Controversial Como route eliminated, but a new route proposal resurrects similar fears among residents
On Nov. 1, the citizen advisory committee (CAC) to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) rejected a controversial route proposed for the Como neighborhood that would have taken out dozens of homes to complete a segment of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway. A new route proposal, unveiled at that meeting, calls for tearing down around 30 homes plus some businesses on Hennepin Avenue East, between 26th and 27th Avenues Southeast, causing a new stir among some Como residents.
HNTB project manager Tom Johnson stressed that things are still in a conceptual stage, however, “[The new route] is better in terms of housing and businesses and is more compatible with the U. It also has a joint use of Granary Road. It makes a lot of sense,” he said. Granary Road is a new road that would be built under the proposal.
The 50-mile Grand Rounds, accessible by car, bike or on foot, remains unfinished between St. Anthony Parkway South and East River Road. The CAC is trying to figure out the most ideal path for this “missing link,” with the help of a technical advisory committee (TAC) and HNTB Corporation. The CAC will present its recommendation to the Park Board in spring 2008.
The project won’t begin, however, until costs and funding sources are worked out, according to Park Board information on the “Grand Rounds Missing Link”.
Narrowing the options
CAC members and others are evaluating routes based on impact on surrounding areas and relationship to other bicycle and pedestrian routes, parks, open spaces and transportation corridors. Recommended specifications incude an eighty-foot minimum right-of-way width, two-lane road and twelve-foot drive lane going both ways.
|Possible “Missing Link” routes
• Route A – Marshall Avenue Northeast and Southeast Main Street from East River Road to an industrial area near the University of Minnesota, where a proposed “Granary Road” is planned to cut through to St. Anthony Parkway South.
• Route E – mostly ruled out at November 1 meetingStinson Avenue from St. Anthony Parkway South and 15th and Pleasant Avenues Southeast to East River Road or, across Stinson, 18th Avenue Southeast and Oak Street to East River Road. Route E actually has two options, one of which would take out homes and businesses and the other of which would take out curbside. Either would create a commuter highway from Northeast through Como neighborhood to the University of Minnesota.
• Route G – Industrial Boulevard from St. Anthony Parkway South to the eastern edge of the Como neighborhood on 29th Avenue, where it crosses the rail yards via one of several proposed bridges. A “landmark green space” would span eight blocks of university property along the route to East River Road, taking out student housing that currently houses more than 400 families. (Four variations of Route G have been discussed.)
Given those stipulations, routes that would have traversed Stinson Avenue from St. Anthony Parkway South and 15th and Pleasant Avenues Southeast to East River Road (E1), or alternately, from Stinson to 18th Avenue Southeast and Oak Street to East River Road (E2) were ruled out at the recent meeting.
However, the northerly portion of “E” near Ridgeway Parkway was left intact. It could be used to head east to Industrial Boulevard, where it would then venture south and so forth, Johnson explained.
While Como residents’ strong opposition to E1 and E2 was “duly taken into account,” Johnson acknowledged, those routes posed too many tactical problems, in general. They would mean demolishing a number of homes and businesses or usurping curbside, while also creating a speedway from Northeast through Como to the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus.
Once arriving at the U, the routes posed problems related to the minimum right-of-way requirement and the university’s plan for the property. In other words, removing E1 and E2 “was based on the goals and criteria of the project…it flowed from a methodical process, not a knee-jerk reaction,” he said.
Southeast Minneapolis Industrial (SEMI) area
University Avenue Southeast, 15th Avenue Southeast, Elm Street Southeast and the city’s boundary define the boundaries for the Southeast Minneapolis Industrial (SEMI) area.
Five proposed routes extend from Industrial Boulevard, starting at St. Anthony Parkway South to the eastern side of Como on 29th Avenue, where it crosses the rail yards through one of several proposed bridges (G). They splinter into various paths just north of Hennepin Avenue East.
Parts G1 and G2 would mean demolishing a 400-unit U of M married student-housing complex in addition to constructing long bridges, were eliminated.
G5, which was introduced at the recent CAC meeting, parallels Hennepin for a couple blocks alongside 27th Avenue to Como Avenue, heading south to the U of M. When it approaches the Burlington Northern railroad tracks, it dips under a tunnel, skirts beyond factories on 24th Avenue and follows a bridge over the rail yards to the proposed Granary Road, eventually taking G2 to 27th Avenue (to finally wind up at East River Parkway).
Route G5 demands shorter, less expensive bridges but it involves bulldozing around 30 houses plus a handful of businesses. One way to ease the minds of some residents is with a legal arrangement with the Park Board, such as “life tenancy” or “life estate,” which would allow residents to stay in their homes for a lifetime, said Johnson.
However, some people don’t believe that will be enough. Como resident Lila Smith expressed her opposition to G5 in a flier she distributed among neighbors. “Stand up for our neighborhood. Our homes are threatened by Grand Rounds Proposal G-5,” it reads. “I recognize that Parkways can be quite lovely places to bike, jog or drive, but oppose taking over 100 Como neighborhood homes from residents against their will…Let us work with our neighbors to find a better solution, rather than pitting street against street.”
Neighbor Kelsey Lessard echoed her sentiments. “The words ‘eminent domain’ really freaked me out,” she said. “On my block there are families who have been here a long time. There’s a community here, which is unique in Southeast.”
Anna Pratt is a journalist living and working in Minneapolis. She can be reached at email@example.com.