Civic beat: Questions loom over latest proposal for Stone Arch Apartments

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July 20, 2009 // UPDATED 9:08 am - July 20, 2009
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
In take two of Stone Arch Apartments phase two, city leadership again showed concerns about the way the triangular parcel north of the Stone Arch Bridge would be developed. A city committee is asking for more time to make a decision, and now signs are pointing toward the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board perhaps getting involved, too.

In April, the Planning Commission and City Council both denied a rezoning request to Bluff Street Development that would have allowed them to build a 98-unit, six-story mixed-use building on a plot they own at 600 Main St. The council cited concerns about intensifying development along the Mississippi River.

Currently, the plot is zoned to allow construction of about a 40-unit apartment complex. But Bluff Street wants more, requesting a variance to allow them to build up to 79 units. Similar moves were previously OK’d by the City Council for projects near their plot, the developers said, arguing that’s a precedent the council has to follow.

Council Member Gary Schiff (9th Ward), chairman of the zoning committee, said the issue comes down to density.

Planning staff recommended against approval of the variance because the proposal would create a high-density building, they said. Planner Jim Voll said staff’s understanding has been that the city wants a medium-density project.

But zoning committee members ultimately couldn’t agree with each other. After deadlocking on two separate votes, they tabled the issue for two weeks, asking staff to look into the precedence created by nearby developments.

In the meantime, there are likely to be outside-of-City Hall discussions about the land. One matter that’s been brewing away from the City Council is that neighbors to the plot believe it should be used as a park. The Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association is against Bluff Street’s proposal, calling the site the gateway to their neighborhood. Several approved plans in the city mark the plot as open space.

But as long as Bluff Street owns the land, they can build. They’ve tried in the past to negotiate a trade with the Park Board, including once for land on the West Bank. That failed.

The Park Board, though, is showing new interest. Told at a July 15 meeting that Bluff Street appears to be moving ahead, commissioners said it could be worth looking into a deal. Lobbyist Brian Rice told the board there could be about $2 million available for land acquisition, including about $700,000 just approved by the Legislature.

“That’s it,” Commissioner Annie Young said. “Let’s do it.”


Campaign finance report coming in September

There will be a September report on election candidates’ campaign finances after all.

One of the side effects of the city’s transition to ranked-choice voting — and subsequent elimination of a primary — is that candidates were no longer required to report the sources of their campaign funds until just before the November election.

Concerned about the decrease in transparency, the City Council on July 17 unanimously approved a resolution to designate a primary date. Although the move doesn’t bring back a primary, it does trigger the law that requires a finance report be filed a week before one would have been held. This year, that means candidates will have to have their reports in by Sept. 8.


Garbage burner proposal heads to City Council

Hennepin County is headed to the City Council to appeal a Planning Commission decision to not allow an increase in use of the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, the garbage-burning neighbor to new Target Field.

The county says the burners’ boilers could handle more than 400,000 tons of garbage per year, but because of a 1987 city permit, they’ve been limited to 365,000 tons. The county cites a 10 percent increase in energy production as a reason to allow the expansion; opponents say there are health concerns involved with sending more particles into the air. Those concerns led the Planning Commission to their denial.

The appeal will be heard before the city’s zoning committee at 9:30 a.m. July 23.