Latest Ward 10 candidate wants ‘a seat at the table’

Saralyn Romanishan voices critical of neighborhood development are ignored

Romanishan. Submitted photo

Saralyn Romanishan said she was motivated to enter the Ward 10 race against incumbent City Council Member Lisa Bender because voices like hers are not being heard at City Hall.

“We’ve got a lot of people who feel like they do not have a seat at a table, and even if they do, that they do not have a say in the decisions that are happening,” Romanishan said.

Asked for examples of when neighborhood voices were ignored, she replied: “Every development we’ve had in the area.”

A Metro Transit employee and Wedge neighborhood resident who administers the Facebook page Minneapolis Residents for Responsible Development Coalition, Romanishan is one of at least two candidates challenging the Ward 10 incumbent, who is seeking a second term. Another is high school teacher David Schorn. A third, Scott Fine, appears to have abandoned his campaign.

Development is a hot-button topic in Ward 10, which is also a pressure point in the Minneapolis housing crunch. Bender has said the city’s low vacancy rate, recently estimated at 2.2 percent in the Uptown area by Marcus & Millichap, is one of the reasons she supports new development, but Romanishan is a vocal critic of how that development is playing out in Ward 10.

If elected, Romanishan said she plans to pursue changes to the area’s zoning so parts of Ward 10 are “not as shiny to a luxury developer,” and would also seek to place “more restrictions” on the granting of conditional use permits and variances. The former allows the city to set conditions on a property use not allowed as of right, and the latter are considered for exceptions to zoning code that meet the spirit but not the letter of ordinance.

Bender, who chairs the council’s Zoning and Planning Committee, said recent projects in Ward 10 have included the smaller scale, infill development she hears constituents demanding. She said it was “irresponsible to suggest that we could meet our neighborhoods’ and city’s housing needs without allowing the kinds of buildings that have been coming through the process and being built in the past few years.”

Both Romanishan and Bender said addressing rising rents should be a citywide priority over the next council term. But Romanishan is a critic of one of Bender’s major policy achievements, a reduction in minimum parking requirements for new residential projects built outside of the downtown core, which Bender said lowers rents in new developments by limiting the role parking infrastructure plays in project costs.

Romanishan said “parking is worse” in Ward 10 since the ordinance passed, adding that it has a negative impact on small business.

“We didn’t think it could get worse, we didn’t think congestion could get worse, but it did,” she said.

A review of city records shows only one new residential development has opened in Ward 10 since the ordinance was adopted in July 2015. Since then, the City Planning Commission has approved 10 mixed-use or residential developments in Ward 10 with a total of 695 dwelling units, plus the 123-room Moxy Hotel in Uptown. Just 70 of those units are now leasing, all of them in the Chroma building at 26th & Stevens in the Whittier neighborhood.

The ordinance, like other policies Bender has championed, including pedestrian-friendly development standards for some of Ward 10’s major transportaion corridors, is an outgrowth of the Minneapolis Plan for Sustainable Growth, an update to the city’s comprehensive plan adopted by a unanimous City Council in 2016. In part, it aims to encourage walking, biking and transit use over car ownership and solo driving.

Romanishan likened the plan to an unrealistic “wish list,” and said it is “not working” for residents and businesses. She said policy directives that make parking scarcer and force people to walk further to a destination could be unsafe, particularly for people arriving home from work after dark.

Some have argued that debates over city policy have occassionally crossed a line into personal attacks on the Minneapolis Residents for Responsible Development Coalition page, where one post coined the term “Bendrification” to express displeasure with the direction of neighborhood development. Bender said the “tone” of the MRRDC page “indicates the lack of ability to work together with people who have a different viewpoint.”

The post was later removed. Romanishan said she was asked to remove it, but wouldn’t say by whom.

“That was honoring a request from somebody, because I listen to people,” she said. “I stand by all of my posts.”