Residents in Maplewood's densely populated Parkside neighborhood are gearing up for a fight with City Hall in a last-ditch effort to save a small nature preserve from being plowed under to make way for a senior high-rise.
The prospect that the city might sell a portion of Roselawn Park to a developer has sparked a furor in the neighborhood just east of Interstate 35E and Roselawn Avenue. Several residents plan to raise their objections when Maplewood's Parks and Recreation Commission meets Wednesday at 7 p.m. to debate whether a portion of the 5-acre park where hawks and falcons soar overhead and ducks and turtles make the marsh home should be rezoned and eventually sold.
"This city prides itself in preserving and restoring other green spaces, and selling this parcel sends the opposite message to its citizens," said Amy Dorn-Fernandez, whose property abuts the park packed with red oaks, cottonwoods and walnut trees. "We do not want it sold. Widespread citizen and community enjoyment of the scenery and wildlife should be preserved in our neighborhood's urban jewel."
Azure Properties Inc. wants to build a 71-unit, three-story senior apartment building with underground parking on land it owns on the 300 block of Roselawn Avenue. But it needs part of the adjoining parkland to carry out the project, which would be similar to the RoSoto Villa senior apartments across the street. In his Aug. 23 letter of application, Azure's Thomas Schuette asked the city to rezone his property and one acre of the park from low-density residential and park to high-density residential. He said the city should approve his request because of the strong demand for senior housing in the area. He also said the building will not "injure or detract from the use of neighboring property or from the character of the neighborhood."
Neighbors disagree. They say there are too many apartments in the area already.
The Maplewood Planning Commission and City Council, along with the Met Council, would have to approve the developer's plans and park sale before building could begin.
Maplewood stands to gain $236,620 if the city-owned parcel is sold. The money would go into the city's Park Development Account that would be used for redeveloping the city's 36 parks or future land acquisition, said Parks Manager Jim Taylor.
Taylor said the money is sorely needed for projects such as adding a shelter and play equipment at Joy Park and putting in a veterans memorial and other amenities at Goodrich Park. The city also needs about $400,000 to finish paying for the Fish Creek property in south Maplewood, which is currently being held by a nature conservancy on behalf of the city.
No money from the sale of Roselawn Park would be earmarked for Fish Creek, said Parks Director DuWayne Konewko.
He said that Maplewood has owned Roselawn Park since the 1960s, but that the property was never intended to be a city park. The sale also would not go against the city's comprehensive plan, which calls for having a park within a half-mile of every resident. Four acres of the preserve would remain parkland, Taylor said.
Assistant City Manager Chuck Ahl said a city report identified the need to contract by divesting of small parks that don't have high usage, and that his department recommends approving the rezoning request and that the park be put up for sale.
"Having open property to live by is wonderful," Ahl said. "We can get a quarter of a million dollars for an acre. It will help make sure our parks remain at a high-quality level."
This is not the first time Maplewood has sold parkland. Ahl said the city got rid of a small plot of vacant land on County Road B about five years ago. He said there are no other plots being targeted for sale at this time.
The idea of jettisoning open space riles Janet Johnson, who lives near Roselawn Park and whose grandchildren like wandering through the woods and brush and throwing stones in the pond.
"Park space is sacred, and I don't like a developer with money being able to buy parkland," she said. "We feel defeated. The city will go ahead regardless of what we say. But everybody close to the neighborhood will be showing up Wednesday."
Tim Harlow 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib