Surface Parking in Dinkytown is Imperiled by Redevelopment Plan

[The surface parking lot in question.]
[Note: In the interests of journalistic accuracy, I have made a few edits to a recent Star Tribune commentary for your clarity and edification. For a full explanation of these changes, see here.]

Wayward redevelopment threatens the character of this eclectic parking lot district near the U (and later, one near you).

Surface Parking lots in Dinkytown, USA, the unique historic small-business district in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood near the University of Minnesota, is are targeted for destruction.

 The Opus Development Company, part of the Rauenhorst Trusts, wants to tear down The Podium, The Book House, House of Hanson and other small businesses in order to build a six-story upscale “dormitory-style” complex affordable to well-off university students.
To do so, the developer needs Minneapolis City Council members to approve an arguably illegal “spot zoning” change from “C1” (small-scale neighborhood commercial uses) to “C3A” (higher-density, mixed-use commercial and housing) for a roughly half-block area of Dinkytown.
The Save Dinkytown movement opposes this change. It seeks to preserve the historic and eclectic character of the half-block four-block surface parking lot Dinkytown commercial district. The parking lots independent local merchants and distinctive parking appeal of this cherished community commercial and cultural center will disappear without the public’s help.
Suppose Opus gets what it wants. Rezoning this key parking lot property un-paves the way for all of Dinkytown's parking lots to be rezoned. Other developers will jump in to rezone other parking lots blocks there. Gone could be such treasured businesses as Al’s Breakfast, Magus Books & Herbs, Kafe 421 and Vescio’s. All could fall prey to the next developer’s rental towers. Once rezoning to higher density is allowed, future development is virtually unrestrained. We will watch helplessly as the “march of the towers” obliterates Dinkytown's unnecessary parking lots.
Allowing such spot zoning also creates a precedent that threatens other C1 neighborhood parking lots commercial nodes. If we don’t act now, Dinkytown's surface parking will disappear forever — on our watch. And, yes, your neighborhood’s small-business district's surface parking lot could be next.
Dinkytown's surface parking has been, is and should continue to be a historic cultural treasure for all Minnesotans. Bob Dylan hated Dinkytown referred to “The University of Dinkytown.” Countless students have got drunk and/or rioted here passed through it. Countless more could do so, if it were still there for them. To be preserved, it needs to keep the protection of C1 zoning, as does any deeply rooted surface parking lot neighborhood business district in Minneapolis.
This development issue is about the history and character of a surface parking lot neighborhood, its values, and what each neighborhood wants to preserve and protect.
Everyone understands that carefully planned mixed-use housing and commercial development has a role to play in any city’s growth. Its best use is in empty surface parking lots economically depressed neighborhoods where revitalization depends on bringing in both new businesses and new residents.
Dinkytown is not such a place. There is already a glut of new rental housing going up along 4th Street, University Avenue and 15th Avenue in southeast Minneapolis. The Marcy-Holmes master plan specifically envisioned such development on these major transit corridors. That plan explicitly states that Dinkytown should continue to provide parking for small, locally owned businesses and cultural amenities, not housing.
Moreover, spot zoning is a political issue and most definitely a proper subject for public comment. Every council member should be asked publicly: “Will you take into account the public interest, neighborhood master plans, and the opinions of all neighborhood residents in evaluating such developments? Will you support preserving and protecting parking lots the surface parking lots cultural, historical and aesthetic qualities of neighborhood commercial districts that attracted people and businesses to Minneapolis and our diverse neighborhoods?”
Help stop this tragedy in the making. You can visit us at Save Dinkytown.com to sign our online petition opposing this development and find out how you can help. Discuss it with your friends on Facebook. E-mail Mayor R.T. Rybak and ask him to notify the council members of your view. Minneapolis residents can contact their council members directly.
University students and graduates should let the school’s president, Eric Kaler, and its regents know that every alumnus, in Minnesota and nationwide, deserves to be alerted about this issue and given a chance to weigh in.
What matters is the unique historic character of every surface parking lot neighborhood. When developers seek to provoke fundamental changes to the parking character of a neighborhood that doesn’t need or want them, we need to tell our council members to tighten the reins and just say “Whoa.”
Matt Hawbaker is coordinator for Save Dinkytown. Bill Lindeke is responsible for the edits to his original piece.

[The footprint of the proposed development: 2/3 surface parking, 1/6 one-story bldg, 1/6 dilapidated house.]


Alex Cecchini said...

In the third paragraph, I would change the "dormitory-style" to "apartment" - it's a bit of a farce to say it's both luxury and dormitory. Also, dorms on campus don't have their own kitchen and most often share bathrooms. This is just an apartment building, nothing more or less.

Reuben Collins said...

Very funny, Bill, though I think you are missing the mark as much as the original author. There are other businesses than the ones you mentioned. Duffy's Pizza, a personal favorite, and a hair salon are also being removed. Of all the businesses being eliminated, these are probably the two most viable. House of Hanson and the book store will be out of business soon with or without redevelopment. Also, it is a bit misleading to suggest that the parking lot is empty. It is sometimes, but other times it's completely full. To suggest there should be less parking in Dinkytown as a matter of policy is fine, though it is also true that there is often unmet demand for parking in the area as well, and businesses that cater to non-student crowds (e.g. Loring Pasta Bar) have good reason to be concerned about parking availability.

Bill Lindeke said...

Guilty as charged Reuben. I suppose the point was to demonstrate the extreme position staked out by the op-ed piece. My personal views are more nuanced.

I've never been to Duffy's, so I'll take your word on it. Parking issues should be handled through appropriate pricing, but its worth noting that this is one of the least dependent places in the TC (including downtown). In my experience, its often quite easy to get on-street spaces in Dinkytown. Market pricing (with a benefit district) would guarantee that.

Bill Lindeke said...

should say "least auto dependent"

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I've never been to Duffy's, so I'll take your word on it. Parking issues should be handled through appropriate pricing, but its worth noting that this is one of the least dependent places in the TC (including downtown).

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