Monday, July 25, 2011

Developer's Plans Stir Debate in Small Community


I have often wondered about the impact of new housing and retail developments on older, established neighborhoods. How much input do residents have if opposed? Is compromise sometimes possible? Can developments be stopped?

I was recently prompted to ask these questions first-hand after learning of a proposal to build a five-story commercial/residential building in my community of Linden Hills in Minneapolis.

After reading about the project, known as Linden Corner, I attended a meeting of local residents opposed to the development and discovered that their views were broadly in line with my own; I also wanted to hear from the developer, Mark Dwyer, who lives in the area.

I contacted Dwyer and told him that although I was opposed to his plans, I would appreciate hearing his perspective and thoughts. He agreed to meet me.

Dwyer explained that what is being proposed is a five-story retail and residential development with plans to include approximately 34 condominiums, a restaurant, as well as a handful of businesses.

At present, the proposed site is zoned for buildings no taller than three stories in height and Dwyer is seeking a variance--or conditional use permit--to override this. Further, there’s an additional layer of regulations that was drawn up by local residents and businesses over a decade ago to protect the character and image of the area.

An affable man with a pleasant manner, Dwyer believes his plan makes economic sense for Linden Hills, in part due to the departure of the previous anchor tenant. He either owns the existing buildings at the proposed site (43rd and Upton) on a contract for deed, or has options to buy. But can he sell his plan to the community, I wondered.

Dwyer says he is sensitive to the aesthetic of Linden Hills but insists that five stories are necessary economically. “There is just a small group of people who are opposed,” he said.

My own observation differs drastically as I see a groundswell of opinion against his plans.

I asked how he might react if a petition (which I know to be circulating the area) were presented containing the signatures of a significant number of residents. “Opposition is important and healthy and informs opinion. We believe we are bringing the solution that has the best balance,” he said. “Change will happen in the face of opposition. It balances needs and wants. If there is an alternative that’s better, I’m not aware of one.”

I believe that the majority of people wouldn’t have an issue with a three-story structure. So why not build within the current zoning? “A three-story building isn’t a marketable property. Five stories drive the revenue, and it can’t be built smaller,” he replied.

This leads me to speculate that if scale and economy are linked, if this is the only way for the project to be financially viable, and if that doesn’t match what the community wants, then perhaps something somewhere is wrong.

If Dwyer is convinced this development will benefit the area, another resident, Kristin Tombers, owner of Clancey’s Meats, has a different point of view. She believes that the independent owner/operator businesses currently prevalent in the area reflect the “charming, small and village-like” feel of the business district.

“A large, cold commanding structure will be at extreme odds with the community’s current personality, no matter how thoughtfully or tastefully executed," she said.

“The beauty, charm and magic of Linden Hills will be lost for the people who love it here and the businesses of today will be gone forever to the commerce of the future. Whose future and well-being, then, are we talking about?”

Nor does Tombers view this project as inevitable and even has some creative alternatives for the corner. She alludes to the possible availability of grant money to make this an “urban green space” and “something innovative, inspiring, and responsible for all our interests, not just a select few.”

The developer’s website gives details of a local design team that has employed many features tailored to the aesthetics of the community, but I can’t get past the sheer size (both in height and length) that I feel is so wrong for the area. As someone said to me the other day, the reason Linden Hills has remained quaint and charming is because it is the total opposite of what this proposed development represents.

I think it is a false assumption to think that a small community will not be affected by a giant complex like this at its heart. I am also concerned about the types of businesses that will fill the retail spaces. Will they be national chains or will they be small locally-owned businesses? Linden Hills' pedestrian-friendliness would be overwhelmed by a development on this scale.

I appreciate the efforts made to reach out to the community, and I don't even mind the design, but for me the bottom line is the size of the project. It would tower over the area.

But if there is a Plan B, in the event that an override to the existing regulations cannot be obtained, I am sure many people in the community would love to have a voice in any future plans.

I love the small town feel of this community. It is unique, has character, and is unlike so many other places because of that. I am in favor of responsible development and believe the existing zoning should be respected. Overriding that would set a precedent for other developers wishing to build taller than permitted buildings in the area.

There are a lot of other issues associated with the Linden Corner development, and I have only covered some of them. Please check out the resources below for more information.

Finally, I'd like to point out that the opinions expressed in this article are my own. I state this only because I have spoken with other residents who share similar views.

Links:
Linden Hills Neighborhood Council
Developer's Website
Neighborhood Opposition Facebook Page
Neighborhood Opposition Website
Developer's Facebook Page

35 comments:

mia said...

Thank you for writing this. I have lived in LH for over 30 years and know so many people. Honestly, I don't know anyone that supports this project, unless they are connected someway with the developer.
L Hill is special, because, it's different from the standard development happening all over the city. I agree. development must be appropriate. and honestly, I have not found the Developer open to hear the residents concerns.
Mia- LH resident

Sheila said...

I think this is a very fair assessment of the situation. I have talked to many of my neighbors, and not only do they all overwhelmingly oppose a building of this magnitude in our little town, not one of them was consulted in the process. I imagine anyone publicly supporting and promoting this project would expect to benefit financially, at the expense of Linden Hills as we know it. I appreciate Ms Tomber's idea of an urban green space, she obviously cares about the future of our village.

Anonymous said...

Wow, so thankful to you to have written something so thoughtful! Especially pleased to see you included an open minded meeting with Mr. Dwyer as well as a view of a local business. A lot of criticism of the anti-building viewpoint has come up because supporters believe opponents don't open themselves up to learning in depth about the project-- you've proved them wrong!!

(In general as regards Clancey's, many supporters of the project say that the local businesses would benefit from the project, but I'm glad to see places such as Clancey's speaking out... Despite Mr. Dwyer being the president of the business association... certainly a sticky situation for many local businesses!)

I could go on and on, but in the end I think there are many people who oppose the project and I am just one of them, with my own reasons. As a resident, I cherish those four "downtown village" corners more than anything. I'm not opposed to any progress, but hope that however that area changes in the future, it can be conducive to our unique area.

Anonymous said...

Mark Dwyer is deeply disconnected if he thinks that there is only a "small group of people" in the Linden Hills Neighborhood opposed to his attempt to override the zoning codes that have made our LInden Hills the jewel it is.

Can he really be that clueless? Does he appreciate what this neighborhood is and what it can be?

Perhaps not when one is only concerned by what "drives the revenue".

Anonymous said...

Is this blog serious? The underlying land value is based on how the land is zoned. Five stories is consistent with other similar projects developed throughout our little town (Minneapolis) similarly zoned! Mr Dwyer is proposing the best and highest quality project for this corner that ultimately will provide this corner with a needed economic shot of adrenaline that Linden hills needs! Do you realize that you have retail spaces going vacant? Do you realize you have a broken hardware store that is being out competed on his home turf? Mr Dwyer is proposing to build a project worth 15 million dollars (I am guessing) on a corner that is worth a small portion of that. I am absolutely convinced that his approach is genuine, but it is ridiculous hatred that is taking over the conversation. Please I encourage each of you to go and talk with Mr Dwyer. Having been a former hater I appreciate having talked to him.

Christopher said...

Anonymous (from 12:39 am):

Yes, this blog is serious. I write about issues I am passionate about, but I also try to be objective - and I always welcome debate.

For the reasons stated in my article, I looked at both sides of this argument and concluded that I wasn’t keen on the project. I am not saying I don’t want to see the land developed. What I am saying, however, is that I don’t think this is the right plan for Linden Hills.

Any “hatred” you perceive I would hope has not emanated from me.

Anonymous said...

I moved to Linden Hills in 1978; my daughters graduated Southwest High School. I was a customer of the corner gas station, the corner where Mr. Dwyer proposes his five-story building. I watched, with interest, the development of Linden Hills loop when Clancy’s and Linden Hills Co-op and Bayer’s Hardware were just about the only existing working businesses. I am speaking from the perspective of one neighbor, one resident, one who loves the magical uniqueness of Linden Hills where nature meets the city, but the city is distanced by one-of-a-kind store fronts, roasting coffee that fills the air, fresh breads baking, children’s books surrounded by little living animals, a garden shop, a florist; their flower boxes with trailing vines and lush ferns and foliage—and more. Neighbor to neighbor, shop owner to shop owner, child to child, everyone is loving, gracious, and makes the way for a true sense of community. In all of Minneapolis, there is nowhere like Linden Hills. On the side of Mr. Dwyer’s design build and specification planning, these things of Linden Hills are put aside for fulfillment of his personal economic growth and according to Chris’s article Mr. Dwyer is quoted by saying, “A three-story building isn’t a marketable property. Five stories drive the revenue, and it can’t be built smaller.”

Down goes the curb appeal, away with the piano, let those who live in existing building’s apartments lose their view, parking underground may be limited; will parking be for the public or if we live and shop in the proposed building can we park there?Competition is normally good, but what new stores will come in and will they compete so as not to take away from the wonderful uniqueness of those who are currently there?

You get the picture! My opposing point of view is as one of you, a neighbor.

Anonymous said...

The only hatred being felt or talked about is coming from the previous comment in support of Mr Dwyers Development. Why is it when someone disagrees with the concept of the 5 story development they are accused of being hateful or a NIMBY? I actually feel a lot of LOVE. Love for our Linden Hills village and our neighbors. It makes me sad that at least 4 of my neighbors will have a 5 story tower hanging over their backyards blocking out their sunshine. Not to mention the condos that will be up next to the parking ramp and exit. This is why there is zoning and why it needs to be respected!

Anonymous said...

I think he is confused on who the small group is... it's a small group of people who are for the project. There are SEVERAL people against this project. Get out of town Dwyer.

Anonymous said...

I am also part of the small group that is for the project. We are obviously the more silent group. Follow the money. Who would you like as a neighbor? A new house that is a typical fancy new Big House, cheap construction, maximize the SF, ignore the neighbors, suburban mentality of build it just for me and the profit of my builder. We see those houses popping up all over our neighborhood. Or would you like a well thought out, well designed (Sala, Tea2, Rehkamp, etc) one built with high quality materials. You can see quality when you drive by the nice ones. Those nice homes, with high quality finishes, well designed make for good neighbors. Those well designed well built homes cost more money than some of the crap being built and the quality homes improve the quality and value of the neighborhood. From what I gather from the project that is what Linden Corner is being designed to be. Concrete floors, high quality finishes, two levels of underground parking, local designed architecture. All of this translates into an expensive project and high value SF. Why wouldn't these 34 families be good neighbors? I believe Dwyer is also as one of us, one neighbor, one person willing to invest a significant amount of time, money, and energy in making Linden Hills better.

Christopher said...

Anonymous (from July 26, 10:11 am):

I think you make some super points, especially with regard to quality of construction, and I am in agreement with a lot of what you say. My overriding issue is with the size and scale of what is being proposed.

Christopher said...

Thanks to all for the comments in response to my article. I hope I have given adequate space to both sides of the argument, though I clearly have my own views. With that in mind, I thank Mark Dwyer for being willing to meet me - even though he knew I wasn't keen on the proposed development.

At the end of the day, I believe in open debate and any overly ill-considered comments to this blog are not encouraged.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by to read what I have written. Like each of you, I only want the best for my community.

Anonymous said...

I was at Cafe Maude last night and heard some interesting (unsubstantiated) things floating around. Owner of Maudes Kevin used to own the Dunn Bros in Linden Hills so is very familiar with the neighborhood. There was some talk that he might be interested in putting another Maude type restaurant in LC.

There was also discussion about James Beard award winner Alex Roberts putting in either a Restaurant Alma or Brasa -wouldn't that be awesome? Anyone who's eaten at either place must surely be excited to hear a rumor like that. Also book author Nancy Carlson was there and lamented the closing of the Split Rock school where she used to teach writing. She asked if there was a place in Linden Hills that could house such a school...imagine - a folk art school for painting, poetry, writing, kayak building, etc.

There has also been talk of a gym, but I myself can't get excited about that unless it has a pool. But it did open my eyes to the exciting possibilities that COULD come in if the neighborhood could dream big and be open to things.

Christopher said...

Anonymous (from 7/27, 6:36 pm):

"…imagine - a folk art school for painting, poetry, writing, kayak building, etc."

Thanks for the post. Your words paint a wonderful picture of a vibrant community and I would welcome such businesses here. Do you feel that this is a likely scenario, or do you think chains are a more realistic prospect?

From chatting with people, I DO think the neighborhood is open to things, but I don’t feel that a building of the size proposed is the right answer. I also feel that most residents want the current zoning respected.

Anonymous said...

I think the business association has consistently been against chains and it is VERY UNLIKELY a chain would ever come in to Linden Hills. The owner of the (then) Garden Sampler was at one time considering Starbucks on that corner and all the other business owners met with him together and separately to convince him not to do it. As head of the Business Association Mr Dwyer has also consistently spoken out against chains, he is not going to risk MORE flack from the community.

Also, most chains require more parking than the mom and pop type businesses that LC has parking for.

I take your point about height and scale of the building. It is a concern. What we need to be aware of is that Mr Dwyer can easily sell his options and such to another developer who will NOT be as concerned about the neighbors and built right out to 7 feet from each residential structure - as allowed by code -and make it 3 stories. That would be much worse -a complete eyesore - in my view.

Anonymous said...

Let's start a campaign to businesses we WANT in the neighborhood -Cafe Maude, Brasa or Alma would be AWESOME!

As Tilia has shown and East Street shows, more restaurants bring more restaurant goers - seems like Cafe 28 and Naviya have benefited from Tilia -they get all the overflow from people who don't want to wait.

Anonymous said...

The option prices Dwyer has on the land assemblage are so high that nobody would buy his options to build a 3 story project. Numbers would not work at 3 stories, maybe don't work at 5. Dwyer has never done a real estate development before. The "walk before you run" adage is out the door on this one. Maybe the real developer with experience is hiding behind a curtain until a later time to have his identity disclosed. But, if so, why?

Anonymous said...

I love these conspiracy theories! Don't you think Mark Dwyer's reputation is on the line, and if he was really "pulling a swift one" he would lose all credibility and friends in the neighborhood where he lives and works? All this stuff has to be disclosed at some point anyway. I have only known Mark for a couple of years but he is the definition of transparent. I would take his ethics over some on the opposing side: http://blogs.citypages.com/blotter/2010/07/plagiarism_inc.php

I have been impressed by the willingness of Mark to sit down with those with opposing views and listen to their concerns. But I've known Kristin from Clanceys for years and I think she's great. I am waiting for more information to take a definitive stand. Please continue to provide information showing 2 sides to the story. Many people are undecided at this early point.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said: "The option prices Dwyer has on the land assemblage are so high that nobody would buy his options to build a 3 story project." Does anyone know what those prices are?? What are you basing that statement on?

Christopher said...

Agreed about some of the conspiracy theories!

I wrote my article to show both sides of the story largely because I wanted to encourage debate and provide links so that people could do their own research and reach their own conclusions.

Even though I am against the development in its present form, I wanted to present both sides of the coin. It is unlikely I’ll write another similar article, primarily because I am in agreement with lots of residents who share similar concerns about the size and zoning.

Added to this, I was recently contacted by a journalist from a local paper to speak about it so presenting an impartial face would not be fair as I do plan to continue to interact with all my neighbors who express similar concerns and who are willing to make their voices heard.

I like your point about waiting for more information. That is key.

Anonymous said...

Mark listens, but I would be interested in hearing if he has made any serious adaptions or compromises to concerns from neighbors and residents?

Anonymous said...

Wow.

I have to say, I am so surprised by how low people are getting on both sides! I was undecided until recently, and made up my mind still being open for suggestions.

Do I think that conspiracy theories from those opposed to the project are a bit ridiculous? YES.

But what bothers me even more is Anonymous' post from July 28, 2011 3:05 PM, in which he or she provides a link to reputation damaging material about an outspoken opponent from the anti-project side.

I had clicked it out of curiosity to see how it pertained to this subject, and it doesn't, except to show ill will.

Let's keep it classy, people. Christopher wrote a wonderful opinion piece, and as someone who continues to be weighing the benefits of building or not, I learned some new things from it.

Jenny said...

I was born and raised in linden hills. I've traveled the world, but this is the place I call home. This is where I've chosen to raise my children. What do I love about my linden hills? I love that it's quaint and charming and unique and idyllic. I love that it's an urban village - a cottage community with a rich history. I love that it's buildings are imperfect and small - that it has everything I need.
I understand that the developer has said there is a need for his building here, but that he can't and he won't build within the current zoning guidelines because the development wouldn't be profitable for him if he did. So, ultimately, this is really about what's best for him, not what's best for our community? I don't want a FIVE STORY mixed use building with underground parking in my Linden Hills. Who designs the building, what materials it's made of, who will inhabit it etc. are all beside the point for me. Frank Gehry could design a masterpiece for that corner, but if it didn't adhere to, and respect our neighborhood's zoning regulations - I would still be opposed. I am not at all opposed to development - I am opposed to a monster development. I respect that the developer has a vision, I just hope that he takes his 5-story vision somewhere else!

Christopher said...

Jenny:

You have summed up through the written word many of the sentiments I have heard people express verbally these past few weeks.

Thanks for the post.

AGNTPLZ said...

Here's the funny bit about the comment section. Everyone who likes the idea of Linden Corner is posting anonymously. What gives?

Christopher said...

AGNTPLZ:

There are a lot of anonymous posts in general, but I did notice that all of those in favor posted anonymously.

Mary Marlowe said...

Mr. Dwyer stated he would love to see a Chipotle in his building so he definitely would not turn away a chain tenant. With regard to conspiracy theories, Mr. Dwyer stated he is being paid a fee to get this development through. He has not revealed for whom he is facilitating. This proposed building is suburban in size and looks and is not appropriate for a narrow street like Upton Avenue. It would look ridiculous.

Christopher said...

Mary:

I can’t comment on the possibility or non-possibility of a Chipotle, though I suspect Mr. Dwyer would not want to do anything that would further diminish his chances of getting neighborhood support.

I agree that the current design does not fit the area, either in style or scale. I remain surprised that the development team thought that they could get community buy-in for something so massive and out of place.

It is a testament to the feeling for our community that to date over 1000 people have signed the petition opposing it.

Michael Altmann said...

It seems that Mark has gotten into an economic bind because he bought options on the land that is predicated on his being able to get a 5 story building.

This points to a fundamental issue that sellers and developers tend to assign a value to a parcel based on the assumption that a variance or conditional-use permit will be obtained. Once that valuation occurs, the developer then rightly argues that the only economically viable plan is to get the variance/permit. The challenge is to break the culture of over-valuation.

Christopher said...

Michael:

I think that scale and economy are intrinsically linked. In my article I attempted to say that if building to the scale proposed is the only way this development can be economically viable, and if that isn’t what the community wants, then something has gone awry. You have made this point even clearer to me.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

First of all, it's fine to be anonymous. There are many who know Mark and are part of LHBA that do not feel they can speak freely as he is chair of LHBA.

It's worth noting that no-one knows who the developers really are, and that Mark is simply the project manager who will take his fee and be done with the project. Mark has indeed mentioned Chipotle and a 24 hour fitness center such as Snap Fitness as welcome businesses. It's also to be recognized that investors AND lenders will want AAA credit-rated businesses and that spells national branding. Not your Zumbro, Tillia, Navyia, etc....

Return on investment is the name of the game and whereas that is not a bad thing in itself, it does spell franchise for the area.

Mark is not the developer. He has no real equity and only controls the land package through options. So it's not about Mark, it's about the corner. And for the developers' return.

Yes, we need more infrastructure there, both housing and retail but scale is important in its contribution to the overall uniqueness of this node. This corner has been used for years as a model of urban commercial use by urban architects. It is vital that it is not developed out of scale. It is the lack of commercial uniformity in that has made it unique.

In the articles I have read, only Lynette Lamb and Felicity Britton of Linden Hills Light and Power have advocated for this project. Where is the Council person on all this?! Either the zoning is upheld or not. Where is she talking to her constituency? Where is the leadership? As far as I can tell LHNIiC has become the conduit for Mark instead of the Linden Hills residents and Betsy Hodges is missing in action. Maybe she's decided this is her last term. Regardless, she needs to get out front and find out if her neighborhood wants her to advocate for a conditional use permit to allow a code favor, or uphold the overlay for 3 stories. Hello Betsy, are you around? And LNHiC, who are you representing here? It doesn't seem your neighborhood. You spend more time keeping people from building space above their garages than you're spending on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Oh I forgot to mention that given Mark has no major (possibly less than 1% ) stake in the project. He has absolutely no say as to what goes in to the development. The investors do.

Anonymous again.

Christopher said...

Anonymous (from Sept. 5):

Thanks for the post. I'm sure some of the points you raise will prompt more debate.

Incidentally, I don't think Betsy Hodges is allowed to take a position one way or the other until some time after the formal application has been submitted to the city.

Anonymous said...

Linden Hills neighbors and visitors: Here are 5 compelling reasons to reject Mary Dwyer’s development:
1.Overcrowding and more traffic: The village is already overcrowded. Stuffing 30 condos into that corner means a lot more cars, more road and sidewalk traffic, and a less “easy” and casual lifestyle that both residents and visitors have valued.
2.MORE AIR POLLUTION:
A) Vehicle exhaust pollution: Linden Hills can’t sustain more air pollution from vehicle exhaust.
B)Fragrance chemical pollution: Scented dryer sheets may contaminate neighborhood air from collective washer and dryer vents at the condo complex, in addition to exhaust from businesses.
3.Restaurant cooking smells, and restaurant wood burning: Restaurant fumes also pollute public spaces and nearby neighborhood air. Famous Dave’s already emits toxic wood smoke. Does Linden Hills need another restaurant?
4.Real estate devaluation: Homes near the development would likely sell for less, because of proximity to the increasingly commercial hub and fear of breathing more restaurant and condo fumes.

Christopher said...

Anonymous (from Jan 18): Thank you for your comments - you have brought to my attention some environmental issues I hadn't considered.