An amenity that’s casting shadows

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts gallery expansion has touched off a fight over whether the city’s comprehensive plan is being ignored for a major institution.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts plans a 117,000-square-foot addition, increasing its gallery space 40 percent. The Michael Graves-designed building, its website says, "is a calm and harmonious building well suited to its residential neighborhood."

Some neighbors couldn’t disagree more.

The addition would stretch 320 feet along the 2500 block of Stevens Avenue, rising at least 65 feet, or approximately six stories, as close as 18 feet to the sidewalk. The Institute would build nearly as close to the sidewalk as zoning allows, blocking the morning sun for homeowners on the other side of the street.

The addition would eliminate more than 60 parking spaces while increasing museum traffic, putting heavier demands on residential streets, neighbors say. The loading dock would move 50 feet closer to their homes.

Nearby residents say they were, until recently, left out of planning for a $50 million development that they acknowledge benefits the wider community.

The expansion battle also raises questions about whether the city should require developers to meet the city’s own comprehensive plan — a broad vision — or simply enforce details of the city’s zoning code.

Collections and approvals

The Graves addition would allow the Institute to display its new acquisitions: The Dayton Collection of Chinese Furniture, Sculpture, Decorative Arts and Painting; the Wells Fargo Collection of Modernist Design; and the Vermillion Press Collection of Late 20th Century Works on Paper.

The Whittier Alliance, the Heritage Preservation Commission, the Planning Department, the Planning Commission, and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (which owns the underlying land) all approved the plan.

The across-the-street neighbors are appealing the decision to City Hall.

"I think I am going to support the MIA’s plans to expand," said Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward), who represents the neighborhood. "Can there be some modifications? Maybe. In general, it is a good project. All the objections we are getting are from people immediately across the street, which is understandable."

Stevens Avenue resident John Kremer said if the argument is framed as the grumbling of a few angry neighbors, they will lose the appeal. But he said the bigger question is whether the Institute’s plans received enough scrutiny — and whether the city is holding its large, powerful institutions to the same standards as the little guys.

"Small businesses have a hard time doing anything to their buildings," said Kremer, who is a developer. "These folks don’t seem to have to play by the same rules."

The Institute of Arts declined a request for an interview, prior to the Oct. 1 City Council Zoning and Planning Committee hearing on the neighbor’s appeal, which coincided with the Southwest Journal’s deadline.

The Institute invited immediate neighbors to a private meeting Sept. 28. Some who attended said Institute Director and President Evan Mauer apologized and offered to work with them to improve the design. Asked if Mauer apologized, an MIA spokesperson said, "In his own way, he did."

Zoning and Planning Committee delayed action until Oct. 29, giving the Institute and its neighbors time to try to reach a compromise on issues of parking, the loading dock and the scale of the proposed addition.

Mayor R.T. Rybak urged neighbors to tone down their rhetoric, such as calling the Graves’ addition nothing more than a "big box" — an apparent reference to his ties to Target, for whom he has designed a line of housewares.

Rybak assured the Institute’s neighbors their concerns would be heard.

"I would ask you to lower the heat on this," he said. "We want to protect this neighborhood."

The Institute plans to start the project in February and open in September 2004, city documents say.

The Minneapolis Plan

Paul Smith and Donna Moreno live right across the street from the planned expansion. Smith said he finds irony in the Institute’s just-opened exhibit: "American sublime: Epic landscapes of our nation."

"They are celebrating the vista and they are taking ours," he said.

Smith is a thorn in the Institute’s side because he is also a city zoning inspector and knows the rules. He says the Institute’s decision to build as close to the street as allowable flies in the face of the Minneapolis Plan, the city’s overarching planning document.

The Minneapolis Plan sets goals for how institutions should work to assure that the scale and form of new developments or expansions "will occur in a manner most compatible with the surrounding area." It says institutions should:

 

  • "Concentrate the greatest density and height in the interior of the institutional campus"; and

     

     

  • "Develop building forms on the edges of the institutional property which are most reflective of neighboring properties."

     

    Smith said he is not opposed to the Institute’s expansion, but wants it done on the middle of the property, on what is now Target Park. Institute representatives have told neighbors it wants to preserve Target Park. Further, they reportedly said an underground storage vault complicates other expansion locations.

    Said Smith, "The city has defined clear directives regarding the growth of major institutions, and has established definitive objectives to buffer residential properties. [The Institute] has decided to present a plan that is the antithesis of the City’s Comprehensive Plan."

    The city’s planning department approved the plan, saying it met height and setback requirements. On Sept. 9, the city’s Planning Commission approved parking and curb-cut exceptions on a 5-3 vote and the site plan 6-2.

    Chair Judith Martin said she did not see the Institute’s expansion as a flagrant violation of the city plan.

    She said the Minneapolis Plan’s guidelines on institutional development were probably written with institutions like the University of Minnesota in mind — not for institutions the size of the Institute of Arts.

    "Minneapolis, like any other city, if it is going to succeed, has got to change," Martin said. "The changes are going to come in many and complex ways. Not everybody is going to be happy with every change they see. That is the reality of life in the city."

    "Certainly the folks who live on Stevens are not the first ones we’ve ever had come and tell us that they don’t want to lose the view or the open space that they have across from their houses. Lots of folks have that complaint."

    Michael Krause, executive director of the Green Institute and a member of the Planning Commission, voted against the Institute’s plan.

    "I am glad they are expanding," he said. "It is one of the best museums in the country. We also have some really unique and historic architecture in those homes on Stevens Avenue. We needed to strike a balance. I don’t feel the museum did a good job of that."

    A parking exemption

    According to city zoning codes, the Institute of Arts should have 1,300 parking spots after its expansion, based on its square footage, and the neighboring Children’s Theater should have 238 spaces.

    The expansion trims the available parking for the two institutions from 691 parking spaces to 625, more than 600 short of the zoning code.

    Jim Voll, a planner who worked on the project, called the code requirement "arbitrary." The project is big enough to qualify for a Planned Unit Development, meaning that the Planning Commission can adjust parking requirements, and — unlike smaller projects — it can count on-street parking.

    An Institute-commissioned study calculated parking needs, assuming 10-20 percent more visitors and no new employees. It said that on a Sunday afternoon after the expansion, the Institute and its neighbors would need 1,100 spaces. Adding 497 on-street spaces to the 625 parking spaces, the study came up with a 22-space parking surplus. The study allowed the Institute to get an exemption to the parking code.

    Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) expressed skepticism; the developer pays for the study, she said, "and I have never seen a [parking study] do anything other than prove a developer’s point."

    Neighbors Smith and Kremer are skeptical, too. Kremer said he believes the Institute will have to ask for a parking ramp later. He points to one of the study’s conclusions: "If better event coordination and remote shuttle parking cannot be arranged, then it is likely that there will be a need for the provision of additional off-street parking to support the proposed expansion," it said.

    "Should this not be part of the discussion?" Kremer asked. "If this is approved, a ramp will be necessary." Kremer told the Zoning and Planning Committee that Mauer had previously promised that if the Institute acquired the Fair Oaks site at 3rd Avenue and 24th Street, the Stevens parking lots would become green space. The Institute now has the Fair Oaks site, he said, but is proposing the addition on the Stevens Avenue lots instead.

    Mauer did not address Kremer’s assertion during his testimony. An Institute spokeswoman said afterwards the staff was "not aware of" any such promise.

    Shadow boxing

    Smith points out City Code 530.250. It says, "Buildings shall be located and arranged to minimize shadowing on public spaces and adjacent properties."

    "If you wanted to maximize shadowing, you couldn’t do better than this," Smith said of the Institute’s addition.

    While the building will cast shadows, "it meets the height limits and setback requirements" of the zoning code, the city’s planning report said.

    "We are talking about a couple of three hours before the sun can clear the building," City Councilmember Zimmermann said. "Will it be such a big difference that it totally ruins their lives? Probably not. If it were me living there, would I squawk? Probably."

    Neighbor Tom Kelner criticized the project’s shadow study. The study began looking at the shadow cast by the proposed addition — starting at 10 a.m., he told the Zoning and Planning Committee. The sun comes up at or before 7 a.m. "At 10, it’s a moot point. Most people are gone."

    More related stories,

    Neighbors versus neighborhood group

    A footprint map of MIA

    The plan and the reality

    There’s no such thing as a free museum

    MIA history: limits to growth, desire to stay

    Fitting in, historically speaking

    Doing it better?

    Coming up: City Council Zoning and Planning hearing

    Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1:30 p.m., Room 317, Minneapolis City Hall, 350 S. 5th St.