The Minneapolis City Council had just approved a $350 million project to redevelop 48 acres of industrial north Minneapolis riverfront earlier this month when a community group filed suit to halt construction.

Community Members for Environmental Justice has accused the city of conducting an inadequate review under the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act. The suit alleges the city failed to study the environmental impacts of the Upper Harbor Terminal project on neighborhoods, including how development of housing, community centers and a First Avenue concert venue will add greenhouse gas emissions to a part of the city designated as overburdened by pollution. The group also alleged the project will gentrify the North Side and displace residents.

"We told them that the community was never truly engaged in any authentic way about what this development should be, but they pushed it through anyway," CMEJ leader Roxanne O'Brien said at a news conference Thursday. O'Brien said she resigned in protest from the Collaborative Planning Committee, a panel that the city convened for community members to inform plans for the former Upper Harbor barge terminal, after one day.

"We walked away when it became clear that the city had already decided what this development was going to be," she said. "They had no real intention of letting north Minneapolis residents drive this process."

In a letter to the City Attorney's Office, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy lawyer Evan Mulholland requested a stay on redevelopment pending the group's appeal of the Alternative Urban Areawide Review.

A city spokeswoman said the City Attorney's Office is reviewing the complaint.

In January, MCEA sent a letter warning the City Council not to vote on the Upper Harbor Terminal development proposal before completion of the environmental review. A planned vote was delayed until this month, when the project was approved by the council. Council Member Jeremiah Ellison was the lone dissenter.

Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who represents the project area, celebrated its passage during a Fourth Ward candidate forum at the Capri Theater shortly after.

"I'm proud that I've been able to be a part because every aspect of that project now either directly benefits North Siders or generates revenue that will be invested back into North Siders, including the land remaining entirely in public ownership."

Under current plans, ground lease fees that developers pay to the city will be invested into a wealth-generation and anti-displacement fund to be run by a yet-unnamed community entity.

The city's environmental analysis found that the project would not harm wildlife because planned remediation would restore native vegetation and animal habitat to an industrial site.

The Upper Harbor Terminal project also includes a new 19.5-acre park. The city and Park Board have participated in at least nine rounds of community engagement on the future of the former barge terminal since 2010, according to the Alternative Urban Areawide Review.

Susan Du • 612-673-4028