Developing consensus, before the crisis

Two activists with rueful memories want citizens to learn how to shape development to encourage neighborhood-friendly projects

Conceived in the crucible of the controversial housing development known as The Boulevard, a series of Southwest workshops aim to help people living near Lyndale Avenue south of Minnehaha Creek implement a neighborhood vision for the area.

The South Lyndale Development Workshops will bring the Lynnhurst, Tangletown, Windom and Kenny neighborhoods together to discuss what types of developments should be in their shared corridor, how residents can influence projects and what it takes to make a development happen, among other topics (see sidebar).

The effort’s leaders are Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association board member Paul Lohman and longtime Lynnhurst activist and current Windom resident Susan Herridge. The duo hopes residents can become knowledgeable and participate in the city’s master planning process for the area scheduled to begin early next year.

There will be three workshops beginning on Tuesday, Oct. 5, all from 7-9 p.m. at Richfield United Methodist Church, 5835 Lyndale Ave. S.

The workshops are funded by Lyndale Avenue South Renewal – Creek to Crosstown (LASR-CC) and the Minneapolis-based Center for Neighborhoods.

Herridge posed an interesting question for residents in the affected area: "Whatever the future development is, do you want to wait until it happens and then be sorry that you weren’t involved sooner, or do you want to be involved now and try to shape it?"

Down on The Boulevard

Herridge and Lohman agree that the acrimonious Lynnhurst neighborhood meetings in 2001 about The Boulevard project — a retail/affordable housing development under construction at 5320 Lyndale Ave. S. — inspired them to lay the groundwork for a calmer, more thoughtful planning process.

Boulevard developer Lisa Kugler remembers it well. "There was so much heat," she said. "[People] were handing out leaflets, calling us terrible names at the liquor store. There was a demonstration at the Borton Volvo summer festival. People got up at the first public meeting and said, ‘How many felonies do you need to have before you can be evicted from a Section 8 [low-income rent voucher] building?’ People booed us. There were, like, 400 people at the first meeting."

Herridge recalls the time as "very saddening." She said, "In the end, I think it was a positive process, but it was painful to go through it and we just thought, well, maybe doing something like this [proactive approach] would help us avoid that."

With her project scheduled to open one month after the workshops begin, Kugler showed no evidence of bitterness as she reflected on her effort to bring affordable housing and retail to the neighborhood.

You can count her among the supporters of the South Lyndale Development Workshops.

"Certainly, if the neighborhood is more clear about what they want to see, people would probably be more comfortable making [development] proposals," Kugler said. "As developers have talked to me, very few of them want to go through the kind of an open-ended process where they’re taking a beating.

"[The workshops will be] such a useful discussion. It really needs to happen. It’s right on target for all of the urban issues. It’s a really worthwhile effort."

Mayor R.T. Rybak is also supportive.

Said Rybak, "This is my neighborhood. I come through here several times a week, and it’s clear that it has great potential.

"I put money in my budget to help the long-term planning for this area. I’m very excited to see that work come forward, and I’m committed to playing a big role and making it a reality."

Hopes and realities

Lohman said he recognizes that even with careful, thoughtful preplanning, residents will not necessarily determine what developers build in the South Lyndale Corridor.

"Our hope is that we create a vision and then we can actually find developers who will work within that vision," he said. "What I’ve heard from developers is that it’s helpful if neighborhoods have a vision of what they’d like to see because then they’re not starting with a completely blank sheet of paper.

"They can develop something that will go through the neighborhoods in a smoother way."

He added that government and neighborhoods are limited in their powers to restrict developments. If a proposed project uses no tax subsidy and fits within the area’s zoning requirements, residents can do little to stop it.

Although there is no crisis on the neighborhoods’ doorstep, Herridge said they hope to have hundreds of people show up for the workshops. They’re doing outreach via a mass mailing and their Web site at www.southlyndale.org, as well as posters in coffee shops. They will also hold a special meeting for business owners in and near the corridor.

Said Lohman, "People do have a vision for their community, and we’re giving them an opportunity to come out and both articulate that and learn some new things about development and density and so on."