Minneapolis residents should be aware of an emerging land-use dispute involving the proposed location for a hotel in Uptown. The hotel cannot move forward unless the location chosen by the developer is rezoned to allow a higher activity use. And this has implications for all neighborhoods in the city that are seeking to ensure orderly, sustainable development.

To ensure that each neighborhood has a say in its future, the city uses a small-area planning process involving residents, local businesses and community organizations. Since 2000, it has initiated a process in 48 neighborhoods for the purpose of developing small-area plans unique to each neighborhood. Each plan, once completed, is approved by the City Council, then incorporated into the city’s comprehensive plan. Minnesota statute sets forth requirements for local government land-use planning that have contributed to safety and quality of life statewide.

The Uptown Small Area Plan (USAP) was adopted in 2008 (with rezoning in 2010 consistent with the USAP). Neighborhood residents, business owners and developers spent hundreds of hours participating in this process. Businesses wanted predictability, and neighborhoods wanted a balanced transition between the commercial district and residentially zoned, single-family homes.

The USAP calls for hotels in Uptown to be located in an activity center around the Hennepin-Lake intersection. It calls for concentrating growth, height, density and high-intensity uses in that activity center and in an urban village area from the north side of Lake Street to the Midtown Greenway.

This dispute is not about whether to build a hotel in Uptown. Many neighborhood residents, including me, support a hotel. However, hotels are specifically designated to be located in the activity center, not at the proposed location on the south side of Lake Street at Emerson Avenue, outside the activity center and next to two-story homes. This project diametrically conflicts with the USAP.

At the proposed location, the carefully crafted USAP prohibits hotels and calls for buildings of no more than three to four stories. The proposed hotel is six and five stories, with 123 guest rooms and a restaurant. With only five on-site parking spaces and 35 leased parking spaces at the Calhoun Square parking ramp several blocks away, with potential traffic impacts on the Lake Street and Emerson Avenue intersection and with valet routes through residential neighborhoods, safety and compatibility concerns remain unanswered.

Some people may say “come on, it’s Lake Street” and cite the general policy in the city’s comprehensive plan. But this disregards our more specific — and applicable — small-area plan, which aims to support a vibrant, successful, commercial district alongside sustainable residential neighborhoods. To assert that a six-story hotel built next to two-story residential homes will not harm the livability and financial values of those homes is ridiculous. Restricting hotels to the USAP activity center and limiting the current height of buildings on the south side of Lake Street as set forth in the USAP is consistent with historical and current development trends in Uptown.

Sustainable growth and healthy neighborhoods require balanced transitions and land-use planning that is orderly and predictable. The proposed hotel exhibits none of these elements. Its approval also would set a clear precedent to maximize development intensity on all of our city’s commercial corridors, regardless of — and contrary to — adopted city small-area and comprehensive plans.

The city’s Planning Commission has mistakenly recommended rezoning the proposed hotel site to the same zoning classification as designated for the activity center. It also gave approval for the hotel to have more than twice the square footage as presently permitted. Neighbors, including me, have appealed the commission’s recommendation. Lisa Bender, the City Council member representing the area, is also chairwoman of the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee, which is expected to consider the matter on Thursday.

For the sake of residents citywide, decades of neighborhood and business planning, and the future of meaningful community participation, we urge the City Council to reject the Uptown hotel as currently proposed. Disregarding the USAP would send a clear message to Uptown — and to all neighborhoods throughout the city — that the work homeowners and businesses put into planning for their neighborhoods is only as good as the next proposal that big developers unveil and City Hall views favorably.

 

Phillip Qualy is a lifelong resident of Minneapolis, an Uptown resident, a former board chairperson for the Calhoun Area Residents Action Group (CARAG), and a registered lobbyist in the field of railroad safety, environmental and health care concerns.