The big fight may be over, but changes are coming anyway to Linden Hills, one of the best-known and highest-charm commercial districts in Minneapolis.
By spring, the Famous Dave's restaurant that has anchored the neighborhood's commercial zone for nearly 20 years could be gone, replaced by a three-story complex with luxury condominiums and street-level shops. Nearby on Upton Avenue S., two storefronts — Linden Hills Florist and Bayers Hardware — stand empty, but probably not for long; another restaurant or two are among the possible new businesses. And an expansion is planned for the building that housed Bayers for 89 years.
For Linden Hills, the ferment represents another challenge to the neighborhood's delicate balance between being a close-knit, walkable neighborhood and serving as a regional destination.
"The world's going to change, and Linden Hills is going to change," said Aaron Tag, chairman of a task force that helped draw up a new set of development guidelines for the neighborhood. "The question is: How can we keep that vibrancy, but not degrade what has made Linden Hills vibrant?"
Volume dialed down
Two years ago, the battle over the Famous Dave's site prompted criticism that residents of Linden Hills were resistant to change. Opponents of the condominium project, when it was two stories taller, leafleted on street corners, circulated petitions and packed public meetings, leading the City Council to shoot down the project even after it had received several approvals.
Today Mark Dwyer, a lifelong Linden Hills resident who's redeveloping the site, said he has sold three of the 16 planned condominium units, and that he'll break ground when the sales mark hits eight.
Last week a sign in front of the site — Linden Crossing — had been defaced with the words, "Yuck — No." But the writing is tiny, perhaps symbolic of how things have quieted.
A moratorium on development in the Linden Hills commercial districts, declared as a result of the dispute over Famous Dave's and an apartment complex, has expired. And last week, city planners and the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council posted the new development guidelines for the nearly 1-mile stretch of storefronts, apartments, homes and shopping areas, from the Famous Dave's site west to W. 44th Street and France Avenue S., at the Edina border.
Dwyer's plan for Linden Crossing conforms to the three-story limits in the new guidelines, which emphasize preserving the mostly low-rise character of the commercial blocks, as well as enhancing walkability between them, and even reducing the need for parking.
Yet specialty shops and, particularly, an increasing number of highly acclaimed restaurants, draw customers and traffic from a much broader region. Neil Holman, owner of Zumbro Cafe, pointed out that in his more than 20 years in Linden Hills, businesses that provided services to the neighborhood, such as a drugstore, a gas station and a dry cleaner, have left and not been replaced. Many of his customers, he said, come from beyond Linden Hills.
Similarly, Dwyer said that while he'd like to have made Linden Crossing a place where Linden Hills residents might move so they can stay in the neighborhood, he expects most of his buyers to come from wealthier suburbs.
"Shopping patterns have changed. Our businesses need some customers outside the area to survive," he added.
Betsy Hodges, who represents the area on the Minneapolis City Council and is running for mayor, said Linden Hills, Uptown and neighborhoods along the proposed Southwest Corridor light rail line all face intense development pressure — particularly in an improving economy. One of her stated goals, and one of Mayor R.T. Rybak's, she said, is to increase residential density in the city.
But the new plan for Linden Hills, while focusing on the neighborhood's three business nodes, recommends medium-density housing, not high density, noted principal city planner Brian Schaffer. A proposed apartment development at W. 46th Street and France Avenue S., like Linden Crossing, has been scaled down from 63 to 32 units due to neighborhood opposition, said developer Scott Carlston.
Meanwhile, Famous Dave's owner Jon Swenson said he'd like to keep operating in Linden Hills, although that will most likely be at another site. That means one landmark will move, while the condo-commercial development replacing it will dramatically change the scenery for shoppers, neighbors, commuters on the No. 6 bus, and drivers angling through between Edina and Uptown.
"That's going to change the neighborhood fairly significantly," Tag said. "It's not too often we get new buildings in the neighborhood."