A proposed condo near the Guthrie Theater has just about everything: magnificent views of the Mississippi River, a short walk to Gold Medal Park and a chance to live in one of Minneapolis’ most dynamic, growing areas.
But it’s missing one important thing that has left the proposal in limbo: vehicle access to the building.
And the agency holding the key to that access — the Minneapolis Park Board — is unlikely to grant a driveway from West River Parkway to the building.
Developers and architects behind the project will go in front of the board’s planning committee on Aug. 15 to try to convince them that it’s the only way their tenants can enter the condo complex via car.
The Park Board has flexed its muscle beyond the Eleven condo proposal, hitting back against what it says is a unique list of requests to encroach on parkland. “The one thing they want from us is the one thing I don’t want to give them,” Park Board Commissioner Chris Meyer said about the requests.
The Park Board owns about 50 miles of parkways, which are used for commuting and recreation. Driveways off them are dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists, and destroy the sense of a trail, two park commissioners have said.
“It is a very attractive-looking project,” Park Board President Brad Bourn said about the condo proposal. “But the Park Board isn’t in the business of helping developers get better access … the public loses the value the more our public spaces are cut off.”
But developer Ryan Cos. and Robert A.M. Stern Architects argue that adding a driveway and crosswalk would inherently slow down traffic.
Michael Schroeder, the Park Board’s assistant superintendent for planning, said the bar is high for approval of encroachment permits.
“Staff really pushes for applicants to understand the policy of protection of parkland,” he added.
After talking with staff, some withdraw their applications when they realize they can make an access point other than a parkway work. Schroeder said the Park Board, however, has approved most of the dozen applicants in the past two years who have continued with the process.
Mosque wants parking lot
For more than a year, the board deliberated a residential driveway dispute off E. Lake of the Isles Parkway, which is pending, Schroeder said. And in northeast Minneapolis, an Islamic center has been fighting for years to buy adjacent parkland off St. Anthony Parkway and turn it into a parking lot with a driveway.
Meyer has been working with the Masjid Salaam Cultural Center, located on Central Avenue, to find common ground.
The center says the parking lot would solve several problems. Neighbors have complained about members’ cars parked in front of homes. Parking on Central Avenue is limited. Cars have been towed, and the center does not have handicapped parking.
Masjid Salaam Cultural Center is on a busy intersection that makes some parents with young children nervous about crossing the nearby junctions, several people said.
“It’s like a highway; it’s not a normal street,” said Abdimagid Omar, who is on the mosque’s board of directors.
Bourn said it’s highly unlikely the Park Board would sell the parcel, which is already accounted for in its master plan.
That area’s dedicated use includes landscape, seating and public art, Schroeder said.
Commissioners suggested that the center use the parking lot at the nearby Columbia Golf Course.
But its leaders say that would be too far away for children and older members, who would still have to walk half a block and cross the busy street twice.
“Anything that could work for the mosque wouldn’t work for the Park Board, and probably vice versa,” Bourn said, citing the master plan for the area.
Standoff over driveway
The Eleven condo building presents a different challenge. The developer says the parkway is the only way residents would be able to enter the building and its parking ramp.
Eleven presented its proposal for a driveway on West River Parkway at a Park Board meeting in May. Carl Runck, Ryan’s director of real estate development, told the board that the proposed building is sandwiched on “a sea of asphalt” between two other private buildings: the American Red Cross to the east and an office building to the west.
That leaves only one access point to enter the 101-unit building — on the parkway.
The developer has come up with an access plan for the several days in the year that the parkway is closed. Runck told the board that residents could get to the Eleven ramp via the parking lot of a private building on 11th Avenue.
They couldn’t use that option on a regular basis because that would create a private easement, and emergency personnel prefer access from a public road.
Danger for pedestrians?
In a written statement to the Star Tribune, Runck said: “We have applied for an encroachment permit to allow resident and emergency vehicle access to Eleven off West River Parkway. If we don’t obtain the permit an alternative plan will be pursued with final city approvals anticipated this fall.”
Meyer said he is concerned that adding a driveway would create a dangerous situation for pedestrians walking along the sidewalk or cyclists who use that stretch of the road where the Dinkytown Greenway ends.
But architect Paul Whalen argues the driveway would make the road safer.
The driveway “would make it safer for the increasing number of people who are living at the edge of the river to cross the parkway safely because the cars will be going slower,” said Whalen, the lead design architect for the project and partner at Stern, the architectural firm.
Apart from the driveway from the parkway, developers are proposing a raised crosswalk across the road.
Whalen also told the board that Eleven’s future residents would become supporters of the park because it would be partly in their front yard.
“Of course it’s a public place,” he said. “And we want to make sure it remains a public place.”