Was it geography or agenda that scuttled Minneapolis building plan?

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 8, 2009 - 9:26 PM

A developer alleges in a lawsuit that Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman unfairly rejected his planned 21-story development. She says it was too big for the area.

A proposed 21-story building in the Loring Hill neighborhood of Minneapolis was either too big for the area or unfairly rejected by Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman because of a personal animus toward the developer, according to lawyers for the council member and a developer on opposing sides.

Hennepin County District Judge Stephen Aldrich began taking testimony Monday and will eventually decide whether Goodman denied developer Brad Hoyt his right to a fair hearing for the project in 2004.

"Lisa Goodman violated my client's rights," Hoyt's lawyer William Skolnick said in his 15-minute opening statement. "She made it her mission to stop the project. Before any vote was taken, she did everything she could to stop the project."

Goodman's lawyer, Charlie Nauen, countered in his opening that the project was too big for the character and scale of the neighborhood, where nearly all buildings are six stories or fewer. "It has nothing to do with Lisa Goodman; it was the wrong project," he said.

If Aldrich determines that Hoyt's rights were violated, the developer will seek $23.6 million in damages. Goodman represents the downtown ward where the proposed project, Parc Centrale, 401 Oak Grove St., would have been built. Although she is considered a knowledgeable and savvy council member, some also consider her direct to the point of rudeness.

Skolnick argued that on separate occasions Goodman had called Hoyt a "schmuck" and a "despicable scumbag" and told him in coarse language she would kick his "tail back to Wayzata."

Goodman improperly lobbied other council members to reject Hoyt's zoning variance for the project, Skolnick said. The council then "rubber-stamped" her opposition "without one word of discussion," he argued.

Aldrich represents Hoyt's "last hope for justice," Skolnick said.

Hoyt, who owns the Continental Property Group, sat with his lawyers while Goodman sat back in the courtroom's spectator chairs as Nauen argued the proposed building was three times the zoning limit for the neighborhood. Council Member Scott Benson, a frequent Goodman ally and friend, also attended the afternoon session.

Despite lobbying by Hoyt, the developer failed to persuade the neighbors, the formal neighborhood group, Goodman or the city's planning department, Nauen argued. The developer knew the huge building was a long shot and subsequently proposed a seven-story building that was approved, Goodman's lawyer said.

"The reason we're here is because Brad Hoyt is a sore loser," Nauen said.

Although Goodman has a "strong personality" and "speaks her mind," she was "open to the project because she is pro-development," her lawyer said.

Architect Paul Mellblom was the first witness. The trial resumes at 8:15 a.m. today.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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