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About 40 neighbors gathered at the Bakken Museum last night for the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council annual meeting. It was a chance to hear from the Mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, and several other elected officials.

New Resident, New Development

I moved into the West Calhoun neighborhood just last month, so I decided to attend. A particular topic caught my attention.

I first learned of a major development proposed on the site of my new digs, Calhoun Towers, only two days after I moved in. I woke up in my lovely new space with views of Bde Maka Ska from my bed and I checked my email. In it was a “memo” from the developers who bought this property in December of 2016. Penthouses on the top floor have already been built, the garage and surface lot are slated for demolition this winter. Then a 6 story parking structure and an “amenities” deck will be built in the footprint. Here’s where it gets interesting… Two more 22 story towers and two six story buildings are proposed to be built on this tiny patch of land over the next five to seven years, increasing the rental units by 739. A feeling of dread washed over me at the thought of losing heated parking for my first winter home after 13 years away. The underground parking and ample surface parking above were reason number one for choosing this place when I moved back.

The building was abuzz with the controversial development and it was a proposed issue for the neighborhood council meeting. I was curious to find out more and meet new neighbors so I walked along the lake to the Bakken Museum in a light spring drizzle.

West Calhoun Neighborhood Council Meeting Begins

Mayor Frey was the first to speak. He is new to the job and the second youngest mayor at 36 years of age. He was personable and passionate as he laid out the three “macro” initiatives for the city during his term.

  • Affordable housing. This is a long-term “crisis” in the city and a quick web search reveals dozens of articles on the topic. The mayor promised that we would see “record subsidies for affordable housing in the next budget.”
  • Police and community relations. Mayor Frey shared his vision of residents knowing that Tuesday through Thursday from 4pm to 10pm you know who your officer is you know them by name. “We have a long way to go…” he admitted.
  • Economic Inclusion. His main point on this topic was the stat of 100,000 job vacancies. Not just in Minneapolis but in the region. Somehow affordable housing and new developments, like the one proposed by Bader Developments on the Calhoun Towers site, are a part of this equation.

He then took several questions, listening carefully and responding fully.

I like him. I don’t know much about his politics or policies but I found him to be genuine and accessible. He asked us to call him directly with our concerns, comments and questions and gave us his office phone number – 612.673.2100.

Senator Scott Dibble and a Congressman were also there to update us on bills of interest.

Council member Linea Palmisano, clearly well-liked and well-respected by those in attendance, got up to speak for just a moment. With a gregarious toddler in tow grabbing at the mic as she spoke, she told us of a Minneapolis 2040 meeting being held at Southwest High School on May 23.

Minneapolis 2040

It was at this meeting I learned about Minneapolis 2040, which has some extravagant expansion plans. Each resident can, and is encouraged to, comment right on the map. Do this online here: https://minneapolis2040.com/

You have until July 2018 to comment. Meetings are also being held throughout the city and as a resident, you are encouraged to attend and participate.

Vision Zero

I also learned about “Vision Zero”, a resolution passed by the city council to address road fatalities in the city. Mayor Frey said when asked about this initiative, “I don’t like the name, but I like the proposal.”

The website states:  “Vision Zero asserts that deaths and severe injuries as a result of traffic crashes are unacceptable and are largely preventable. To that end, we will use proven strategies such as lowering speed limits, redesigning streets, and implementing meaningful behavior change campaigns to help make the streets safer for anyone who uses them, no matter if by foot, bicycle, or vehicle.”

A council board member shared that of the 39 traffic related deaths in the entire city of Minneapolis, 4 occurred on the strip of Excelsior Blvd. between Dean Parkway and France Ave. – right where I live and now cross daily. Pedestrian and bike safety is a top concern in the neighborhood and development will only increase this problem.

More Development

In addition to the Bader Development of Calhoun Towers, there is boutique hotel development in the works right on the corner of Lake St. and Excelsior Blvd. on the lot of the current BP gas station.

The concern with this one is that it is within the “Shoreland Overlay District.” A woman who has been involved in neighborhood civics since the mid-80s (and appeared to be in her mid-80s) felt compelled to speak up and share her experiences and implored everyone in the room to let our voices be heard and suggested the boutique hotel be no more than six stories.  She said several times as she shook her head, “I don’t think it should be any more than six stories.”

Active citizens have already requested modifications and the developers responded. It started as a 10 to 12 story building and plans have been reduced to 8 stories. This is a fine example of the importance and effectiveness of resident involvement, though more is needed.

Density and Desirability

The Calhoun Towers proposed development wasn’t the main topic of interest at this meeting. Density was. West Calhoun is zoned for high density and a delicate dance is now underway between expansion of housing and business and the natural beauty of the lake and surrounding green spaces. Plus, traffic and safety. Board member Richard Logan called it a balance between “density and desirability.”

Invite Your Neighbors

As it was the annual meeting, board members were voted in which simply meant that those in the room agreed to have those on the board continue to serve. A verbal “I” got the job done. One new member was elected and voted in, fellow Calhoun Towers resident Victoria Hoshal.

The meeting ended with a call to “invite your neighbors.” The director of the Bakken Museum, Michael Sanders, is also on the board of the neighborhood council. He said he sees the same 12-14 people at each of the meetings. More people need to get involved.