Plans for the latest alternative route for completion of the “missing link” in the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s (MPRB) Grand Rounds parkway met stiff opposition at the Southeast Como Improvement Association’s (SECIA) November meeting.
Many of the 45 residents and SECIA board members at the crowded meeting voted to oppose all Park Board proposals that would remove homes to make way for a route to complete the Grand Rounds parkway. The three-mile “missing link” would complete the 50-mile parkway circle around the city.
At the meeting, George Puzak, vice chair of the Park Board’s citizen advisory committee, presented the new alternative route, called G5. The north-south route would turn west from Industrial Boulevard onto East Hennepin Avenue, then turn south into Southeast Como and follow 27th Avenue Southeast between Hennepin and Como Avenue, just west of the university’s family student housing complex. The route would veer slightly and then continue south across the railroad tracks (see map, courtesty of Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board.)
The G5 route is one of five remaining for consideration, although it should be noted that the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) has not yet voted to add it to the others under consideration. The CAC is expected to consider it at a Dec. 6 meeting and to cut the options down to two or three routes. The final recommendation could go to the Park Board in February or March.
Residents fear loss of homes
Como homeowner Lila Smith summed up her feelings in an email following the meeting: “When a hurricane takes your home it is called a tragedy. When arson claims your home it’s a crime. So when someone thinks it’s a great idea to tear down your house and force you to move, it doesn’t feel like progress.”
Smith distributed at the meeting a five-page critique of the G5 route proposal, and indicated routes she prefers. Smith said the G5 route would have “a detrimental effect on our neighborhood and a devastating human cost in the disruption of family’s lives and their relationships in the community.”
There was applause when homeowner Katie Fournier said she considers it “unjust that consultants and others come back once again to propose to take houses in the Como neighborhood.”
Although Smith claimed that as many as 100 homes could be lost, the MPRB puts that number at 25 homes, seven of which are non-homestead rental buildings, said Nick Eoloff, MPRB project manager, in a follow-up phone interview. No official number was given at the meeting.
Eoloff said that, should the route be selected, residents would have the options of “life tenancy” or right of first refusal, meaning they could live in their homes for the rest of their lives or until they decided to sell, at which time the Park Board would by the property.
“We’re no going to come in right away and start bulldozing residences; that’s not our intent,” he said.
“Quite honestly, it’s going to take a number of years to put this in place,” said Eoloff. “I think the length of time will be an advantage to both us and the residents.”
Asked how the MPRB would finance the buyouts, Eoloff said they would seek funding at all levels — federal, state, and local — but could not give an exact cost, which would depend on the market value for each particular property. He noted that some in the past have gifted their homes to the MPRB.
Grand Rounds — amenity or insult?
There is broad disagreement about the value of the residential-area route. Smith and others prefer the G4 route, further to the east near Highway 280, which she wrote “provides ample opportunity to reclaim and enhance green space, and to connect us with the Prospect Park area of Southeast, the Gopher Stadium, the Mississippi River, and the Guthrie.”
Joan Menken asked what the neighborhood would get out of a parkway. “Do we preserve our homes?” Reclaiming ponds and wetlands “are amenities we should have exploited a long time ago,” she said.
Said one resident: “It makes me sad we have to continue to defend our neighborhood when it is a community. It’s an arrogant insult to our community, in my opinion.”
Another resident argued, “We don’t have enough money to run the NRP program. Now there is talk of expensive bridges.” The audience applauded when she said, “I wouldn’t be unhappy if the plan never happened.”
Eoloff said the thinking behind the G5 route was to connect the parkway to the residential area, like in other areas of the city.
Tom Johnson, project manager for HNTB and a consultant on the project, said at the meeting that many consider the Grand Rounds a “jewel of the city” that should be completed, and that the existing parkway has proven to be an amenity in other areas. “The property values are the most stable,” he said. “History has shown it stabilizes the tax base and stimulates expenditure of private dollars,” he added.
Despite the large amount of opposition, Eoloff said that some Como homeowners are “starting to think this is a pretty good deal.”
One resident at the meeting, who said he has lived on 26th Street for 31 years, seemed to agree that the G5 route could improve the neighborhood. “Your neighborhood has taken a hit in the past,” he said, referring to litter and noise. “Your neighborhood is determined by landlords and student housing.”
Board president Wendy Menken acknowledged there are residents who are frustrated, but she noted there were 300 people who have attended route meetings “who say we’re not too far gone.”
Parkway or thruway?
The SECIA vote also specified that the route selected should be a bicycle and pedestrian link only, and that it should not provide a direct route for motor vehicles over the railroad yards to the University of Minnesota.
There was applause after board member Jeane Moore said the G5 route would “not be used in this neighborhood. It will be used by people going through our neighborhood, and I don’t see why people should whip through here to the university.”
Asked how many cars a day would use the parkway and how the children would be protected, Puzak said the parkway speed limit is 25 miles per hour, although he acknowledged it isn’t always obeyed.
“Don’t even think about isolating families with children,” board member Joan Menken said.
Puzak said the meeting had been helpful to him, as a committee member, and HNTB consultant Johnson acknowledged that more conversation is needed on the topic.
“Let’s have a dialogue sponsored by the neighborhood association and find out what the neighborhood wants,” said Johnson, covering the G5 route on the wall map with his hand. “Let’s put this away.” He proposed a community planning charette or forum to work out the concerns.
Johnson said the advisory committee’s route recommendation would go to the Park Board in February or March. Puzak said a funding request might go to the legislature next year.
Board member Connie Sullivan, a representative to the Park Board committee, recommended that residents look at the SECIA website, for news about route proposals.
Puzak said another Grand Rounds missing link open house meeting has been tentatively scheduled for Jan. 17 at the Van Cleve Park building.
For more information about the proposed Grand Rounds missing link project, call 612-230-6465 or visit the MPRB website.
Jeremy Stratton contributed to this story