Concerns about trail hold up Dock Street housing complex

Without changes, the development could compromise future rail and bike trail corridors.

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A trio of bicyclists, seen from a bridge of Cedar Lake Parkway, take the winding Greenway bike trail near Cedar Lake in Minneapolis Friday, July 29, 2011.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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It's the kind of land use squabble that only a city -- at least, a city eager to restore vibrancy to its core -- could love.

Final city approval for a long-anticipated apartment complex in Minneapolis' North Loop neighborhood is being delayed to let Hennepin County and the developer find a way to keep the popular Cedar Lake Bike Trail intact in the rail trench near Target Field.

The trail isn't threatened anytime soon by the proposed Dock Street Apartments, a 185-unit rental and commercial development that would front Washington Avenue N. between 3rd and 5th avenues. That complex would be built alongside the trail, which follows the tracks used by Northstar commuter rail.

The county's concern is that the Dock Street project would significantly narrow the rail corridor, forcing additional tracks possibly needed in the future for another train -- for instance, high-speed rail from Chicago -- to go where the bike trail is now.

That, in turn, would squeeze out the bike trail and force cyclists back up to street level --unless the developer and the county can agree to an arrangement that would allow the trail to pass under the complex.

Negotiations continued last week between county officials and the developers, Houston-based Hines Northstar Crossings. Neither side commented on what was being discussed, but talks likely include compensation for design and construction changes.

On Tuesday, county commissioners will meet behind closed doors and in public to discuss their next steps. Minneapolis City Council Member Gary Schiff, who chairs the council's Zoning and Planning Committee, said the committee has held hearings on the project and will take it up again soon.

On Friday, Hines project manager Bob Pfefferle said in an e-mail that Hines "has worked diligently" with Hennepin County, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Minneapolis to accommodate "various forms of public transit that are anticipated in the future."

"We are excited to come to a resolution on this matter with the county" to begin construction this summer, Pfefferle said.

Hines had already agreed to move the complex back 5 feet to allow additional clearance space for a future rail line.

The project has been long in coming. The first version, called "Twinsville," was proposed about 10 years ago when plans were in the works to coordinate North Loop development with a new ballpark.

Hines, one of the biggest property owners and managers in downtown Minneapolis, has since reshaped that plan into a large development of offices, housing and retail called North Loop Green, of which Dock Street would be a part.

No one believes the trail hang-up will derail the Dock Street project, Schiff said. But he added that he's glad that the county's Regional Railroad Authority, which consists of County Board members, is taking a stand for the bike trail.

"They have a bike highway that takes them from the southwest all the way to the riverfront," he said. "If we don't solve the issue now, bikes will be literally kicked out of that trail."

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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