Planning Commission postpones decision on Linden Corner project

LINDEN HILLS — A controversial condominium project planned for the Linden Hills neighborhood is getting closer scrutiny as the developer attempts to win city approval for the five-story building.

The latest hiccup for Linden Corner — the mixed-use building proposed for the corner of 43rd and Upton Avenue — came at a Jan. 9 meeting of the Minneapolis Planning Commission at which residents hoped to speak out about the project before city officials for the first time.

Commission members opted to put the conversation on hold until Jan. 23 after receiving a petition signed by 108 residents urging them to wait on a recommendation to the city council until the neighborhood group had an opportunity to weigh and more environmental reviews were completed.

The Linden Hills Neighborhood Council has held several meetings on the project but board members are not slated to vote on it until their meeting on Feb. 7. The board’s vote to oppose or not oppose the project has no legal standing, but is considered an important barometer of community support.

“It’s not legally binding, but whatever decision is taken, it’s representative of community support,” said Patrick Smith, who co-chairs the neighborhood council, following the Planning Commission’s Jan. 9 meeting.

As of press time, the Planning Commission was due to take up the proposal again at their meeting on Jan. 23, after city officials determined whether more environmental studies were warranted.

Petitioners are asking for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet, which is required on certain large-scale projects or if it is determined to have a significant environmental impact. The project does not automatically trigger such a review, so the city’s zoning and planning committee was  set to decide if one was necessary at their Jan. 19 meeting.

If further study is required, city officials say the review could take several months to complete. The review can not be used to block the project, but will be considered by city officials as part of the approval process.

The Linden Corner project, which aims to bring 40 residences, a restaurant and retail space to the site of Famous Dave’s restaurant, was once home to a gas station and critics fear the underground parking involved could lead to problems at nearby Lake Harriet.

The developer, Mark Dwyer, says the kind of review that is being sought applies to larger housing projects, and that this development should be exempt. He also said that the environmental engineering firm working on the project is “among the best in the business” and the contamination identified on the site will be cleaned up by experienced contractors. 

Detractors — many of whom appeared at the Planning Commission meeting wearing stickers with the slogan “It takes a village to keep a village” — said they saw delay as a win for their cause.

“I feel really hopeful because they’re [city officials] listening,” said Robyn Traxler, a lifelong resident who lives just a block from the site where the development would be built.

Like other opponents, Traxler said she believes Linden Corner is too large for the area and will detract from the neighborhood’s character.

Though residents believe development is inevitable, they object to the fact that the building being proposed is five stories tall — two stories higher than zoning rules allow. Staff members from the city’s planning department have recommended the Planning Commission allow a conditional use permit that would allow the building to be 56 feet tall — 14 feet taller than the limit set by zoning rules — though they also said the top two floors should be set back from the lower floors.

Not everyone who showed up for the Planning Commission meeting is opposed to the project, however.

Maggie Koerth-Baker, who lives about a half-mile south of the site in the Fulton neighborhood, said she came out to show not everyone in the area is opposed the project. Koerth-Baker said she supports the project because the added residents will support local businesses and be able to access public transportation — assets she said were important for creating a sustainable community.  

“I don’t think it [Linden Corner] takes away from anything,” she said. “This is just more of what makes Linden Hills great.”

Dwyer, the developer and a longtime Linden Hills resident, said such opinions are not uncommon and that the group opposing the project is “not necessarily representative of the will of the majority of neighbors.”

“Misinformation and hype is being used to scare good neighbors — creating more stress in Linden Hills than any new building ever could,” Dwyer said. “A decision from the city is warranted sooner than later. This delay is regrettable.”

Whatever concerns are voiced, opponents say they are prepared for city approval of the project.

“Everything about the staff report shows the city is jumping through hoops for this project,” said Jane Prince, a lawyer working on the project on behalf of the citizen opposition group.

That doesn’t mean residents have resigned themselves and will stop fighting, however.

“The Planning Commission will recommend to the City Council where to go, and then it’s a whole different ball game,” said Bob Russell, a Linden Hills resident who opposes the project. “After that, the final decision can be appealed, and after that we can take it to court.”

“At the end of the day, the overwhelming will of the people is that this is something that isn’t conducive to the area and destroys everything the neighborhood represents,” he said.

Reach Drew Kerr at drewbkerr@gmail.com.

Planning Commission postpones decision on Linden Corner project

LINDEN HILLS — A controversial condominium project planned for the Linden Hills neighborhood is being held up while city officials determine whether further environmental study is needed.

Members of the Minneapolis Planning Commission were slated to discuss the proposed Linden Corner project at their meeting on Monday, but decided to delay action until their Jan. 23 meeting while city officials determine whether or not more research is warranted.

The decision to postpone a vote by the Planning Commission came after a citizen’s group opposed to the project submitted a petition containing nearly 2,000 signatures to city officials calling for further environmental review.

The developer, Mark Dwyer, says the environmental engineering firm working on the project is “among the best in the business” and that contamination identified on the site will be cleaned up by experienced contractors. 

He also said the kind of review that is being sought applies to larger housing projects, and that this development should be exempt. The proposal calls for 40 residential units, a restaurant space and several retail spaces.

But petitioners say several questions about the site — located at 43rd and Upton Avenue — remain unanswered and deserve more attention. Environmental concerns such as ground quality and the possible disruption of underground aquifers have never been given the kind of attention they deserved, the residents said.

“I feel really hopeful because they’re (city officials) listening,” said Robyn Traxler, a lifelong resident who lives just a block from the site where the development would be built.

The petition, submitted by Linden Hills Residents for Responsible Development, also suggests that the Linden Neighborhood Council has been unable to act on the proposal because of incomplete information.

The neighborhood council has held several meetings on the project but its board members are not slated to vote on it until their meeting on Feb. 7. The board’s vote has no legal standing, but is considered an important barometer of community support.

“It’s not legally binding, but whatever decision is taken, it’s representative of community support,” said Patrick Smith, who co-chairs the neighborhood council.

The decision to delay action by the Planning Commission came as a relief to residents in the neighborhood who have argued against the proposal amid fears that it will detract from the neighborhood’s character.

One of the primary concerns is that the developer is seeking to make the building five stories tall — two stories higher than zoning rules allow.

Staff members from the city’s planning department have recommended the Planning Commission allow a conditional use permit that would permit the building to be 56 feet tall — 14 feet taller than the limit set by zoning rules – though they also said the top two floors should be set back from the lower floors.

Around two-dozen residents appeared at the Planning Commission’s meeting on Tuesday, many of them wearing stickers that bore the slogan “It takes a village to save a village.”

They were not given a chance to speak during the meeting, but said afterwards that they were heartened the city was going to take a harder look at the project.

At the same time, though, many said they believed city officials would dismiss the petition and ultimately come out in favor of the project, regardless of the concerns voiced by neighbors.

“Everything about the staff report shows the city is jumping through hoops for this project,” said Jane Prince, a lawyer working on the project on behalf of the citizen opposition group.

Dwyer, the developer and a longtime Linden Hills resident, maintained that the group opposing the project is “not necessarily representative of the will of the majority of neighbors,” however.

“Misinformation and hype is being used to scare good neighbors — creating more stress in Linden Hills than any new building ever could,” Dwyer said. “A decision from the city is warranted sooner than later. This delay is regrettable.”

Even if the Planning Commissions decides to support the project, though, residents say they will not stop fighting.

“The Planning Commission will recommend to the City Council where to go, and then it’s a whole different ball game,” said Bob Russell, a Linden Hills resident who opposes the project. “After that, the final decision can be appealed, and after that we can take it to court.”

“At the end of the day, the overwhelming will of the people is that this is something that isn’t conducive to the area and destroys everything the neighborhood represents,” he said.

(Note: This story has been revised to correct information about the approvals needed to move ahead with a 56-foot tall building.)