A case for a Dinkytown development moratorium

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August 27, 2013
By: Diane Hofstede
Diane Hofstede

“Dinkytown” is well-named for the tiny four-block neighborhood that sits adjacent to the U. The origin of its colorful name is lost to history, but it has long been an energetic and vibrant part of our city and the 3rd ward that I represent. A proposal to redevelop a sizeable portion of the neighborhood — a half-block parcel right in its commercial core — has (and should have) attracted lots of attention, debate and disagreement.

To understand why, some background is needed. Back in 2003, the city’s Master Plan anticipated the construction of the multi-story apartment buildings now going up along the major traffic corridors of University Avenue, 4th Street SE, and 15th Avenue SE, developments that are adding 4,000 new units of much-needed student housing near the U and on the outskirts of Dinkytown (the technical designation for this sort of zoning is “C3A”).

That same Master Plan did not, however, call for the development of additional housing units within the commercial core of Dinkytown (which is zoned “C1”). The planners recognized — correctly — that allowing development within the core would harm the neighborhood’s unique character and its locally owned small businesses.

Over the last 10 years, Dinkytown businesses have invested in their neighborhood based on the precepts of that plan. They have opened stores, remodeled restaurants and expanded operations to better serve their neighbors and a decade of University students. Their hard work has kept this century-old iconic neighborhood from disrepair and decay.

All of that hard work is threatened unless the small area plans in Marcy-Holmes and the Dinkytown Business Association are allowed to continue. The moratorium, which I introduced at the City Council, last week for the four block area in Dinkytown will allow the planning process, which is now underway, to be completed, thus, allowing the community and businesses, to determine their own destiny & priorities. The planning process is supported by the tax payers of the City of Minneapolis in order to set policy, engage business, and the community in planning their own destiny.

Last week, at the City Council, I introduced a moratorium for Dinkytown in the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood. The Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association and the Dinkytown Business Association have voted to support the moratorium on development of the four block area of Dinkytown.

We have ample grounds to support a moratorium. It is legally defensible action, given the fact that the two small area plans are in process. Protecting, respecting, and allowing the process to continue and become completed is legally defensible and consistent with the purpose of a moratorium. By doing so, the City Council would let the planning process work.

Ad hoc development, driven by economic speculation threatens the traditional form of our city and particularly the fundamental place-making and civic engagement functions of neighborhood small business districts. Developments that reduce livability and diversity by pushing out small businesses that cannot afford the “redeveloped” rent (which leads inevitably to the appearance of more chain stores), and tears asunder a vital part of a neighborhood’s defining fabric that took many decades to create. In truth, Dinkytown is the “canary in the coal mine” for such ad hoc redevelopment of neighborhood commercial nodes throughout the city.

This advance planning approach takes a little more time, but it is the only one that lets all stakeholders participate on an equal footing. There is no recourse once uncontrolled developments are underway. Preventive medicine, using the advance planning approach, is the only tool each neighborhood has to decide for itself — instead of letting developers dictate — what is best for its future development.

This vote is not just about one project or one neighborhood. It’s about managing high-density development in our neighborhoods that threatens to destroy the individual commercial cores that make so many of our neighborhoods special.

The City Council will make the decision regarding the moratorium on Friday, Aug. 30.

Diane Hofstede
Ward 3 City Council member