Whittier Trader Joe’s plan in limbo

WHITTIER — Plans for a Trader Joe’s as part of a mixed-use development at 22nd Street and Lyndale Avenue hit a snag in May when the Minnesota Legislature opted not to act on a bill to provide a variance for the grocery chain.

The law in question prevents off-sale liquor licenses from being granted at establishments within less than 2,000 feet of each other in Minneapolis, which would make grocery chain Trader Joe’s out of compliance because of its proximity to the Wedge Community Co-op and Hum’s Liquor. Developer Mark Dziuk and the City Council thought the issue required state approval and the council voted 7-6 in April to support legislation for a variance at the address.

But the state kicked the issue back to the city, causing some confusion.  

“At the end of the day the determination is that the spacing ordinance is local, not statutory, which is kind of a surprise to all of us because historically, how it’s been handled is that it is statutory and I think the reason that the sort of belief came in that it was a statutory provision was that the exemptions we have sought have tended to be statutory because you can write things into law that would then supercede city ordinance,” said City Council Member Robert Lilligren (6th Ward).

Dziuk couldn’t be reached for comment for this story, but he has said his project, planned to include 58 condos and a bank, would not move forward without Trader Joe’s as a tenant. He already had a signed contract with the business.  

“We’re trying to invest and create our own stimulus package,” Dzuik said in an April interview. “You can’t do it with another so-so mediocre business. [Trader Joe’s] is a destination for a lot of people and they’ll move into our area because of it.”

With the issue back in city hands, it’s unclear whether Dziuk has a real shot at bringing the grocer to his project site, which is just north of his recently completed residential and retail building, Le Parisien.

Lilligren said if Dziuk wants to move forward with the plans, he would have to apply for an exception to the spacing ordinance with the city. That has only been done three times in the past and only for the relocation of businesses.

So approving the variance for Trader Joe’s would be a first, Lilligren said.  

“It means we’d have to take the unprecedented step of establishing an exemption to our spacing ordinance,” he said.

But Lilligren said he’s not committed to any outcome, so he doesn’t want to “close doors” on anything.

Given the earlier City Council vote and prior heated discussion on the topic, the possibility for a variance approval is there. Another option, Lilligren said, would be to open a Trader Joe’s without the beer and wine section of the store.    

That part of the business is a favorite of customers and a reason some in the community support Dziuk’s venture. But others back the Wedge Co-op and Hum’s, who argue their businesses would be negatively impacted.

Lilligren said he doesn’t expect any action on the issue in the near future.