicollet Mall -- would be affected, according to city officials.

Rep. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), who voted against the amendment in the House Transportation Policy Committee, said he feared there could be implications for future courier loading zones in Downtown Minneapolis. "[Rep. Workman] wasn't able to respond to my inquiries about what this means for central business districts, where you necessarily have loading zones," Dibble said. Additionally, this bill might affect loading zones for

outstate grain elevators, he said.