No zoning variance for Trader Joe's on Lyndale, says a City Council panel, and hence no store. At least as it's proposed. If they drop the wine and beer section, shrink the building, change the look, cut out the parking lot, and discourage cars with roof-mounted harpoons, it might get approved.
The controversial project raised ire normally reserved for really big urban sins, like building a Trader Joe's on Grand Avenue. From the online debate over the matter, you'd think Wal-Mart was planning a 10-block Soul Removal Center. Fine. Glories of a democracy and all that. But the nature of the arguments is telling; let me mischaracterize them to make my point -- er, spell them out, and offer a critique.
The design was all wrong, it's ugly and doesn't fit the neighborhood. Hey, it's brick. Could be worse. Could be a building covered in blue glass dropped into a historic part of town where brick and stone are the norm, and we can't have that, unless it's the Guthrie. Which is awesome!
It has a parking lot, which makes Satan smile. Well, the Wedge Co-Op admits the existence of cars, too. It's not as if the sidewalks are being replaced with pits of molten lava or electrified rails -- you want to walk there, walk. The lot is there for people who don't want to drive all the way to the St. Louis Park Trader Joe's, which has a lot slightly bigger than a new car dealership in Pyongyang. Tried that lately? You feel like you're putting a cruise ship through the Panama Canal, sideways. I got boxed in once for so long my meat passed its expiration date.
On one of the Internet boards devoted to heapin' the hate on TJs, someone wondered why they couldn't put the parking lot on the roof. Because automobiles dropping through the ceiling frightens the kids is one reason. Or because it's really expensive. Same goes for an underground ramp, which would be great in a world where money flowed out of unicorns' nostrils and all you had to do was make one stand still while you hooked the bucket over its horn.
Look, I don't like surface parking lots either, except when I need one, but at least the building was oriented toward the corner, which gives the impression of density. When a building sits away from the corner and the lot's on the corner, it creates a vacancy that dissipates all the character and energy -- to use some highly technical terms -- of the intersection.
They didn't do that. But:
The building's entrance faces the parking lot, not the corner. Good point: Stores that have doors on the street lend more vitality to the pedestrian experience. But I'm guessing this orientation is based on years of careful research proving people like to walk from store to car instead of hiking around the corner in the name of preserving the neighborhood ethos. Especially when it's raining.
It will bring south Minneapolis people in their minivans. I've heard this repeatedly. What they mean is "stay-at-home moms with two kids named Heather and Jacob who have cars bigger than they need. Icky." So: A store should not be built because it might attract theoretical citizens whose choice of vehicles suggests they should drive to a suburb and leave their money there. OK.
It needed a zoning variance. Good point: Why should we bend the law for them? The laws say that you can't sell wine within 300 feet of a church, because wine is bad, unless the church is using it for sacramental purposes. The ordinance is meant to keep neighborhoods from turning into an endless smear of shrieking neon, each sign blinking BOOZE! on and off all night with rummies stumbling up and down the block. But explain how 299 feet is unthinkable, but 301 feet is OK.
It would have added to congestion on Lyndale. Yes, if everything goes right, and people shop there, work there and taxes flow like honey. It's part of city life: congestion. Reducing Lyndale from two lanes to one certainly increased congestion -- that was the point. When I lived in Uptown I got used to the interminable trundle down Hennepin to get home. It was the price you paid. Now I live elsewhere -- by a grocery store, as it happens. I can't tell you the number of times I've sat at the light, waiting for the traffic to thin, wishing the store would go out of business and everyone would be out of work.
Oh, wait, I can: zero.