They say you can’t fight City Hall, but a band of St. Louis Park residents is waging a determined battle against a proposed development on Excelsior Boulevard that has the backing of city staffers.
Opponents say the Bridgewater, a six-story, 167-unit apartment complex planned for across the street from Trader Joe’s, would hopelessly snarl traffic at what’s already a congested intersection. About a dozen protesters demonstrated near the site this week, holding up signs bearing anti-development slogans.
Among them was Claudia Johnston-Madison, a member of the city’s Planning Commission, who lives nearby and voted against the project when it came before the commission in March.
“The project is wrong for this spot,” she said. “I’m a planning commissioner, but I also have an obligation to my neighborhood.”
Martin Madrid, another protester, said he was for development, “but give me a three-story building. Make it the appropriate size.
“They want to turn St. Louis Park into Minneapolis Jr. and turn Excelsior Boulevard into the Canyon of Heroes.”
City Council members aggressively questioned the developer at a recent council work session, casting doubt on whether the project will get the necessary votes to move forward. As a planned unit development, the Bridgewater needs a two-thirds vote to pass, meaning that five of the seven council members must approve it.
Ron Mehl, a senior planner for the project’s developer, Plymouth-based Dominium, said the company is working hard to address the concerns of residents and council members.
“We’ve met with staff. We’re doing things to address the neighborhood concerns,” Mehl said. “We’d like to have another work session [with the council] to show we’re listening to the concerns.”
Mehl said he believes the traffic issues can be addressed by redesigning entrances at the complex. He also noted that the Bridgewater will be an important contributor to affordable housing in the city. Thirty-five apartments, more than 20 percent of the total, will be affordable to families making just over half the area’s median income.
“We’re committed to seeing this through,” Mehl said. “We’re going to keep plugging away and make the changes we can.”
City officials are waiting for Dominium to make “refinements” before taking further action, said Kevin Locke, the city’s community development director. Locke said that with the right modifications, traffic in the Bridgewater area should move better than it does today, even with additional traffic generated by the development.