Mayor agrees to tougher environmental review for 'A' Mill mega-development

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April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Mayor R.T. Rybak has signed off on a City Council action requiring a developer behind a massive East Bank condo project proposal to do a more extensive environmental review.

In a meeting at Skyway News earlier this month, Rybak said he was considering vetoing the July 2 action, which requires developer Schafer Richardson to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the project.

The EIS is more rigorous than the city's already completed 110-page Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW).

Minneapolis-based Schafer Richardson has proposed 1,095 condos and over 100,000 square feet of retail. The project would rehab the historic Pillsbury "A" Mill and add nine new condo towers ranging from eight to 27 stories.

The project -- one of the largest in the city's development pipeline -- would extend from Southeast 2nd to Main Street and from 3rd Avenue to 6th Avenue.

Rybak said he was considering the veto in part because key Councilmembers missed the 6-4 vote. Councilmember Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward), who represents neighborhoods across the river from the proposed development and Councilmember Don Samuels (3rd Ward), who will represent the area after the next election because of Council redistricting, were absent.

Those pushing for a full EIS argued the city hadn't considered all potential environmental and historic preservation issues produced by building several condo towers near the riverfront.

City Councilmember Paul Zerby (2nd Ward), who currently represents the area, voted against requiring the EIS.

Mayoral aide Erik Takeshita, who advises Rybak on development, said, "We are trying to encourage development in the city and having excess requirements was a concern. In looking at it, however, and talking with both the developer and the Councilmembers, the Mayor did decide to support the Council action in the end."

David Frank, a Schafer Richardson project manager, said the developer has met with city planners to discuss the next steps.

"We are disappointed, but moving ahead," Frank said.

Before the Council vote, Frank said that a full EIS would delay the project a year. After the mayor's announcement, he said the EIS should be complete by early 2005 under the current timeline. He said groundbreaking could also occur in early 2005 if everything goes smoothly.

Construction would last until 2012, Frank added.

The project will undergo more testing to determine potential impacts from the University of Minnesota's steam plant, which sits nearby at the foot of the Stone Arch Bridge, along with more analysis of historic preservation issues and the project's impact on the river.

The Nicollet Island/East Bank Neighborhood Association has created a new discussion site on its Web site devoted to redevelopment of the Pillsbury "A" Mill. To post comments or review background material on the project, go to www.niebna.org.