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Lileks: If absolutely no one's happy, then the system must be working

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS
  • Star Tribune
  • February 23, 2012 - 8:01 PM

In the city, everyone has to deal with that most aggravating of petty annoyances, YOU. And HIM. And everyone else.

It would be nice if our annoyances could be summed up with something simple and specific, like "Joe Blotzman," and we could take up a collection to pay him to move somewhere, but A) he might hold out for more -- that would be just like Joe, wouldn't it? -- or B) he could toss the keys to his house to his cousin Harvey, who's worse.

Face it: As long as you're going to live around other members of your fellow species, you'll be annoyed. You're annoyed with me already for not getting to the point. I'm annoyed with your lack of patience.

Cleansing breath, everyone. OK?

Here's the latest issue to remind you why peace and harmony is an unattainable goal: A developer wants to put a mixed-use building in the city. You say: Depends on the uses, doesn't it? Affordable housing/gluten-free cupcake shop, that's jack-dandy. Slaughterhouse/kazoo factory, we have an issue.

Well, it's housing and shops. But how big?

If we've learned anything from the past 50 years, it's not to level distressed neighborhoods and put up godless boxes that stack people in the sky, with a plaza that's supposed to be full of romping kids but ends up a barren expanse populated entirely by loose plastic bags making slow circles in the air.

The developer's building would be six stories.

OK. Where is it? If they're dropping it in the middle of a nice quiet residential block, and the developer says "we're looking for a hip, upscale tenant with no kids and an extensive familiarity with cocktails and stereo systems," one could protest the attempt to change the quality of one's neighborhood.

But it's Uptown. So no one's complaining. Right? This is exactly what we're supposed to do: Build sensibly scaled, mixed-use, reasonably dense residences in parts of the city that already abound with similar examples.

But the Midway Greenway Coalition is opposing the project, because it will create ...

EXCESSIVE SHADOWING.

It sits along the trench that runs crossways through Minneapolis, and it will cast a shadow on a section of the trail for 3 1/2 months a year. Yes. Like the tree in my back yard. I point the j'accuse finger! NIMBY! UNCLEAN!

Alas, my smug outrage did not survive contact with the facts. Hate when that happens.

Michelle Beaulieu of the Midtown Greenway Coalition explains that it's a bit more nuanced. They want the building to have setbacks to admit more light.

"In general, we do support development along the Greenway, and we're all for compromise. We don't oppose a building there -- we oppose the design as it is." If it's stepped back, it would still cast shadows, but they can live with it.

They've filed an appeal to the city's approval of the excessive-shadow-generating building. And she makes this point: "We think that the city spent money to develop these plans, as well as the Uptown and Lyn-Lake small-area plans. They should follow them."

They do! Except when they don't. Which brings us to another part of town.

People in Linden Hills have been protesting a proposed five-story apartment building on the corner where Famous Dave's now sits -- even though the current occupant, with its parking lot and gas-station-sited building, is the opposite of what new urbanists want.

But the plot, she thickens: The building was two stories over the zoning limit. You have to wonder -- this "law " you speak of. A mere suggestion, then?

People squawked and got setbacks and a pocket park. Project approved; start your backhoes, boys.

That's how it works. Plans are proposed. People are horrified: This change does not conform to my precise expectations. Accommodations are reached, and in the end we have the perfect distillation of city life:

In some way, no one's happy.

By the way, there's a huge project in my neighborhood. Right now the street has almost no traffic, and we like it that way. When the project is done, there will be thousands of cars per hour zooming through to get to the highway. That will be change, and I hate it!

Except that the project is the replacement of an old bridge ready to tumble into the creek, and the streets are quiet because traffic's blocked off. Hmm. Tough one.

I'd file a suit to block bridge reconstruction, but I'm feeling generous this week. Thank me when you drive over it.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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