Developer says city unfairly blocked condo project

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July 6, 2009 // UPDATED 9:52 am - July 6, 2009
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
Parc Central developer seeking $23.6 million

LORING PARK — Wayzata developer Brad Hoyt was expected back on the stand July 17 when a civil trial over his unrealized plans for a Loring Park residential development was scheduled to resume in Hennepin County District Court.

Hoyt sued the city, claiming City Council Member Lisa Goodman unfairly thwarted his 2004 proposal for the 21-story Parc Centrale development. Attorneys for the city countered that the tower was simply too tall for a neighborhood characterized by three- and four-story buildings.

Attorney Charlie Nauen, who is representing the city, said he planned to ask Judge Stephen Aldrich to dismiss the case when the parties returned to court. The trial began June 9.

Five days of witness testimony included Hoyt, owner of Continental Property Group, recalling profanity-laced messages from Goodman. Hoyt attorney William Skolnick argued it was evidence of Goodman’s personal animus toward his client.

“It’s not like he’s fainting because he heard the F-word,” Skolnick said. “But it’s the emotional content and the fact that she’s working against him, which isn’t her job.”

Skolnick said Goodman was required to remain impartial to the Parc Centrale project during its review by the city, but instead actively worked against it. Hoyt planned to seek $23.6 million in damages.

Nauen declined to comment while the case was ongoing.

According to the complaint filed by Skolnick:

— Hoyt, working with architecture firm Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd., originally conceived of an eight- or 10-story mixed-use development for the site. Representatives from Rockcastle presented the proposal to city staff and Goodman aide Doug Kress in a June 2004 meeting, receiving a “favorable preliminary review.”

— Rockcastle again met with city officials a week later, this time with Goodman in attendance. Goodman allegedly said the plan “would be bad urban design and not economically feasible,” and stated that a tower with town homes was a better design strategy.

— The project was redesigned to include a tower and town homes with a total of 104 residential units. In July 2004, Hoyt applied for two conditional use permits and two variances required by the new, larger project.

— In August 2004, the Minneapolis Planning Commission denied the applications. An appeal to the City Council in September also was met with a denial.

John Van Heel was president of Citizens for a Loring Park Community and served on the neighborhood organization’s land use committee in 2004. Van Heel recalled that the committee was “receptive” to Hoyt’s proposal when he first presented it to the neighborhood.

But word about the tower proposal soon spread in Loring Park. When Hoyt’s representatives returned for another meeting with the neighborhood, there was clear opposition from Loring Park residents, Van Heel said.

“It was the height,” he said. “That was the biggest thing, that it was blocking views.”

“In addition to blocking views, there was just the feeling that it was out of character with the surrounding neighborhood,” he added.

More than 600 people signed a petition opposing the project and submitted it to the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED). CPED staff cited that letter in their recommendation to deny the project.

The CPED report stated Parc Centrale’s height was out of proportion with surrounding properties. The report also referred to the Shoreland Overlay District around Loring Pond, which requires a variance for construction over two-and-a-half stories.

Hoyt still owns the property at 401 Oak Grove St., where he proposed to build the tower. It is a surface parking lot.