Crushing North Loop development?

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June 9, 2003 // UPDATED 10:51 am - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

Car-crushing facility will hurt new housing, developers say - but scrapyard owner says he was there first

At its June 2 meeting, the Minneapolis Planning Commission passed a motion allowing North Loop business Northern Auto Parts to include car-crushing facilities in a planned expansion. The decision came despite opposition from North Loop neighborhood leaders and developers who feel the industrial use will short-circuit a residential boom in the area.

\"I\'m frustrated with the city,\" said developer Kit Richardson, whose company, Schafer Richardson, has city approval to put up housing near Northern Auto Parts, 643 5th St. N. \"It\'s extremely disappointing because it seems inconsistent with the direction the city is moving in that area to encourage housing and mixed-use


Howard Chanen, Northern Auto Parts owner, asked the city Planning Department to upzone his property to allow car crushing. City staff recommended that as a backup, he asked for a \"nonconforming use\" that would allow car crushing without changing zoning.

The Planning Commission rejected the rezoning but approved the nonconforming use - a decision that North Loop Neighborhood Association president Jim Grabek described as the difference between being \"pregnant or being a little pregnant.\"

\"You\'re pregnant either way. The expansion of the business is what North Loop voted unanimously against,\" Grabek said.

Northern Auto Parts recycles automobiles after receiving them from insurance companies or impound lots. The vehicles are stripped, and the salvageable parts sold. The remaining vehicles sit in the shop\'s yard until they can be crushed off-site or by bringing in a temporary crushing machine.

\"The expansion is very critical. I need it in order to be competitive,\" said Chanen, whose family business has been in the neighborhood for 57 years. \"We provide a definite service to the people of Minneapolis. We have a lot of people who need to save a buck on their car repairs buying parts from us.\"

Neighbors have until Thursday, June 12, to appeal the Planning Commission\'s decision - something at least one developer indicates he will do. If so, the City Council\'s Zoning and Planning Committee will hear the matter, mostly likely at its June 26 meeting.

North Loop neighbors said while they would not ask for Northern Auto Parts to be shut down, they don\'t think an expansion to a higher industrial use is compatible with their neighborhood.

Said Grabek, \"We don\'t want to hurt business, but expanding it...\".

Near Northern Auto, developer Steve Frenz is putting up 57 housing units known as the Bookmen Lofts at 525 N. 3rd St. Frenz said heavier industrial use in the neighborhood will have a negative impact on potential residents.

\"It\'s an area that\'s ripe for residential, high-density development. [The car crusher] certainly is something that will deter a significant amount of redevelopment efforts,\" Frenz said. \"If you talk to our buyers at the Bookmen, you would find that the reason they\'re buying there is that they like the feel of the neighborhood and the direction it\'s heading. They like all that excitement, but I don\'t think they\'re counting on a car crusher.\"

However, Chanen said residential developers who have arrived recently knew North Loop\'s industrial nature before they bought.

\"[The developers] are kind of hypocrites, because we still have the garbage-burning plant and heavy usage with the buses,\" Chanen said. \"This is an industrial area. I was here long before the developers ever thought about it. We\'re not physically expanding. We\'re just trying to be more efficient in what we\'re doing.\"

Neighbors also wondered how the Planning Commission could rule for Northern Auto Parts in light of city and county studies indicating the area should be used for residential and mixed-use development.

City planner Michael Orange, cited the city\'s 2000 Minneapolis Plan to recommend approving the expansion.

In his staff report, Orange references the Minneapolis Plan, saying, \"Minneapolis will support the existing economic base by providing adequate land and infrastructure to make city sites attractive to businesses willing to invest in high-job-density and low-impact, light industrial activity.\"

Chanen plans to add five jobs following his expansion.

Neighbors had argued that Northern Auto\'s use is heavy, not light industrial. They say it is not consistent with another recent city document, the Downtown East/North Loop Master Plan. Orange pointed out that that plan has not yet been adopted.

Orange said he did not recommend upzoning the property because that would allow any future landowner to use it for heavy industrial use. A conditional use permit is specific to each owner.

Chanen said incoming residents may not have to live with the car crusher forever.

\"There will come a time when the land usage does not justify what we\'re doing there, and we\'ll be happy to move on at the appropriate time. We won\'t be here in 20 years,\" Chanen said. \"Look at the change in the last five years in the neighborhood. We\'ll be involved with the natural progression of the neighborhood. At some point there may be a strip mall where we are.\"

Developer Frenz said he will appeal the Planning Commission\'s decision.