Civic beat: Stone Arch

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October 12, 2009
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
Civic beat: Stone Arch rejection held up by City Council

The City Council on Oct. 2 voted 8-4 to deny an appeal from developers who want to construct a 79-unit apartment building near the end of the Stone Arch Bridge.

The project, dubbed the second phase of the nearby Stone Arch Apartments, has drawn out residents of the surrounding Marcy Holmes neighborhood, as well as river preservationists, who are hoping the parcel will someday be parkland. Both neighborhood and city plans show the plot, across the street from other housing developments, marked as green space.

The council’s denial fit with planning staff and Planning Commission opinions, but it didn’t pass through the council without lengthy debate.

Before the denial, Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) had proposed approving the appeal with the condition that the developers, Bluff Street Development, not be allowed to start construction until October 2010. The extra time could have allowed all the sides in the dispute to hash out their issues, Johnson said.

“I do not do this lightly,” she said when proposing the approval.

That failed on an 8-4 vote.

Afterward, an alternative from Council Member Diane Hofstede (3rd Ward) that would have approved some parts of the appeal but limited the number of units to 56 also failed in a 6-6 tie.

Council Member Paul Ostrow said the developers’ plans just didn’t make sense for the area. The city’s plans call for medium density. Seventy-nine units would have amounted to high density. Ostrow said some on the council seemed to be acting out of fear of a lawsuit, which shouldn’t be a top concern.

“There’s always going to be somebody who wants to sue us,” he said.

The council members who voted for the denial were Scott Benson (11th Ward), Betsy Hodges (13th Ward), Cam Gordon (2nd Ward), Hofstede, Ostrow, Gary Schiff (9th Ward), Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) and Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward). Those who voted against the denial were Johnson, Don Samuels (5th Ward), Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) and Ralph Remington (10th Ward). Council Vice President Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) was absent.

The developers are expected to sue.

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City loan to help investigation of hydrothermal

Developers Schafer Richardson want to look into using the Mississippi River as a source of hydrothermal energy at their East Bank Mills project, and they’re getting $30,000 worth of help from the city. The City Council on Oct. 2 unanimously approved providing a loan to the developers, citing the city’s sustainability goals.

The hydrothermal concept is in an early phase. As laid out in a staff report, Schafer Richardson wants to use already existing tunnels — which were once used to power milling operations — to help heat and cool part of its in-development project in the former Pillsbury A Mill, along Main Street. Water from the river would flow through the tunnels and interact with heat exchangers, afterward re-entering the river through another already existing shaft.

If it’s found that the hydrothermal concept works, the developers will have to pay the city back the full amount of the loan plus 4 percent-per-year interest. The city also would be able to use the study for other sites along the river, if it finds any.

If the concept is found not to work, the city would get the $30,000 back without interest.

Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) had concerns about how this would compare to the controversial Crown Hydro hydropower plant project, which would use St. Anthony Falls to produce electricity. Neighbors and politicians have expressed fears about Crown Hydro drying up the falls, and although some experts have disputed that argument, many have remained
hesitant to support
the project.

Ann Calvert, who coordinated the Schafer Richardson agreement for the city, made a point to say the loan doesn’t mean the city is giving approval to move ahead with any hydrothermal installations. Rather, it’s saying the city is interested in finding out what works.

It’s “not a cart blanche go-ahead,” Calvert said.

That seemed to ease some of Goodman’s worries, although she added that she wondered whether approving the loan could lead to a windfall of similar requests. Then again, she said, she felt good about Schafer Richardson’s rapport with residents.

“This is a developer who has a stake in the community,” Goodman said.

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Nordyke outraises, outspends Park Board opponents

The campaign finance report for Tom Nordyke, the incumbent Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board president, came in after the previous Downtown Journal, which featured the war chest amounts for all candidates in Downtown-affecting races, went to press.

The updated report showed his campaign has raised $13,030 this year while spending $13,631.92. That means it has raised and spent more than any other at-large Park Board candidate’s campaign. John Erwin’s campaign came in second in that =race, raising $11,263 while spending $9,410.63.

Nordyke’s campaign balance as of Sept. 1 was minus $457.10.

For a searchable database of all campaign finances, go to bit.ly/3SRLbO.

In other election news, look for a voter’s guide in the next Downtown Journal, published Oct. 26.

The election is Nov. 3.