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Debate over the ‘Missing Link’


Part of the Grand Rounds runs along the Mississippi River south of the U of M campus in Minneapolis.
TC Daily Planet file photo.
By Anna Pratt , Special to the TC Daily Planet

Some community stakeholders involved in planning stages say a Como residential route is dead and are looking to easternmost routes along the Southeast industrial area to complete the Grand Rounds ‘missing link.’

Minneapolis residents and stakeholders are examining various proposals for construction of a recreational drive that would connect St. Anthony Parkway South to East River Road, currently a 3.5-mile-long gap in the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway.

No easy answers

Over the past couple months the CAC has hosted public input meetings, where residents of the Como neighborhood have stepped forward to voice strong opposition to a route that could wipe out about 78 homes.

The first article in this series is Grand plans for the ‘Missing Link’

Next Citizen’s Advisory Board meeting on November 1, 6-8 p.m.
MPRB Administrative Offices
2117 West River Road
Minnehaha Room (2nd Floor)
Minneapolis, MN 55411-2227
Telephone: 612-230-6400
Meanwhile, support for proposed routes near the Southeast Minneapolis Industrial (SEMI) area seems to be growing.

The routes being debated today include:

• Route A – Marshall Avenue Northeast and Southeast Main Street from East River Road to an industrial area near the University of Minnesota, where a proposed “Granary Road” is planned to cut through to St. Anthony Parkway South.

• Route E – Stinson Avenue from St. Anthony Parkway South and 15th and Pleasant Avenues Southeast to East River Road or, across Stinson, 18th Avenue Southeast and Oak Street to East River Road. Route E actually has two options, one of which would take out homes and businesses and the other of which would take out curbside. Either would create a commuter highway from Northeast through Como neighborhood to the University of Minnesota.

• Route G – Industrial Boulevard from St. Anthony Parkway South to the eastern edge of the Como neighborhood on 29th Avenue, where it crosses the rail yards via one of several proposed bridges. A “landmark green space” would span eight blocks of university property along the route to East River Road, taking out student housing that currently houses more than 400 families. (Four variations of Route G have been discussed.)

Criteria for examining the proposals focus mainly on neighborhood impacts and proximity to other bicycle and pedestrian paths, parks, open spaces and transportation corridors.

The Park Board has also set forth technical requirements, including eighty-foot minimum right-of-way width; a two-lane road; twelve-foot drive lane in each direction; curb and gutter; intermittent eight-foot parking bays on both sides of the road; eight-foot pedestrian trails; and ten-foot biking trails.

Controversy in Como

“The September 18 Citizen Advisory Board meeting produced a firestorm of opposition from Como residents, a reaction that apparently surprised the presenters,” according to a critique signed by nine Como residents. Residents were outraged at presentation of a plan that would destroy several dozen homes to create the eighty-foot minimum right-of-way.

During its annual meeting on October 15, the Southeast Como Improvement Association (SECIA) showed collective support for the easternmost routes (“Route G”) in a vote, while also opposing any route that would cut through the neighborhood’s residential area.

The easternmost routes, near Highway 280, “can be designed to benefit the Mid-City Industrial Area and Southeast Minneapolis Industrial Area, as well as providing needed green space and preserving or renovating wetlands for the betterment of the environment and the citizens of Minneapolis,” the resolution states.

Some committee members say the 22-member citizen advisory committee (CAC) to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB), at its regular committee meeting this Thursday, Nov. 1, likely will vote to eliminate a controversial route (“Route E”) that could wipe out many houses in the Como neighborhood.

The CAC is coordinating with a technical advisory committee (TAC) comprised of government officials, along with consultants from the HNTB Corporation, to determine the route the parkway should take. They’ll also help choose what kinds of amenities, such as an amphitheater or soccer fields, might accompany the “missing link.”

University of Minnesota and Student Housing

A route down Stinson (“Route E”) would create a “commuter highway” to the U of M and would mean tearing down homes, small businesses and a landmark church, according to some Como residents.

CAC member Jan Morlock, who represents the university on the committee, has echoed SECIA complaints, since many U of M staff and students live in Como. “Anything that would sacrifice a huge chunk of residential area isn’t an improvement,” she said.

The Stinson routes would cut through the heart of the East Bank campus, one at Pleasant Street and another at Oak Street, and also are problematic in terms of the width of right-of-way needed and nearby land uses.

Additionally, Route G provides for “landmark green space” that follows 29th Avenue Southeast and would sacrifice the U’s Como Student Housing Cooperative, which shelters more than 400 families. “We don’t want to lose the capacity to provide this housing and to provide it in a family-friendly neighborhood location,” she said. “It would be a difficult asset to recreate in another location.”

Overall, “It’s premature to say the U of M is endorsing any of the options,” she said.

Northeast Reactions

CAC member John Akre, who lives in Northeast, said he hopes the Marshall Avenue path (“Route A”) is chosen in the process, although he admitted it doesn’t live up to the requirements for the Grand Rounds parkway, such as width and green space. He sees a route along Industrial Boulevard (“Route G”) as an opportunity to encourage green industry and has even suggested that the thoroughfare be renamed to Eco-Industrial Boulevard. “The challenge is trying to figure out what feet to step on in terms of land acquisition without hurting someone. You know, where are there opportunities for vacant land and where are landowners willing to have their properties be used differently?”

Akre stressed that the process is still in the “dreaming stage,” adding, “It may take 100 years until the missing link is linked,” he said.

Christine Levens, executive director of the Northeast Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, said it is still too early to take a position for or against the project. “We support it, in concept, but until a plan is determined and it gets feedback, we don’t know the ramifications. We think it’s an interesting project. Overall, it should prove to be beneficial,” she said, adding, “There’s so many unknowns…we’re still part of the learning process. Officially we can’t make a comment yet,” she said.

Looking toward the Southeast industrial area

The Southeast Minneapolis Industrial (SEMI) area is located east of the U of M transitway, a special bus route. Unive
rsity Avenue Southeast, 15th Avenue Southeast, Elm Street Southeast and the city border frame the area.

A master plan for its development underscores connecting the north areas with those south of the rail yards, while also anticipating change that will come as a result of the new Gopher stadium, University Research Park (URP) and Central Corridor Light Rail Transit.

In the Southeast industrial area, a wetlands restoration park could incorporate the grain elevators, a cultural learning center and a granary history museum.

Bridal Veil Pond could be expanded into a wetlands restoration park; an area along 29th Avenue Southeast could be developed to include an updated university housing complex and park; the Macy’s Warehouse site could be transformed into a cultural learning and performance center; or a site along Ridgeway Parkway could be turned into an amphitheater and restaurant, with trails, open spaces and more.

The Southeast Economic Development (SEED) committee has weighed in on the Grand Rounds missing link project, pushing for the easternmost routes in the industrial areas. Carl Robertson, Chair of the SEED committee wrote in a letter to SECIA, “A number of the roads in SEMI are planned to be parkway-like in their design,” he said. “In these times of limited public resources it seems wise to pool resources in a way that would accomplish these multiple goals and those for SEMI and the Grand Rounds offer that opportunity.”

The project has also gotten attention in St. Paul, particularly from the St. Anthony Park Community Council, which passed a resolution on Thursday, Oct. 25, stating, “SAPCC supports the concept of completing the Grand Rounds on the eastern leg of the proposed routes. We share SECIA’s concern about any routes that would take out houses and/or stable student housing.”

SAPCC suggests that St. Paul residents should be involved, while the project should protect wetlands and wild areas, Renee Lepreau, community organizer, explained in a letter to SECIA and city officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The letter opposed “any development of Granary Road that would create further pressure to extend the road through St. Anthony Park.”

CAC member Andy Mickel, who lives in Prospect Park and is an avid bicyclist, pointed to undeveloped areas around Ridgeway Parkway. In general, though, he described each of the options as somewhat “arbitrary.” The thing is, “Nobody knows exactly where to put this parkway. Just to find your way through the maze is a challenge,” he said.

The route down 29th Avenue seems to be the most promising, he said. Bridal Veil Creek currently runs underground through a pipeline. Mickel would favor “daylighting” Bridal Veil Creek—cleaning it up and bringing it to the surface—as part of the project, but to do so would mean bulldozing some buildings. “There’s opportunity because industry is dying. To run a road through here, there’s promise,” he said.

No easy answers for the “missing link”

Designed by landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland in 1883, the Grand Rounds features 50 miles of trails for motorists, bicyclists and walkers. The trails wind around the city’s parks, lakes and Mississippi River.

Cleveland envisioned a parkway system that would span both sides of the Mississippi River. “On the east side of the river, the parkway’s north end would terminate at the University of Minnesota campus. To the south, the parkway would provide access to Bridal Veil Falls and, at the city’s border, link up with a complementary roadway in Saint Paul. On the river’s west side, the parkway would begin south of downtown Minneapolis, then continue until it reached a proposed park at Minnehaha Falls,” according to a 1999 historical study from consultants Hess Roise. He hoped it would stretch beyond the city’s borders, to Fort Snelling and the Minnesota River.

An eastern path has never been built. As a result, some park officials and community members point out, Northeast and Southeast have long been neglected by the park system.

Plans to complete the “missing link” have come and gone through the years. The Park Board initiated a county-funded study last year to evaluate options. Still, plenty of challenges stand in the way of ultimately finishing the “missing link.” Concerns include how it interacts with other roads and highways, power lines and the Mississippi River, in addition to the possibility of displacing houses and businesses.

Budget and financing for the project have not yet been identified, although its planners say it could be eligible for local, state and federal dollars.

Planning for the “missing link” is scheduled to wrap up this spring, when the CAC will present its recommendations for a master plan to the Park Board. Its implementation will begin whenever funds become available, according to Park Board information.

Ward 2 city council member Cam Gordon has expressed enthusiasm for the project, especially its potential to revitalize an area that has been overlooked and the possibility of tying it to environmental cleanup. “It’s a real opportunity to bring some better park amenities to the east side of Minneapolis. It also helps connect the east side to other areas,” he said. Still, Gordon admitted, “This is in the beginning stages of a long-term plan. It has a long ways to go.”

Posted: Mon, 10/29/2007 – 23:54