Wedge development appeal denied, sparking city debate dialogue

The City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee denied the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association’s (LHENA) appeal Feb. 5 of a clinic remodeling and expansion.

Although LHENA reached an agreement with the clinic’s operators, the circumstances of the neighborhood’s appeal sparked a Council discard in balancing neighborhood input and the city’s process.

Representatives of the Northwestern Health Sciences, which occupies the Uptown Natural Care Center, 2201 Hennepin Ave. S., came to the LHENA board in the fall about the remodeling/expansion.

The project will add handicapped bathrooms, exam and treatment rooms to the current facility. However, the 1,085-foot expansion originally required building variances and elevations that the LHENA board found unsatisfactory.

Northwestern’s architect said LHENA members were concerned about the variances required, so they tweaked their plan due to neighborhood concerns, then brought it before the City Planning Commission for approval.

LHENA President John Dietrich said although they tweaked their plan, making variances unnecessary, the elevations and window plans were still unsatisfactory.

So LHENA requested the Commission delay their vote, as they hadn’t seen the most recent plans for the project. But when the project was approved anyway, LHENA members decided to appeal.

City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) — who had requested the delay on LHENA’s behalf — and LHENA members, said they felt bypassed in the city process and still had design concerns.

Resulting from a meeting with clinic representatives just prior to the appeals hearing, however, Dietrich said they were able to reach a resolution on project specifications, so the appeal was denied.

He said the clinic representatives agreed to the addition of windows on the 22nd Street and Hennepin Avenue sides of the development to appearse the neighborhood.

Although a fight was seemingly averted, it still brought to light a larger city issue. Niziolek said his delay request was overruled because a movement’s afoot in the Commission — attributed to City Councilmember Gary Schiff (9th Ward) — to not delay decisions on development items.

He said it’s in attempts to improve the city’s reputation for having a very time- consuming approval process. But, Niziolek said in this case it caused the city to circumvent the neighborhood’s process.

Schiff acknowledged Minneapolis has a bad rap and said it’s something he’s working to repair but not at the expense of neighborhood input. He said, on the contrary, that Minneapolis has an unusually high amount of neighborhood input in the city’s process.

Schiff said for land use changes applicants are required to provide neighborhood and Councilperson notification, and the city provides opportunities for community input at a city public hearing.

Schiff said the city can’t require developers to approach neighborhoods every time they make a design change because they’d never be able to meet the state’s time frame for approval, which is 60 days from the application.

He said, ultimately, the burden is two- fold, on the neighborhood to keep up-to- date on land-use happenings, but on the city to continue outreach, recognizing the high neighborhood board turnover.

However Dietrich said the city should balance that with the recognition of volunteer commitment by residents and allow them time to weigh in on land-use issues.