A battle in Loring Park

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July 18, 2011
By: Jeremy Zoss
Jeremy Zoss

Controversial developer Brad Hoyt is back with plans for apartments at 401 Oak Grove

Residential development is always a complex process, but most projects don’t come with as much baggage as the one slated for 401 Oak Grove in Loring Park. While the current proposal for apartments on the site is new, the story of the property stretches back for years, and the history of the site may affect its future.

In 2004, developer Brad Hoyt of Wayzata-based Continental Development Corp. proposed a “point tower” project called Parc Centrale for the site, which would have been a rare high rise in an area dominated by historic mansions.

The 21-story development was ultimately rejected by the Minneapolis City Council and the city’s Planning Commission. A second plan was proposed for the site, a far more modest six-story condo development. That project also came to a halt when City Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) declared a moratorium on construction in the area and Hoyt withdrew the project.

Hoyt sued the city, claiming that Goodman unfairly blocked the project. In 2009, a judge ruled that Goodman was unfairly biased against Parc Centrale. However, after a series of appeals, all monetary awards to Hoyt were voided.

Now, Hoyt has a third proposal for the site. The new version is a seven-story, 124-unit market-rate apartment development with a mix of one- and two-bedroom units, 154 stalls of underground parking and a public “pocket park” on the Clifton Place side. The project would require multiple conditional use permits and variances in order to fit within the city’s guidelines for development in the area. In her staff report, Senior Planner Becca Farrar recommended that the City Planning Commission grant all variances and approve the site plan.   

However, not everyone feels the same way. The neighborhood organization Citizens for a Loring Park Community (CLPC) opposed the project and despite recommendations for approval by Farrar, the Planning Commission voted down the plan by 4-3 on June 27. Hoyt plans to appeal 
the ruling.

According to Hoyt, the failure of the project to win approval from the commission has nothing to do with its merits. Its denial, he says, is retaliation for his legal fight against the city for the death of the Parc Centrale project.

“This proves without a shadow of a doubt that this is nothing to with the project, it has everything to do with Brad Hoyt,” he said, alleging the city is blocking the project because of the legal battle over Parc Centrale.

Goodman said she has recused herself from anything involving the proposed 401 Oak Grove project because of the previous lawsuits. She said she had nothing to with the Planning Commission decision.

CLPC board member Brad Conley insists that the neighborhood organization did not oppose the project for personal reasons, but because the current proposal is out of character for Loring Park.

“We want something on 401,” Conley said. “We just have a concern that this is not good for the neighborhood. Any development needs to be consistent with neighborhood guidelines as well as the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning requirements.”

Conley, who did not live in Loring Park during the Parc Centrale debate, said that the CLPC is concerned that the solid, block-like structure proposed by Hoyt would block sunlight and airflow to Oak Grove. “If it was built as five separate towers, that would have been better,” said Conley (the site is actually five separate parcels of land). However, Farrar’s report states that any impact from the shadowing of the current proposal would 
be minor.

The CLPC is currently at work on a master plan for Loring Park that would, among other things, set guidelines for development. The plan states that any building within the “shoreland overlay” area near Loring Pond not be taller than 35 feet. 401 Oak Grove falls within that area.

And despite the recent ruling by the Planning Commission, Hoyt says the various court decisions leading to this point show that he is well within his rights to build his current proposal.

“This is the project they say I’m entitled to by right,” Hoyt said. “They testified in court that I’m entitled to 84 feet tall and 142 units. This is 84 feet tall and 117 units. It exceeds the city parking codes by 20 percent. It is 20 less than I am entitled to by right. And it’s not just me saying that. It’s six Council members under oath saying that. And their lawyer, in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court, saying that I’m entitled to that. And the planning commission just turned it down.”

Hoyt’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision is scheduled for July 28. If history has proven anything, the battle for 401 Oak Grove is likely far from over.