When Lee Stotts was born in 1968, his parents took him to the cleaners.
They brought their newborn straight from the hospital to Edina Cleaners, the family’s longtime business in Edina’s Morningside neighborhood, before they even took him home.
“This was my playground,” Stotts, now 49, said. “This is where I spent my entire life. I’ve lived and breathed this company, this location, my entire life.”
But now Stotts, in the wake of his father’s death last year and facing slower business, has decided to sell the building to a developer who wants to build a five-story mixed-use structure there. The plans are creating tension in the peaceful neighborhood, where neighbors are wary of the project’s height and density and worry it could set a precedent for more such development at 44th Street and France Avenue.
Bob Kearney, who moved to Morningside 30 years ago, said he realizes that “it’s not going to be 1950s Morningside here forever.”
“But everybody is also aware that this is a neighborhood, and they want to keep it a neighborhood as much as they can,” he said. “They don’t want it to be one of these big commercial nodes.”
The 44th and France intersection is being studied by city officials, who are updating the city’s comprehensive plan and expect to issue draft recommendations for future development there by next month.
Residents, many of whom exhibit a palpable love for Morningside, want future proposals to be completed with them in mind.
At stake, many believe, is the identity of the neighborhood and its relationship with the larger suburb that annexed it decades ago. Stotts said he understands the significance.
“This neighborhood is important to me,” he said. “It’s the gateway to Edina.”
The other part of Edina
A “streetcar suburb” sandwiched between Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, Morningside seceded from Edina in 1920 and remained an independent village until 1966. The vote to reincorporate was controversial, said Doug Fuerst, a local historian and Morningside resident.
“There are lots of stories and lots of newspaper articles that speak to the fact the people in … Morningside didn’t want a whole lot to do with the folks from Edina,” Fuerst said.
“I think Edina looks at Morningside as being the ‘other’ part of Edina,” he continued. “[Morningside residents] have always done their own thing.”
Many residents refer to the area as Edina-Morningside or simply Morningside. It has its own neighborhood association, sports club and even a baby sitter’s club. It has some of the oldest homes in Edina and has seen its share of teardowns.
The city has held two meetings to collect public feedback on development concepts for the 44th and France intersection. Much of that feedback was disdainful of any large project.
“We don’t need more density in this quaint area,” one resident commented. “This is not 50th and France or Grandview,” another wrote. “This should not be a destination district.”
About 100 residents showed up Monday for a meeting at Edina Morningside Community Church. They looked over development renderings in small groups and scribbled observations on pink sticky notes. Most residents expressed concern about building heights.
“It just feels too big for me,” Madelyn Nasser said. “We are pro-development, pro-evolution, but in a thoughtful way.”
Avoiding a civil war
Stotts’ main objective when he decided to sell the Edina Cleaners property was to avoid the kind of drama he saw in Minneapolis’ Linden Hills neighborhood a few years ago. A residential project there, which has been approved since, divided neighbors in a “civil war,” Stotts said.
“I was … totally determined to avoid the disaster of what happened in Linden Hills,” Stotts said. “We’re not going to ram a project down Morningside’s throat.”
He entered into a purchase agreement with Edina-based developer Ted Carlson, whose project — which he plans to propose to the City Council later this year — would include about 65 luxury apartment units, street-level retail and underground parking.
Carlson has revised the design, based on conversations he’s had with Morningside residents, to look more like the other buildings on the intersection.
“I just want a chance to tell our story a little bit,” he said. “My hope is that this is a timeless, high-quality development that people can look at as a template for other opportunities in the area.”
Stotts plans to close his Edina shop by the end of the year. The building has deteriorated over time; its chimneys are cracked, its walls chipped.
On a recent sunny weekday afternoon, Stotts opened a door leading to the building’s roof and stepped outside. Looking down at the intersection, he recalled a time when the cleaners was the only building there. He then climbed a rusty ladder to the roof’s second level and scaled its shingles.
“Morningside is special, but Morningside is not exempt from the fact that neighborhoods change,” he said.