Edian town hall meeting explores processes, Market Street

The Edina City Council held a town hall meeting April 8 to answer questions spanning from project statuses to speeding ticket volume in Edina.
It was an opportunity for the council to not only give updates to ongoing developments, but also an avenue to explain concepts such as the Comprehensive Plan process and the Greater Southdale Area Principles, both of which guide future city development.
The town hall became an impromptu public hearing on the 49 1/2 Street (soon to be renamed Market Street) project that yielded both confusion and opinions on the direction of the redevelopment.
The properties in question immediately north of 50th and France are owned by the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority. This past summer, the authority issued a request for proposal to develop the vacant property, purchased in 2013 with the intent of creating additional parking. Developers were encouraged to find innovative ways to tie in vibrancy and new business on top of the additional parking.
In December, a proposal by Buhl Investors and Saturday Properties was selected.
While the HRA chose Buhl and Saturday Properties to be the development partner, the regular approval process still applies.
The proposal as seen in sketch review in January brings approximately 300 additional parking stalls (a net gain of roughly 130), an increase in retail space, an apartment building and a focus on bringing people together through expanding the “cultural vibrancy” of the 50th and France district.
The 131-unit apartment complex would have 10 percent affordable housing and would take the place of the current parking ramp. Instead, new parking stalls – half public and half for residents – would be built underneath.
The complex would need a comprehensive plan amendment, as it is six stories, or two stories above the allowed height maximum.
The planning commission heard the latest proposal April 5, which will be presented to the council during its April 18 meeting.
“On an $80 million project, is it worth paying $22 million? The council hasn’t answered that yet,” Mayor Jim Hovland said. “There was some good thinking in the 50s, hiding parking behind retail, but there is not much life on 49 1/2. How can we activate that district?”
Hovland noted that there are still many phases left to go before the council weighs final approval.
“You are concerned about the same things we are concerned about,” Hovland said. “If we do it the right way, we can keep it good for 100 years.”
When asked about public-private partnerships, Councilmember Mary Brindle viewed it as a positive tool.
“It is something we go into together with our eyes open – we are not afraid of them,” Brindle said of public-private partnerships. “Centennial Lakes is an example – it is a gem. [Public-private partnerships are] a tool, a tool we have to use very carefully.”
One thing to consider with housing, Mayor Hovland explained, was that it increases the tax base more than with new retail.
Mayor Hovland said that due to the fiscal disparities pool, as much as 40 percent of commercial taxes that would normally go to the city are pooled instead.
“We’ve added $300 million [in tax base] and are now up to $11 billion total,” Hovland said, adding that Edina as the fourth highest tax base in the state. “It would clean everyone’s clock on a per square mile basis.”
Several audience members voiced concerns with the proposed six-story height despite a current comprehensive plan limit to four stories.
Councilmember Mike Fischer said the effect and view is more important than the exact number of stories.
“I want them to prove why they need six stories,” Fischer said. “I think I know why, but they need to prove it.”
Fischer also dove into the upcoming Comprehensive Plan and the importance of
resident input.
Every 10 years, the Metropolitan Council requires an update to the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
During the process 10 years ago, in which both Staunton and Fischer were on the planning commission, Fischer explained that they found neighborhoods that were distinct and special within Edina.
“We said, ‘We don’t want to mess with those,’” Fischer said. “But we have areas of change – you can tell when you drive through them.”
Fischer said that with those areas of change, a comprehensive plan can guide what should or shouldn’t happen in that evolving neighborhood.
“Change is going to happen, either to us or with us,” Fischer said. “The comp plan is the ‘with us.’”
Staunton said that this time around, he wants the Comprehensive Plan to be more aspirational.
“It is a delicate balance, saying what you want to have and what you don’t want to have,” Staunton said, adding that he thought the last one focused too much on what they didn’t want in the city.
One audience member asked for an update on a project at 7200 and France, which was proposed housing and then a medical building before finally being rejected in 2015.
“Some folks who were in front of it still own it,” Hovland said, adding that it is a
location people continue to show interest in developing.
Due to acting as the watershed in its proximity, the parcel is complex and therefore more expensive to develop.
While still undeveloped, the project had unintended consequences of improving the city.
The project didn’t go forward, but in the study process, a team developed a vision called the Greater Southdale Area Principles that has become a guiding document for the city as a whole.
“We love them so much we apply them citywide. It is not rigid, but provides guidance,” Stewart said.