Proposed drive-in sparks City Hall-neighborhood clashes


In the last year, the plan to put a Porky’s restaurant—known for “the best greasy food you can get,” according to their spokesperson—at 1851 Central Ave. NE, has encountered supporters and roadblocks.

While the disagreements continue, Porky’s owners said they want to work on ironing out some of the differences. They also, however, want to move forward, and will soon apply for the necessary permits from the City of Minneapolis.

What’s the disagreement?
Two Northeast organizations, the Northeast Chamber of Commerce and Northeast Community Development Corporation (NECDC), have come out strongly in favor of Porky’s, saying the new restaurant would revitalize a site that has been blighted for nearly a decade, it would be good for business and good for the community, and the owners have already proven themselves with their other restaurants, a Porky’s on University Avenue in St. Paul’s Midway area, and another, “Tryg’s,” in South Minneapolis near Lake Calhoun.

Some residents in the senior highrise, Parker Skyview at 18th Street and Central Ave. NE, signed a petition in favor of the Porky’s plan, saying they’d appreciate another dining option on Central.

But two Northeast neighborhood organizations, Windom Park Citizens in Action (WPCIA) and the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association (HNIA) have taken a firm stand against the proposed drive-thru restaurant. They say they don’t want drive-through businesses on Central Avenue because they are not pedestrian-friendly and would not contribute to a desired “Main Street” feel. Some say they also worry about the added noise, traffic and litter.

De facto rezoning
The rezoning part of the story gets confusing. According to the city’s zoning code, Porky’s site would need to be rezoned from C1 to C2 before it can operate as a drive-through restaurant. (C1 is a neighborhood commercial district; C2 is a neighborhood corridor commercial district.)

But it also had to satisfy another condition: Even if it was rezoned, it still couldn’t operate unless other nearby businesses had the same zoning, because the code says their type of business needs at least 660 linear feet of C2 zoning.

Like the proposed Porky’s site, the next door neighbor to the north, the 2nd Police Precinct at 1911 Central Ave. NE, was zoned C1.

This spring, First Ward City Council Member Paul Ostrow, who said he supports Porky’s project “if it’s done right,” asked the City of Minneapolis’ Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) department to start the process of rezoning the police precinct building from C1 to C2.

The idea was that rezoning the police station (which the city owns) would let the proposed Porky’sto gain enough C2 area (660 feet) to allow auto-oriented use for their business.

When CPED staff member Tara Beard investigated the proposal, she recommended that the City Planning Commission deny the rezoning application, saying she didn’t feel it was the right location for that type of business. The commission also listened to neighbors, who complained about rezoning a public entity for the sole benefit of an adjacent private business. On April 10, the Planning Commission voted 7-0 to deny the rezoning.
Then the proposal went to the city council’s Zoning and Planning Committee on May 4.

Unbeknownst to staff and city officials, however, it was two days too late. State law requires that zoning requests be acted on within 60 days; in this case, that would have been May 2.

Beard said, “In standard procedures [from the City Planning Commission to the Zoning and Planning Committee to the City Council], often you exceed the 60-day limit. The appropriate staff member then writes an extension letter [requesting an extension]. But in an awful and unintentional oversight, that letter did not get sent.”

Meanwhile, the Zoning and Planning Committee, chaired by City Council Member Gary Schiff, disagreed with the planning commission and voted to allow the rezoning. The matter went before the city council on May 12. But it stalled out there: rezoning needs seven votes and neither side, pro or con, had enough.

Ostrow moved to send the matter back to Zoning and Planning, which is where, Beard said, staff discovered the 60 days had ended. A city attorney said that since the time had expired, the rezoning request for the 2nd Precinct building was “de facto approved,” Beard said.

The police station, in other words, has already automatically been rezoned to C2. And now it’s Porky’s turn to apply for rezoning.

Porky’s side
Tryg and Nora Truelson, a mother and son doing business as Truco, Inc., bought the former gas station at 1851 Central Ave. NE in June, 2005. The lot has been vacant for about 12 years.

Their spokesperson, Aaron Roseth, who is an architect, said the proposed building will be less than 2,000 square feet and have approximately 18 seats inside. “Our hope is that this will become a 21st Century drive-in. We’re looking at new technology.” They will have four to five employees and operate within hours allowed by the city’s zoning code.

Customers will have three options, he said. They can come in, order and eat. They can pull their cars up to the window, order food, and drive away with it. Or, they can order at the window, park, and eat in the parking lot.

“In busy times, we’ll have carhops who will bring your food out to you after you order and park in the lot.”

Roseth said he and the Truelsons have been trying “for a long time to work with the neighborhood [groups] as much as possible.” He said they’ve made some changes, increasing the number of inside seats and changing access routes in and out of the restaurant.

“It’s been disappointing that we haven’t found areas of concession; we’ve worked so hard and attended so many meetings. Outside of the [Windom Park] neighborhood meetings, which are board-driven and have about 10 attendees each time, we’ve had overwhelming support from the rest of the neighborhood. The senior highrise [Parker Skyview] got 90 signatures on their petition. People have called and offered to help. We’ve walked the streets and talked to people who are in favor of it.

“Our intention is to build a landmark. Porky’s doesn’t use processed food. They make their pies from scratch. It’s home cooking, their onions and potatoes are cut by hand, nothing is prepackaged. They use fresh chickens and grind their own meat. It’s the best greasy food you can get. They use Sebastian Joe’s ice cream in the milkshakes.”

Under the current plan, there are 14 parking stalls. “We’re hoping to fit a few more in. The only way they can keep it inexpensive is through volume. We need to stay open in the winter months. We need a drive-through. We’ve had studies done on Central Avenue; 30,000 cars go up and down it every day. It’s an up-and-coming neighborhood. The Truelsons want to be part of that. The demographics show that it has the type of people who like this kind of food.”

Porky’s will need several things from the city; in addition to rezoning, they need a conditional use permit and site plan approval. “We want to work with the neighborhoods on this and find way to fit in as best we can,” said Roseth. “But at this point, I think the neighborhood association does not want to see us again.” One reason for that, he said, might be that they realize support for Porky’s is growing in Northeast.

Neighbors’ opinions
Doron Clark, co-chair of the WPCIA, said, “This doesn’t fit the plan for Central Avenue. Sixty percent of their business will be drive-through. All the neighborhoods have been very strong in saying we want to avoid drive-throughs if we can. This is so close to single family homes.”

When asked about customers driving in and out of the business, he said, “If we had to choose between bad and worse, the worst would be to have a drive-through exit onto 19th; it is difficult for anybody to go anywhere but right, straight into the residential area.

“This will turn our main street into a drag strip,” Clark added. “That’s not the kind of traffic we want. They’re not coming to do their shopping on Central Avenue. You’ll have cars squealing out at the lights.

“We do want development on Central, but we want it to fit in.” Clark said that for the past month, “they [Roseth and the Truelsons] aren’t wanting to send us any information that we can respond to.”

Kevin Reich, who is the other co-chair of WPCIA (and a Windom Park resident) and also the executive director of HNIA, said that Holland opposes the Porky’s project not because they are against having another hamburger joint, but because it doesn’t fit the long range plan for Central Avenue. He added, “At City Hall this has been portrayed as a businesses-are-for-it, residents-are-against-it” issue, but Holland has four business owners in the affected area who are not in support of Porky’s and feel very misrepresented.”
Ostrow said that Roseth and the Truelsons have addressed a number of neighbors’ concerns, but one that they are not addressing is the complete removal of the drive through. “They have said their business model doesn’t work financially if there’s no drive-through at Porky’s. For Doron [Clark], that is a critical issue. I would say, that between the neighborhood and our office, this is a much better project today than it was a couple of months ago. They’ve added interior seating, window space and landscaping. They’ve added the component that it won’t just be a drive-through, but a drive-in.”

Some issues remain, Ostrow added, such as access, “making sure that somebody exiting Porky’s does not go through the neighborhood,” and directing traffic from 19th back to Central Avenue.

“We need businesses on Central Avenue that will bring people to the avenue,” Ostrow said. “We need a mix of retail. I believe a Porky’s done right, with high quality, will be an asset. My position has been to push for a high-quality development.”