Contentious LHiNC election ushers in wave of Linden Corner opponents

LINDEN HILLS — During an unusually contentious election on Oct. 13, Linden Hills residents voted out three of the four incumbents seeking reelection to the neighborhood council.

Ten candidates competed for seven seats on the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council (LHiNC) and a total of 258 votes were cast.

By contrast, during last year’s election, eight seats were open but only four neighborhood residents took the plunge and ran for LHiNC.

Considering the number of votes cast and candidates competing, neighborhood coordinator Molly McCartney characterized the Oct. 13 election as “one of the more unique situations I’ve seen.”

One of the three incumbents to come up short was current Linden Hills Neighborhood Council (LHiNC) Chair Lesley Lydell. Lydell said she believed she and fellow incumbents Jeff Stites and Marilyn Doyle weren’t reelected because of the neighborhood firestorm created by Mark Dwyer’s proposed Linden Corner development.

LHiNC discussed the project and gathered public feedback about the proposed five-story mixed-use building on numerous occasions this year. But since Dwyer still hasn’t submitted a city plan to the city for formal review, LHiNC hasn’t yet taken a vote indicating whether or not it supports the project.

Meanwhile, two of the newly elected LHiNC members — Christopher Maddox and Grant Hawthorne — have been outspokenly against the project and helped organize a petition drive that ultimately gathered over 1,000 signatures from neighborhood residents opposed to Linden Corner’s scale.  

Speaking of the newly elected LHiNC members, Maddox said: “I think all the people who were elected are saying they want to protect Linden Hills from an enormous development and keep future developments within the zoning code.”

He added that he has no problem with the way LHiNC has approached the Linden Corner thus far.

But Dwyer’s project is set to come before the Planning Commission for formal review late next month and only one LHiNC meeting is on the calendar between now and then. With time running short, Lydell said she believes the departure of experienced LHiNC members may ultimately work against those who don’t want to see Linden Corner move forward.

“The real shame here is I think it’s foolish to get rid of people who have followed and tracked the issue closely,” she said.

Stites was instrumental in organizing the neighborhood’s successful residential solar grant program and is currently involved spearheading efforts to bring the Nice Ride bike-sharing program to Linden Hills. Lydell said Doyle’s legal experience was also an asset for LHiNC.

Given all the work Stites and Doyle are doing for the neighborhood and her own experience as chair of LHiNC for the past two years, Lydell said the election represents the loss of volunteers who have done “a lot of substantive good for the community.”

Lydell and the other jettisoned incumbents aren’t necessarily done serving on LHiNC, however.

LHiNC’s bylaws allow for the council to have 15 members, but the dearth of interest in last year’s election left four open seats. That means LHiNC could appoint up to four residents to serve on the board, perhaps including Lydell, Stites or Doyle.

Maddox said he thinks “continuity is essential,” especially with regard to ongoing neighborhood initiatives and programs. He said he hopes to sit down with Lydell soon to get her perspective on how the council can navigate the transition with as little disruption as possible, but stopped short of saying he’d support efforts to appoint any of the ousted incumbents back on LHiNC.

— Reach Aaron Rupar at [email protected] On Twitter at @atruparJournals.