ADVERTISEMENT

Developers must help build Minneapolis parks

  • Article by: Bill McAuliffe
  • Star Tribune
  • December 24, 2013 - 12:00 PM

Developers in Minneapolis will be required to contribute land for parks — or the money to buy it — under a provision that will take effect Jan. 1.

The measure, passed by the City Council Dec. 6 and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board last week, is similar to long-standing requirements in dozens of other metro cities.

“We’re playing catch-up,” said Park Board President John Erwin.

Had the measure been in place last year alone, the Park Board would have received about $3.5 million, according to the city of Minneapolis.

Longtime Park Board attorney Brian Rice noted that the board has missed “a big hunk” of possible funds during the housing boom on the Mississippi riverfront since 2006, when it began seeking legislative approval to assess a fee.

The Parkland Dedication Ordinance rests on a tension that’s been growing particularly along the downtown riverfront — as more people come to live there, the greater the demand for green space.

That’s why the development proposed adjacent to the new Vikings stadium intends to have a park as its centerpiece, Erwin noted.

Developer Kelly Doran, who has built extensive residential and commercial properties in Minneapolis in recent years, said he believes the required contributions from developers for parks will simply jack up the cost of development — and, by extension, sale and rental prices for residents.

For every new residential unit, developers will pay $1,500 or contribute 288 square feet of land, if the development is downtown, or 436 square feet if it’s outside of downtown. Developers of affordable housing are exempt.

Erwin said he believes that being located near parks and other green space will raise the property’s value by amounts greater than the value of the fee or the land contribution.

He said the ordinance itself is unlikely to transform the riverfront or other areas where new housing or commercial development are coming. “Accessorize” is more like it.

Funds or land contributions from a developer must be used within six-tenths of a mile of the development, so they’ll likely be used to produce small neighborhood parks, access to regional parks or trails such as the Midtown Greenway, small wetlands or recreational amenities such as exercise courses. The money can’t be used for park programming or maintenance.

St. Paul, which is anticipating a major redevelopment of the former Ford plant along the Mississippi, authorized a similar ordinance in 2007.

In some suburban communities, parkland fees from developers have been criticized for being inflated beyond land values and for being used by municipalities for things other than parks.

Unlike most cities, though, Minneapolis has the Park Board, which assesses its own taxes and is independent of the City Council.

Suburbs were able to establish their own fees or land contributions from developers under legislation covering development of open farmland. Minneapolis, fully developed long before that, needed a new law, which was passed in 2006.

Erwin said a dedication fee or land contributions would have made it easier to develop a park in the North Loop area off downtown Minneapolis, where rapid housing development makes that prospect more elusive by the month.

A single playground along West River Parkway has become a focal point, but parks are needed to keep families in the area, said Karen Rosar, vice president of the North Loop Neighborhood Association. The association has been paying for its own studies of park possibilities.

“We’re trying to create a balanced community here, that’s sustainable for a long time,” she said.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

© 2014 Star Tribune