Edina highrise proposal needs compromise

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When the Edina City Council voted in favor of constructing a highrise apartment building in the popular Centennial Lakes area, they demonstrated impressive foresight, but poor public relations management. As a result, they are facing a lawsuit that threatens a cityscape remodeling project that would have been a credit to Edina and an excellent example for the greater Twin Cities area.

Edina currently has plans to create a pedestrian-only area near Southdale mall by diverting car traffic just off of France Ave. The result would be a unique neighborhood in which to shop, mingle and live. Up until the addition of the highrise proposal, the plan had enjoyed widespread support—and for good reason.

The City Council’s decision to undertake this kind of large-scale remodeling showed its ability to provide residents with not only what they want, but also what they need. As gas prices rise and urban sprawl continues, council members should be on the lookout for ways to encourage more energy-efficient and environmentally healthy lifestyles. One way, according to James Howard Kuntsler, author of The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century, is to reform the way communities are constructed.

In his book, Kuntsler argues in favor of more localized living, where residences are smaller, multi-leveled and clustered around essential businesses. He believes this kind of European-styled urban design will promote environmentally friendly transportation options like walking and biking. It can also give birth to a renewed sense of community, something he fears Americans have lost due to long, isolated commutes and big-box stores. Edina’s plan would please Kuntsler, who would likely approve of the highrise and pedestrian-only shopping center as a means for attaining his vision. Unfortunately, the City Council did not stress these Kuntsler-style, long-term benefits when it voted in the highrise’s favor.

Instead, it disappointed and even outraged constituents who only considered short-term consequences in their evaluation of the construction. Two have announced their intention to file a lawsuit against the city for would-be violations of zoning restrictions. It is probable that in addition to zoning considerations, they were concerned a towering highrise would have adverse effects on their property values.

After all, the Centennial Lakes area is extremely popular. Currently shaped by attractive four-story condominiums and a charming city park complete with a manicured mini-golf course and a welcoming outdoor amphitheatre, the neighborhood offers plenty of aesthetic appeal.

However, there is no reason to think the devaluation of property is inevitable should the highrise construction proceed. The City Council has already demonstrated its commitment to the preservation of curb appeal during negotiations with contractors for other development sites. For example, Target Corporation was asked to redo a proposal for store expansion when it did not meet high aesthetic standards. Target has agreed and is working on another design, showing businesses and contractors are willing to compromise. They just need, like residents, an invitation to the table to share questions, concerns and comments.

It’s not too late to involve all parties in open dialogue – a smart alternative to having lawyers mediate a territorial battle. After all, residents and the City Council want the same thing: an attractive way to restore the utility of space in their community while protecting property values and promoting community growth. I hope all involved will embrace conversation and search for a compromise. If not, they stand to lose out on what could be golden opportunity for the City of Edina and a future example of healthy urban living for the Twin Cities.

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