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Frey hedges on controversial Dinkytown project

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: July 31, 2013 - 1:53 PM

Few development projects have attracted more public attention this year than a proposed mixed-use building on a Dinkytown site now dominated by surface parking lots.

That area is also home to one of the year’s most contentious City Council election fights, between incumbent Diane Hofstede and challenger Jacob Frey. But while Hofstede opposed the necessary rezoning at a public hearing last week, Frey won’t take a stance on the project.

“I don’t feel totally comfortable making a call without having the benefit of hearing the testimony, one, and also getting e-mails from constituents,” Frey, an attorney, said Tuesday.

The project (pictured below) certainly isn’t new, however. The community has been discussing the project since January and Frey frequently interacts with residents while campaigning. He later said that he does not “feel comfortable commenting where I haven’t had the opportunity to shape the project from the beginning.”

Neighborhood activists, who were a constant presence at city conventions this spring, say the proposal by Opus Development would destroy the small business character of Dinkytown. The project, which includes 140 apartments and ground-level retail, would replace House of Hanson convenience store, Duffy’s pizza and several businesses that have already left (The Podium and The Book House). About 70 percent of the land is now surface parking lots.

The zoning and planning committee voted against the rezoning last week. The full City Council will have final say this Friday.

“I have no problem, for the record, with density going on surface parking lots. I think that’s a great thing,” Frey said, speaking generally. “I do, however, have a problem with density that’s going to sacrifice small and local businesses.”

Frey said the best way to ensure that does not happen is to include smaller retail spaces. Opus senior director Matt Rauenhorst says they have done that, tentatively sizing retail units between 1,300 and about 2,500 square feet. To put that in perspective, a CVS generally occupies more than 8,000 square feet.

“If it is 1,300 square feet for a unit, I do not believe that that will sacrifice small and local businesses,” Frey said. He said that 2,000 square feet, however, would be “getting up there.” Rauenhorst said two of the five units could reach 2,000 square feet, with one of those potentially surpassing that.

So would the project get Frey’s vote? He won’t say.

“As a representative, one you’re leading, but two you’re listening to the constituency,” Frey said. “And without the full ability to do that, I’m hesitant” to take a definitive position.

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