Neighbors versus neighborhood group

While some neighbors oppose the planned expansion of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Whittier Alliance — the officially recognized neighborhood organization — gave it qualified support.

"The vast majority of people in the neighborhood support the project," said Dave Harstad, the Alliance Transportation and Land Use Committee chair. "We love the MIA. A lot of us think the architect did a fine job."

Becky Olson, Alliance vice chair, backed the Institute’s expansion before the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee: "Not all the neighbors in Whittier are on Stevens Avenue," she said.

The Alliance held five meetings on the expansion plans, and flyered the neighborhood, Harstad said.

Neighbors most affected by the expansion, like Donna Moreno, say the Alliance did an inadequate job of including them. More importantly, they said, the Institute provided few specifics about the project at those meetings — such as exceptions it would need for off-street parking and an expanded curb cuts.

Frustrated the Institute had not provided a scale model, Moreno built her own.

Institute Director Evan Mauer asked the Zoning and Planning Committee for a clarification — in trying to reach a compromise, should he talk to the Alliance or the immediate neighbors?

For now, it appears the conversations will continue between the Institute of Arts, the across-the-street neighbors and City Councilmember Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward). They were set to meet Oct. 13.

The Whittier Alliance’s support was qualified. Its July 25 motion said it supported the project, "provided the plans take into account increased traffic and parking impacts on the neighborhood."

The Alliance’s support carried weight.

"It had gone through the neighborhood association. It had gone through the Historic Preservation Commission. I thought all the parties had ample opportunities to voice their concerns and get their thoughts on the table," said Planning Commission member Michael Hohmann, who supported the project.

The Institute’s expansion raises the larger question of a neighborhood group’s role in zoning decisions.

"To some extent, our role is to have an opportunity to have dialogue between the neighbors and the applicants," Harstad said. "The real decisions on these issues happen at the Planning Commission, the HPC and the City Council."