A grand plan for GrandView Heights District

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA
  • Star Tribune
  • December 27, 2011 - 2:19 PM

If two's a couple and three's a crowd, how many is 52?

In Edina, it's a steering committee.

Last spring, the city vowed to involve the public in planning for the GrandView Heights District, and it kept that pledge. Since September, the giant committee has devoted more than 300 man-hours to hashing out a vision for the future of 38 acres in the north central part of the city.

The area is bordered roughly by Vernon Avenue, W. 50th Street, Eden Avenue and Wilson Road and includes landmarks like City Hall, Jerry's Foods, the Edina Library, the city's old public works site and Our Lady of Grace Church. The committee's goals were ambitious, including coming up with a plan that would calm a busy area split by Hwy. 100 and railroad tracks, build safe connections for pedestrians and bicyclists, and create green spaces, transit links and perhaps more housing.

The group has a draft report and will finalize its ideas by mid-January, with presentations to the Planning Commission in February and the City Council in March.

"It was a pretty intense three months," said Kevin Staunton, chairman of the steering committee. "I feel like it's coming pretty close to what everyone's looking for, and we'll be ironing out the details."

Plan followed controversy

The public planning process follows a 2008 controversy over whether the city should sell its now-unused public works site at 5146 Eden Av. Some residents argued that with so few undeveloped city-owned sites left, the site should be kept for public use.

Some of the people who spoke out then joined the GrandView steering committee, which included ordinary citizens, business representatives and longtime activists.

While nothing is certain until the city puts its stamp of approval on it, the group has suggested making the public works site a public green, possibly with some kind of community center and perhaps a townhouse development nearby. They suggested that the green space could be on top of a Metro Transit park-and-ride structure.

The 3.6-acre public works site is in the middle of the GrandView district. Staunton said it's up to the city to consider whether a public building should be on the site, and if so, what kind.

"We think there ought to be a commons-gathering place, but how big it is and what it is remains to be seen," he said. "This whole thing needs lots of public discussion."

With coffee shops, a liquor store, Jerry's Foods and the library and senior center, the area is a destination for drivers. But it can be intimidating for people on foot or on a bike. Vernon Avenue, the old Hwy. 169, still has traffic whizzing along its four curving lanes.

Staunton said that with spillover traffic from Hwy. 100, there's a clash between drivers who just want to get through the area and people who are driving there for a reason.

The draft report suggests two new frontage roads on either side of Hwy. 100 and the straightening of some of the highway's loopy on and off ramps. It also suggests that Vernon become a three-lane street with more room for bike paths and sidewalks.

To make the City Hall area more accessible by foot or bike, a bridge just for pedestrians and bikers would span Hwy. 100 north of Eden Avenue and continue with a bike-and-walkers-only path up to Arcadia Avenue near the old public works site.

Process went smoothly

Despite the steering committee's size, Staunton said the group's work has gone remarkably smoothly. The process was eased with a $100,000 Metropolitan Council grant which allowed hiring of consultants to work with the group on its report.

If the city decides to proceed, the full vision for GrandView Heights probably won't be realized for 15 to 20 years, Staunton said. It would be up to the city to figure out how to pay for the changes, which would occur piece-by-piece.

"The days when you can scrape clear a piece of land and start new are gone," he said. "We would have to do this in increments as property is available. Money plays into it, as does timing."

Staunton said the group hopes to have its final proposal ready for the public on Jan. 25. After 45 days for public comment, the report would go to the Planning Commission on Feb. 22 and to the City Council on March 20.

The committee's draft report can be viewed at .

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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