Lagoon project set for May 23 city review

The Minneapolis Planning Commission’s review of the controversial Lagoon condo/retail/office project will go forward Monday, May 23 after a month’s worth of delays.

The latest holdup came after 35 residents petitioned the city to require an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) for the project, which features a 12-story, 112-unit condo building and 100,000-square-foot, five-story office complex along with entertainment and retail on a parking lot behind the Lagoon Theater, 1300 Lagoon Ave.

An EAW would delay the project the developers, Stuart Ackerberg and Clark Gassen, want to begin construction this summer.

Some neighbors have complained that traffic generated by the development will hurt area air quality in the already congested area. An EAW would study the potential problem further, but the City Council voted 11-1 May 13 not to require one.

The Planning Commission’s May 23 meeting will start at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall, 350 S. 5th St. in room 317.

Project concern

The development shows signs of becoming a major political issue. At the Ward 10 DFL endorsing convention, candidate Ralph Remington finished first in the voting in part due to his opposition to the project. (Remington was not endorsed; fellow candidate Allan Bernard also opposes the project while candidate Scott Persons is more supportive.)

At the city DFL convention May 14, mayoral candidates Peter McLaughlin and R.T. Rybak also issued general criticism of the area’s "high-rise" developments.

Rybak voiced concerns about the project during the Council’s EAW discussion. The mayor said he appreciates that developers Stuart Ackerberg and Clark Gassen have worked with neighbors, but added that he still has "serious concerns about the height, in addition to the traffic."

Rybak wouldn’t say if he was for or against the project, but did say that a balance must be struck for the community and developer’s concerns, especially given the large number of area projects in the area, most notably around Lake Calhoun.

"The developer deserves focus on their project alone, but the community deserves having [the city] coordinate our planning on transportation with everything else that’s going on," he said.

McLaughlin did not return calls for comment by the Journal’s deadline.

Current Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) supports the project and said this type of mixed-use development brings the area exactly what’s needed: new jobs. He said traffic is part of a larger problem that can be solved if mass transit is used more.

The verdict among area neighborhood organizations is split. The Lowry Hill East (Wedge) Neighborhood Association, which would be home to the project, voted to support it, while documenting traffic, height and pedestrian concerns. The neighborhood group to the west, the East Isles Residents Association, backed the Wedge.

However, the East Calhoun and CARAG neighborhoods, which sit south of the project, recommended that the city reject the plan.

EAW petitioner, Lara Norkus-Crampton of East Calhoun, said concerned residents aren’t against Uptown growth, but feel as if the city staff is not taking appropriate consideration of the traffic and environmental issues associated with the project. "There are no studies looking at the big picture," she said.

CARAG board member Kay Graham, another petitioner, said neighbors have consulted a lawyer about their options to delay the project and have spoken to Rybak about development issues in the area. She said she hopes her group can devise a "Plan B" to lessen negative impacts.

Norkus-Crampton said she’s continuing to lobby for an environment study, but Graham and other residents are pushing for a type of moratorium to halt the project and allow time for more discussion.

Niziolek disagrees. "Stopping development in Uptown is not going to solve the transportation problem."

He said he feels the city and neighborhoods have had plenty of time and numerous meetings to digest and work through the project’s potential issues.

Striking a balance

Ackerberg said he appreciates residents’ concerns and has taken steps to tweak the project. Specifically, he said he has tried to take some of the potential traffic off Lagoon Avenue.

Ackerberg said that while cars would enter the development on Girard Avenue South & Lagoon; the main exit would be on Fremont with a secondary one at Hennepin – keeping that traffic off Lagoon.

Jack Boarman, a BKV Group architect for the project, said to improve pedestrian safety, developers reduced Fremont curb cuts from five to two side-by-side cuts that would seem like one.

Ackerberg added that there would also be an aggressive push for more mass transit by encouraging those within his development to utilize the Uptown transit hub.

Rybak said he’s asked city staff to look at expanding a current Uptown traffic study to a larger area. (Three 10-story-plus residential developments are planned for Lake Street across from Lake Calhoun’s north shore.)

He said he’s also talked with city staff about merging functions traffic and development. Rybak said he said he’s awaiting a staff report on these issues before making any further determinations.

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