The last time the Jordan neighborhood had a presentation at one of our committees regarding the Broadway Flats proposal, we had one area of concern. There seemed to be an implied quid-pro-quo between the developer and St. Anne’s church. In exchange for the purchase and/or use of properties along Queen north of Broadway, the church would then get to formally convert the land they own on Penn and 26th into surface parking. (It’s been informally used as a parking lot even though it has no pavement or gravel.)
While the opinion wasn’t formalized into an organizational position (yet), the general consensus at that housing committee was that we support the Broadway Flats development, but we were much more skeptical about converting the corner of 26th and Penn into permanent surface parking. Furthermore, from a community standpoint, these were regarded as two completely separate issues. Broadway Flats doesn’t need St. Anne’s to have parking in order for their development to proceed, and the St. Anne’s parking situation at Penn and 26th would not be impacted by the Broadway Flats proposal.
Earlier this week a letter arrived that demonstrated that the arrangement was no longer implied, but completely formalized. Lupe Development Partners, the same firm working on Broadway Flats, has submitted a land use application for rezoning properties along Penn and 26th, obtaining a conditional use permit for those properties (as well as parcels on Queen between Broadway and 26th) to allow for an expansion of existing parking lots, and variances to decrease the required setbacks along Penn and 26th. There will be a public hearing on October 28th, 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.
If I am reading this letter correctly, the proposal would essentially mean that from the northern edge of the Broadway Flats commercial/apartment structure all the way back to 26th Avenue, we would have the equivalent of two square blocks of surface parking. And further, that surface parking would abut the intersection of two community corridors at Penn and 26th. That proposal would be about the poorest land use decision we could make for the Broadway/Penn/26th node.
The Penn Avenue Community works committee has just begun as well, and at the first meeting one of the common refrains about what ails the corridor is that there is too much open space and not enough density. And I would argue that in almost any other part of the city, if a developer wanted to create this many parking spaces, the proposal would include at least a two-level ramp. Over north, we are told repeatedly that such endeavors are “too expensive.” But they are only too expensive in comparison to the relative cheapness of our land. So we get swaths of surface parking and lose future development opportunities in the process.
St. Anne’s does, arguably, need parking set aside for their worship facility. (I would personally be just fine with them having almost no parking, and then a regular part of their worship service would be to remind members that are able-bodied to arrive early and be prepared to walk 2-3 blocks. But I concede my view may not be seen as a workable compromise.) But why not explore other options? Let’s hold the line on the Penn corridor for the time being; that this land is best used for residential and commercial density.
If the Minneapolis Public Schools can be told to implement carpooling, walking, biking, and busing as ways to reduce their surface parking imprint, I see no reason why we cannot create the same expectations for a church. We could also make reasonable accommodations, such as shared parking with whatever facilities get built on Penn, and permit parking along 26th Avenue bike lanes during worship services.
St. Anne’s does own much of the land along Queen that is needed to develop the Broadway Flats site. So from a transactional standpoint between the church and the development project, it makes a certain amount of sense to conduct these changes to zoning and parking simultaneously. But from a public interest and public impact standpoint, these are two different issues entirely and should be reviewed and acted upon separately.