City council to vote on Dinkytown development project

9:54 PM, Jul 28, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - This week, the Minneapolis City Council will vote on whether to give Opus Development Company the green light to build a six-story apartment and retail building in the Dinkytown neighborhood.

The proposed development next to the University of Minnesota campus has sparked a heated campaign to "Save Dinkytown."

"Dinkytown is really about the canary in the coal mine. It's really about the rezoning of an area that's been part of the fabric of University of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis. It's been a very robust commercial area for the last 100 years," said Minneapolis City Council Member Diane Hofstede, who represents Dinkytown in Ward 3.

Last Thursday, a Minneapolis zoning and planning committee rejected rezoning for the Opus Development Company's proposal in a 3-2 vote, a move that stunned Laurel Bauer, who planned to sell her corner grocery store, House of Hanson, to the developer. Bauer was scheduled to close her business, which was started by her grandfather in 1932.

"The longevity of House of Hanson was coming to an end. We wanted a developer that would cater to the community and make this project fit the fabric of Dinkytown," said Bauer.

She said the sale seemed like a done deal after working with Opus for eight months and even drafting a purchase agreement with the company. The building would replace her current building on 14th Avenue Southeast and would also develop a plot of land, along SE. 5th Street between 13th and 14th Avenues, which is primarily covered by surface parking lots.

In anticipation, she says she evicted two other tenants in her building, the Podium, a music shop, and the Book House, a rare and used book store.

In response to the project, Book House employees started the "Save Dinkytown" campaign from the new store location. On the counter sits a petition with 3,200 signatures of people protesting the rezoning of the neighborhood.

"It's never changed in a way so rapid and so radical as what will happen if this project goes through," said Matt Hawbaker, manager of the Book House.

Hawbaker says opponents instead support community-driven change. They are calling for more study after the completion of a neighborhood master plan, instead of developer-driven change.

"We want it to come from the ground up, rather than top down," he said.

In response to the committee's decision, Opus issued an email statement.

"We're very disappointed in the committee's decision last week. We believe that this is a well-conceived project that along the way has received unanimous support of the Planning Commission, as well as many neighborhood, community and business interests. We designed the project to complement the unique character of Dinkytown, and we believe that it would put to better use the property, currently occupied primarily by surface parking lots. As you know, several of the businesses in the remaining commercial building on the site have already moved to new locations. We remain hopeful that the full council will recognize the merits of the project and allow it to move forward."

Bauer says she was stunned and disappointed by the zoning and planning committee's vote against the apartment building. She says there must be compromise between growth and her grandfather's era.

"The rug was pulled from under us. It has hurt me personally. These people were my friends and neighbors," said Bauer. "Don't just assume because one quarter of this block wants to redevelop an old parking lot, surface parking lots, that does not mean every building is coming down. We really need the city to come through and say, 'Yes, let's go ahead and make this project happen.'"

The Minneapolis City Council will vote on the project during its Friday council meeting at 9:30 a.m.

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