A coalition of residents in Minneapolis’ East Phillips neighborhood wants to turn city land close to the Midtown Greenway into aquaponics farms, affordable housing and a neighborhood-run bike shop and cafe.

Residents and local politicians said the potential development project is a step in the right direction in a neighborhood that has been fighting to rid itself of industrial plants and pollution. But city staff said they have to further study the city’s needs to determine if the neighborhood group’s plan could work at the property where a public works expansion is in the works.

The development would be on the border of the former 7.5-acre Roof Depot site on E. 28th Street and Longfellow Avenue close to Hiawatha Avenue. Neighborhood leaders will explain plan details at a community meeting on Thursday night.

The neighborhood coalition would develop 3 acres of the land either by the coalition leasing or purchasing the land.

“What we’re hoping is that the city says we can coexist,” said Dean Dovolis, principal at DJR Architecture, which designed the neighborhood’s site proposal. “Give us the crust of the bread. … Let us have the edges.”

Over the years, the ownership and subsequent redevelopment of the Roof Depot property, which once housed a roofing-supply business, has been a contentious battle between the city and neighborhood groups, which had also been trying to purchase the property.

Council Member Alondra Cano, who represents the diverse area, helped lead the opposition to the city’s purchase but was unable to block the deal. Cano didn’t return requests for comment.

The city last year paid $6.8 million for the property, which is adjacent to one of its existing public-works facilities. It plans to demolish the 230,000-square-foot Roof Depot building and replace it with offices, storage and parking.

With the expansion, the city would consolidate its operations from its nearly 120-year-old northeast Minneapolis location, which handles water distribution, and its water-meter operations based at the city’s treatment plant in Fridley.

“We are listening very carefully to the community,” said Robin Hutcheson, Minneapolis director of public works. “We are doing more work and more studying so we understand exactly what our footprint needs to be.”

Hutcheson said she couldn’t yet say how feasible the neighborhood groups’ plans are for the site. If the neighborhood redevelops part of the site, it would need City Council approval that probably would not come until next year.

The council had directed city staff to work with the neighborhood on redevelopment options. After the purchase, the city formed a committee to provide community input to the development.

“Even though they had an advisory committee, it didn’t seem like they wanted advice,” said Jolene Jones, president and active executive director of Little Earth Residents Association (LERA).

LERA joined the East Phillips Improvement Coalition’s efforts to form the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI), as did Tamales y Bicicletas and Somali Family Chemical Awareness.

“It’s always been a struggle to deal with these environmental justice issues in East Phillips,” said Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, who lives a few blocks from the site.

For decades, a city incinerator burned trash in the area. Arsenic dust from a pesticide plant at 28th Street and Hiawatha prompted a multimillion-dollar Superfund cleanup in the neighborhood.

EPNI’s idea is to create an L-shaped development along Longfellow Avenue and E. 28th Street surrounding part of the city’s expanded public works campus. In total, the development would reuse about 45,000 square feet of the already existing Roof Depot building and build another 48,000-square-foot building.

“If this is what we have to choose from, we want to choose the idea that’s better for our community obviously, less pollution, some jobs, some training, some education,” said Cassandra Holmes, secretary for LERA and a vice chair of the East Phillips Improvement Coalition (EPIC).

There would be outdoor farms and indoor farms to raise fish and grow vegetables; 28 affordable two-bedroom apartments; and a retail outlet that would house a cafe, bike shop and local crafts market.

Clark was able to help secure about $319,000 in grant funding from the state to plan the project. If approved, building the EPNI plan would cost $10 million to $15 million, which the group hopes to get from grants and private funding.

The community meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at East Phillips Park Cultural and Community Center, 2307 17th Ave S.

 

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