Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Community Concerns Heard, Hub Voted Down

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

At today's Community Development Committee, the West Broadway Hub proposal came for an initial vote.  A yes vote would have supported plan modifications to the city's overall plan and allowed the proposal to move forward as it has been presented.  Instead, a motion to deny such support passed the committee unanimously.

About eight or so residents from several north Minneapolis neighborhoods gathered outside City Hall to show our dissent.  The last time I was involved with neighborhood groups bringing signs downtown in protest was when the council dismantled NRP.  So even in small numbers, the fact that residents were driven to this point is quite serious.  Our political theater was meant only for outside the council chambers, though.  Once we got inside and the hearing started...

...a city staffer first clarified that a previous document indicated the Jordan Area Community Council and the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition supported the Hub proposal.  That document, she said, was inaccurate in regards to those two organizations.  JACC did not support the Hub at the time the document went out, and has expressed strong disapproval.  WBBAC had discussed a Farmers Market at the site, and those discussions were misconstrued as support for the proposal as a whole.

Similarly, Stu Ackerberg spoke and although he obviously supports the Hub, the majority of his time was dedicated to an apology over how the process with the community has played out.  This tone was absolutely necessary.  There WILL be a Hub on the northside, and it may still wind up on West Broadway.  Even if it doesn't, there remains a strong likelihood that the development partners (Hennepin County, The Ackerberg Group, and Catalyst Community Partners) will stay the same.  If that's going to happen, then having those partners own up to the missteps is an integral part of restarting a genuine community dialogue.

When a video of the hearing is available online, I'll post a link to it.  But public comments were somewhat evenly divided in terms of numbers.  I found several things interesting about those who spoke in favor of the Hub.  At least two gave addresses well outside of north Minneapolis, and yet claimed they spoke "for the people" or "for the community."  The community, however, was fairly well-represented by neighborhood groups and residents who live in the impact zone.  The speakers associated with neighborhood organizations were universally opposed to the project in its current form.

Others spoke about how the neighborhood group "didn't represent them."  Well, yes, it kind of does.  And if Jordan residents don't like JACC's position on the Hub, we have five open seats on our board.  Anyone who meets board membership criteria and wants to be involved in Jordan neighborhood issues, please sign up.

The development partners also said that they spent more than a year looking for sites.  After they examined places throughout north Minneapolis, the West Broadway site was the only one that worked for them.  What we heard today was an affirmation that if the site doesn't work for the community then the proposal needs either significant changes or a new location.

I heard two other points that didn't pass the smell test.  First, we're told that the Hub project will bring all sorts of people to West Broadway, both employees and service recipients.  That influx of traffic will be the impetus for new business development along the corridor.  But when residents complain that this particular site is not designed to accommodate such large numbers (especially in light of the MPS building next door already needing more parking), then we hear that employees are mobile and will meet clients away from the site.  I'm not sure how both of those can be true.  Maybe a traffic impact study could sort this issue out in an impartial manner.

And neighbors were told that the community engagement process was handled in a more secretive fashion because Keith Reitman owns property in the development site area.  They had to assemble the site under the radar or he'd have driven up acquisition costs.  Reitman however, was at the hearing and presented himself as still owning property within the Hub site.  That doesn't line up either although it may be water under the bridge.

So the public comment period was closed, and the committee members discussed the proposal amongst themselves.  Lisa Goodman asked for a motion to support the staff recommendation.  Hearing none, she moved that the staff report be denied due to a lack of neighborhood support.  Goodman was highly critical of the way the acquisition, land use, and zoning aspects had played out, and was disappointed to see non-profit expansion on what should be the northside's commercial corridor.

She especially pointed out how north Minneapolis has received help that should ultimately be spurring commercial expansion.  "Every time I voted to spend money on West Broadway it was to attract private investment."

Robert Lilligren thought that such a proposal would be a better fit on a commercial corridor if it were "a part of something larger."  He referenced the Midtown Global Market as a place that has social services, but also incorporates small business development and housing.  While a development of that scope is not presently in the cards, I appreciate the desire to include more amenities as part of any government or non-profit expansion within a commercial area.

Don Samuels concurred with others on the committee, that among the many competing interests, he had to give weight to the voices of community members and constituents.

The motion to deny carried unanimously.

This is not the end for the Hub.  The developers will likely still proceed with attempts to get City Council and committee approvals.  The community will push for an environmental impact study in regards to the effect of such a large increase of surface parking.  And out of today's decision, hopefully a more genuine dialogue with the community will begin.

9 comments:

  1. Excellent work Jeff!

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  2. A brief rundown of the Autozone incident and how Catalyst could learn from it:

    Autozone came to the Jordan neighborhood with a proposal for an auto parts store on West Broadway. Their proposal was initially rejected. They made modifications and came back again. And again. And again. I believe they came to Jordan with as many as five different plan modifications.

    Whether the community was excited about the development, I couldn't say. But eventually they were basically put into a position where they could not say no to Autozone because the business sufficiently addressed each and every concern.

    Only after their proposal was approved by the community and later by the city council did Catalyst come along and appeal the decision. The appeal was successful on the grounds that the proposal did not conform with the West Broadway Alive plan.

    The irony here is of course that Catalyst is now seeking to develop a portion of West Broadway and their proposal is out of compliance with that plan as well.

    So neighborhood residents over north are reasonable and can approve a plan if it is acceptably modified to fit with the community. I'd encourage Catalyst, Ackerberg, and the County to continue with those modifications.

    One such modification though, might be the site location. They claim there isn't space in other parts of NoMi, but over here on Broadway and Irving they have been in the process of MAKING space. They've done site acquisitions and would continue with those, they'd demolish some or all of the houses on site and maybe move one or two, and they would seek to have parcels rezoned for parking.

    Other potential sites might present additional difficulties, but if a proposal has broad community support from the get-go then those are more easily overcome. And that's the major misstep here. The process should have been to engage the community, select a developer, and begin site assembly. Instead, they picked a developer, started site assembly, and only THEN engaged the community.

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  3. As I understand it, Ackerberg group was instrumental in fermenting the opposition of Autozone. Most probably because (as the Counties real estate developer disclosed) this site had been targeted over 4 years earlier for a Hub location.

    This decision not only sends a message to Ackerberg that they need to better evaluate quality developments rather than depending on their perceived political capital, but gives the Northside community confidence to work together towards goals of quality enhancements that will bring long term economic improvements.

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  4. No wonder no one wants to locate a normal business in North Minneapolis. If the neighborhood organization mafia keeps placing restrictions on legit businesses they'll find nothing left but "community service hubs" on their blocks. If you were smart, anything that was not a hair salon, cell phone or urban clothier would be express approved to take up the gaps on west broadway and make it look like a normal thorofare.

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  5. Bummer. I am really disappointed that this appears to be dead. I certainly hope that Catalyst and the County come back with a better version of the project, but I'm not holding my breath. I think they'll move on and find a different spot. With some tweaking, this would have been a fine addition to West Broadway, just as Ackerberg no doubt knew. There would have been plenty of room left for commercial enterprises in some of the other fifty vacant plots and buildings along corridor.

    When I think of the various West Broadway projects that have been killed off for one reason or the other in recent years, it makes me sad. Along with the HUB and AutoZone, I was particularly sad to see the BJ’s redevelopment opposed so vehemently. Instead of the proposed two story building with a “Surdyk’s-style” liquor store, offices, and a French Meadow (!), we have… BJ’s. The West Broadway “Alive” plan and NIBY-ism have a strangle hold on Northside redevelopment.

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  6. I am disappointed that our own County government is backing inappropriate infill along Broadway. They helped fund the West Broadway Plan and now are working to circumvent the 14 month studies recommended zoning and usage recommendations.

    I am disappointing that Ackerberg is running with this proposal after making broad statements concerning how important it was to clean up the streetscape and attract private investment into the community.

    I am disappointed that we don't have more appropriate businesses willing to tap into the areas $200 million annual purchasing power which is spent outside our community.

    I am disappointed that there are so many people willing to back just about anything that gets proposed, regardless of the negative effect or diminished long term benefit it would have on our central business corridor.

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  7. It seems to me that you are always focusing on the West Broadway corridor and whatever may be happening or not happening. I am trying to figure out why this "Hub", here i go, cannot be located in the building that sits on Glenwood Avenue. Named after a man whom none of you could even stand next to(without looking like the bumbling fucking idiots that you are) the W. Harry Davis structure sits there and nobody says a damn thing because we need a "Brand New" building! Spend, spend, fucking spend.Too bad that liquor store did not open on the site where B.J.s sits so we could spread more alcohol based misery on the community.
    There are other parts of North Minneapolis besides the Broadway corridor and the Harrison neighborhood is an up and coming area that, i guess, is not North enough. All of you like to concern yourselves with whatever may be planned for your distinct area and i am coming to the conclusion that the only real thinking person in all of this mess is Stu Ackerberg. Consider the Harrison area as a neighborhood that is waitng for you to "RE" discover, Stu. You were raised with a sense of fairness and one hell of a brain, so make these folks realize that a boy brought up and educated in the 60s and 70s in the Minneapolis Public School system will figure out that this is the area that will determine if you all want to concentrate everything up in that part of the city or spread it out a bit. Stu, being the Mensch and open minded guy that you are, figure it out for these clowns and make coach Baxter proud.

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  8. I altered the paragraph where it said certain speakers were "almost universally opposed" to the Hub proposal. I felt it was too easy to misinterpret the previous phrasing as if all of the speakers in general were opposed.

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  9. Keith Reitman needs to be identified by his proper title of "slumlord."

    Show the man some respect. (Sarcasm font)

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