mpls: Strib Calls Lake Lovers a Bunch of NIMBY's

Decide for yourself about today's Strib editorial on building height. Here is a highlight:

We're talking about busy commercial/transit corridors -- along Lake Street, the Midtown Greenway or the Hiawatha line, for example -- where there's growing demand for mixed-use condo buildings of a medium height -- five to 15 stories -- but where neighbors and some city politicians are putting up stiff resistance.

That's self-destructive. If Minneapolis truly values progressive politics, if it really wants a government that looks after parks, lakes, schools, public safety and people in need, then willing taxpayers will be required -- and the more the better. The city's greatest advantage right now is that throngs of young professionals and aging empty-nesters want the urban lifestyle that Minneapolis provides. But too many are getting the cold shoulder from locals who sing the old NIMBY tune: not in my back yard.

Two complaints stand out. One is an aesthetic aversion to height, part of the prairie DNA, perhaps. There's a blind spot to the notion that a taller, slender building can have less visual impact than one that's shorter and more massive, with less room for green space.

Since when is 15 stories a "medium height building?" Personally, I'm not sure the paper is giving Calhoun-area neighborhood groups their fair shake. As I've said before, there are a number of questions about this development:

  • It would involve cutting down trees along the lakeshore that currently stand in between Lake Calhoun and Lake Street.
  • It violates decades-old Lake-area building codes restricting building height to treetop levels.

The debate isn't about building height. It's about size and impact. Particularly alongside the lakes, there is a real incentive to keep the landscape as natural as possible. Density is great, and the city needs to encourage density, but why further urbanize valuable parkland? There are plenty of places to build up, but there are only a half-dozen lakes in the city. A building like Lander's would surely set a trend that would be hard to stop, and we would end up with our chain of lakes surrounded by tall buildings.

If it was shorter, and within typical building codes, I like this development quite a bit. The property used to be an uninteresting semi-industrial office, but ten years from now it will be a dense, mixed-use building. That's a good thing.

The important point is that this will be valuable property no matter how tall it is, and the Strib shouldn't be pushing the city to give Lander (or any other developer) free reign to squeeze extra revenue out of his real estate by skirting building codes. The Strib makes it sound like there's a choice between good development strategies (like sidewalk landscaping) and big building height (10 stories). I don't think those are the only options.

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