The Minneapolis City Council on Friday unanimously approved the controversial expansion of Calhoun Square after weeks of community debate and significant compromise by the developer.
The vote paves the way for the construction of a seven-story retail and housing development that expands the 1980s-era shopping mall to Fremont Avenue on the east and 31st Street to the south.
Like the debate over Stuart Ackerberg’s Lagoon project, the council weighed community concerns about the building’s height against the city’s desire to encourage higher-density housing in the burgeoning Uptown area. Both the CARAG and ECCO neighborhoods had opposed the Calhoun Square expansion and representatives of those organizations were not completely satisfied with the results, but Council Member Gary Schiff said the compromises made by the developer will result in a successful project. “The timeline shows quite clearly the changes the developer has made and we should be proud of those changes.”
Schiff and other council members argued that the amended design, which calls for “setbacks” putting the full seven-story building away from the street and behind smaller-scaled entrance areas, should make the project palatable to nearby residents.
“We don’t want additional height in the interior of the neighborhood,” said Council Member Ralph Remington, who represents the area and had voiced concerns about the project prior to his election in November. “But I don’t believe the project will be detrimental to the area.”
Council Member Lisa Goodman, noting that neighborhood groups were not supportive of the plan, said the city needs to encourage density and Uptown is one of the few areas of town where that is possible. “If not here, where?” she asked. “This project makes sense at this location.”
Mayor R.T. Rybak agreed. “This is not the place to take a stand on the issue of height,” he said. But he added that the Uptown area needs to work quickly on a plan for future development.
CARAG activist Aaron Rubenstein said he was not surprised by the vote, but was disappointed that the council had not addressed issues beyond the height of the project, issues such as the plaza design, retail entrances, and green screening. He said he would continue to talk with the project’s developer about these details.
Asked about Remington’s vote in support of the project, Rubenstein said he understood the new council member’s situation and wouldn’t criticize his decision. “He was in a very difficult position,” he said.