At 'A' Mill project, height may depend on amenities

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March 21, 2005 // UPDATED 1:53 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Jeremy Stratton
Jeremy Stratton

Could a huge riverfront development get permission to build taller if it beefs up surrounding parks and trails?

That appears to be the suggestion by Metropolitan Council officials in the case of the Pillsbury "A" Mill development, a 12-building condo project near St. Anthony Main whose structures may rise up to 27 stories.

The project is in what's known as an Industrial Living Overlay District, which limits building heights to 56 feet. The development would require conditional-use permits to go higher.

However, Met Council officials said in comments for a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), "Consideration could be given to mitigating the building heights by enhancing local and regional trails adjacent to the site."

The Met Council is just one many government entities that will review the project; the list includes the state's Department of Natural Resources, the city's Heritage Preservation Office and the Minneapolis City Council.

The public comment period on the DEIS is coming to a close - with little comment so far. As of mid-March, only a couple of responses had trickled in, though more are expected by the Wednesday, March 23 deadline.

David Frank, project manager for developer Schafer-Richardson, said the idea of improving parks has come up previously in project discussions. He said his firm would be doing "a good turn" by bringing more people in to use the nearby parks and trails because more traffic and eyes on the area could improve safety.

Frank stated broadly that the developer "would be willing to have a conversation about other ways to improve the park."

The DEIS focuses on the development's impact on "A" Mill's historic nature and that of the surrounding "pastoral" riverfront. The document also assesses the project's fit with the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan.

Heights range from 10 to 27 stories in the four DEIS-recommended alternative site designs. Three alternatives feature staggered heights to minimize a visual barrier to the river. Every alternative includes one building at least 18 stories tall.

The fourth alternative lowers unit counts from 1,095 to 759.

Frank said that the fourth alternative is only possible with "a significant amount of public subsidy," which Schafer-Richardson does not intend to seek.

At a public meeting earlier this month, only one person offered comment on the project. Andrew "Cadillac" Kolstad, read the crowd of 13 a prepared statement hailing the historic and economic importance of the "A" Mill to Minneapolis. The mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Kolstad referred to the demolition of the site's white grain elevators as "vandalism."

Nicollet Island/East Bank Neighborhood Association chair Victor Grambsch, identifying himself as a neighborhood resident, immediately challenged Kolstad's "diatribe."

Grambsch stated that the neighborhood needed housing and economic development, rather than the preservation of "eyesores," referring, apparently, to the white grain elevators, which would be demolished to provide space for resident parking.

Kolstad also said at the meeting that the project would be built with public funding, which Frank denied. "We don't want it, and I don't think we could get it if we did," he said.

Steve Minn of Lupe Development said his company would also file a public comment on the project. Minn described his three 40-to-52-unit projects behind the "A" Mill site as "a mosquito in a swarm of large flying birds in the sky."

Those "birds" will shade his already-approved development, which includes solar panels, from the south sun.

Minn said also that the "A" Mill project is not in the public's interest because it does not preserve historic properties or provide a view of a National Scenic Riverway, and "overshadows" surrounding residences and business that have historic and economic value.

The public comment period on the DEIS ends at 4:30 p.m. on March 23.

Want to know more?

- For DEIS information or to submit comments, contact J. Michael Orange at Michael.orange@ci.minneapolis.mn.us.

- The DEIS may be viewed at the Minneapolis Public Library, 250 Marquette Ave.; at Minneapolis City Hall, Room 210, 350 S. 5th St.; at the Southeast Community Library, 1222 SE 4th St.; or at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/planning.