Turmoil on Lake and Knox project

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On July 13 the Minneapolis City Planning Commission approved plans for the proposed commercial/residential project at northeast corner of Lake Street and Knox Avenue over the objections of three neighborhood associations that states it violates the official Uptown Small Area Plan (USAP), particularly regarding height. USAP generally calls for a maximum height of 35 feet at this location; planning staff recommended 45.5 feet; the Planning Commission approved CPM Development’s proposal for a 56 foot high building.

Four Uptown area neighborhood organizations – East Isles Residents Association (EIRA), East Calhoun Community Organization (ECCO), Calhoun Area Residents Action Group (CARAG) and Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) united to file appeals. Nine individuals also joined the appeals.

The City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee will hold a public hearing on the appeals on August 6 at 9:30 a.m. in City Hall Room 317. Ward 10 Council Member Ralph Remington who represents Uptown is a member of this Committee. The Committee’s recommendation will go to the full City Council for decision at its August 14 meeting.

Lara Norkus-Crampton, ECCO resident and Minneapolis Planning Commission member for the past three years, resigned in protest over this ruling. In her letter of resignation she says, “It has become apparent to me that the Planning Department and Planning Commission are more interested in allowing market forces, rather than rational, thoughtful land use planning, to dictate land use decisions. I became a Planning Commissioner because I believe in planning. The complete disregard of the Uptown Small Area Plan (USAP) in the deliberations over the Lake/Knox proposal at the July 13th Planning Commission hearing was a smack in the face for the hundreds of people who worked in good faith to put planning ahead of the speculative real estate market. For me this is the final straw.”

Note from Phyllis Stenerson, Editor, UNN: this article is revised from the original that appeared in the print edition of UNN distributed beginning July 28 to more accurately reflect that the neighborhood associations expressed their opinions that the project violates USAP. Some area residents hold the opinion that USAP sets forth guidelines, not hard rules, and do not object to the plan as presented.

Statement from Lara Norkus-Crampton

Editor’s Note: We usually do not print press releases. However, since Lara Norkus-Crampton’s resignation highlights the Lake/Knox development issues, we have decided to republish portions of her press release here.

“It has become apparent to me that the Planning Department and Planning Commission are more interested in allowing market forces, rather than rational, thoughtful land use planning, to dictate land use decisions. I became a Planning Commissioner because I believe in planning. The complete disregard of the Uptown Small Area Plan (USAP) in the deliberations over the Lake/Knox proposal at the July 13th Planning Commission hearing was a smack in the face for the hundreds of people who worked in good faith to put planning ahead of the speculative real estate market. For me this is the final straw.”

“A first class city like Minneapolis should have standards, like those articulated in the USAP. The job of the Planning Commission and Planning Department is to make sure those standards are met. After the last Commission hearing, I have lost faith that the city is willing to actually implement its own policies to promote density in a balanced way that respects what is good about the Uptown area.”

The Uptown Small Area Plan was funded by Mayor RT Rybak in 2006, partially in response to community concerns about unmanaged growth in the Uptown area. The public participation process lasted two years and involved approximately 400 stakeholders. It won an Award of Excellence from the American Planning Association for promoting density and growth in a balanced way. It was unanimously approved by the Minneapolis Planning Commission and the City Council.

The USAP includes recommendatio that the city should “Concentrate density and intensity in the Core.” The “Urban Core”, is described as an area east of Hennepin Ave between Lake St and Lagoon. In addition, it recommends that the city “Encourage buildings west of the Activity Center [at Irving] to gradually step down in height to 2.5 stories at the Lake, in compliance with the Shoreland Overlay District.” The Shoreland Overlay District is a state regulation guiding development height near protected waters at 2.5 stories or 35 feet.

“The intent of the USAP is clear,” stated Norkus-Crampton. “Focus building height and density in the Urban Core and provide careful transitions to the Lake and the surrounding high quality neighborhoods. Many citizens were concerned at the level of intensity allowed in this Core area—but agreed to it in exchange for protections of the Lake and residential neighborhoods. This was the Grand Compromise. This project proposal is at the Lake.”

The Planning Staff Report recommended approval of the Lake/Knox proposal at a height of 45.5 feet. The Planning Commission voted to over rule the Planning Recommendation in favor of the 56 foot height requested by the developer, CPM Development. “This kills the compromise. How do you say ‘Yes’ to one 56 foot high proposal and ‘No’ to others who will follow this new precedent? The rest of the area will simply be ‘in-fill’ development at 56 feet high. This means the carefully crafted USAP is dead for all practical purposes.”

“What is the most disheartening to me is that the deliberations around this proposal seemed to take place as if this plan didn’t even exist. This proposal was opposed by the East Isles, ECCO, and the CARAG neighborhoods, as well as the Minneapolis Park Board. This raises serious questions for me as a Planning Commissioner. If a plan as comprehensive and specific as the USAP cannot or will not be implemented by the city—then what plan will?”

Norkus-Crampton continues, “What message does this cavalier treatment of the USAP send to the hundreds of citizens who donated their time and effort– trusting, or at least hoping, that the city would be an honorable partner in community planning? In the end, land use planning is about building communities, not just buildings. The decision making process around this proposal has given community building in the city of Minneapolis a black eye.”

“I have served on the Planning Commission for the past three years to be part of the solution in promoting rational, thoughtful land use planning for the long term. Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that the Planning Department and the Planning Commission, as a whole, are part of the problem.”

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