A Richfield neighborhood reckons with redevelopment

 

A commercial project called Plaza 66 is being planned for the intersection of 66th Street and 16th Avenue in Richfield. The complex would house a restaurant and a coffee shop, in addition to other tenants. (Image Courtesy Interstate Development)

As a decades-old vision to transform an east-side neighborhood into a commercial area comes to fruition, residents are trying to minimize the impact of the planned development.

The neighborhood near 66th Street and 16th Avenue in Richfield has been zoned for commercial use since 1968, but until now, has not been touched by the commercial redevelopment progressing through the city. Four homes will need to be removed to make way for Plaza 66, a complex that will house businesses including a coffee shop and restaurant, if the proposal receives city council approval next month.

The city council will vote on the matter after the Richfield Planning Commission voted 6-1 last month to recommend approval. Commissioner Allysen Hoberg was the lone dissenter.

The neighborhood has seen an uptick in traffic since 17th Street was turned into a dead-end when a roundabout was constructed in 2007, Dan Hinrichs, who lives just south of the proposed development, said during the April 24 planning commission meeting.

A restaurant, coffee shop, and other tenants of the planned 10,650-square-foot facility will make it worse, Rosalie Hinrichs said.

An illustration shows how traffic exiting Plaza 66 would be forced north in order to keep traffic out of the surrounding neighborhood. (Illustration courtesy city of Richfield)

“That traffic has no where to go. It’s going to come down 16th Avenue. I know the developer doesn’t want to hear that, I know you don’t want to hear that,” she told commissioners.

“Come sit on my block. I’ll give you some lemonade. We can enjoy the evening outside. You can watch the traffic.”

The Hinrichs’ neighbor, Jane Petersen, enjoys parking chairs under her front-yard tree when the weather is nice, but has also noted the change to her neighborhood as the surrounding area gets redeveloped.

“We have a neat little culture in our neighborhood. We’ve been there 40 years,” Petersen said, describing a neighborhood that includes many longtime residents and a “lovely young couple.”

“The culture’s going to change. We get that, but we want to protect ourselves,” she explained.

A neighboring dentist office is already the source of overflow parking on neighborhood streets, Rosalie Hinrichs said. She worries the coffee shop’s drive-thru will result in traffic backing up into her neighborhood, too.

Many residents speaking to the planning commission last month called for a dead end – on 16th Avenue just south of 66th Street – that would keep the complex’s traffic off the residential portion of the street. “I see a dead end as the only option,” Rosalie Hinrichs said.

Twenty-three neighbors have signed a petition calling for such a measure, according to neighborhood resident Rissa Paul.

But city staff is not recommending a 16th Avenue dead-end as a solution to traffic concerns, “primarily due to the negative impacts on emergency response, but also the impact on the grid system, maintenance, and the expectation that there will not be a substantial increase in traffic along 16th once the development goes in,” City Engineer Jeff Pearson explained in an email to the Sun Current.

Additionally, the reconstruction of 66th Street that is currently underway will reduce cut-through traffic on 16th Avenue thanks to a left-turn lane at Bloomington Avenue one block to the west, states a city flier advertising a neighborhood meeting that was set for May 16, after this edition of the Sun Current went to press.

The flier adds that existing traffic volumes on 16th Avenue are “slightly higher” than other residential roads within the city, but not unlike other areas near 66th Street.

Instead of the dead end that neighbors are asking for, city staff is recommending a median at Plaza 66’s 16th Street outlet. The median would force traffic to travel north when exiting the property, while allowing traffic to enter from both directions.

Commission won over by revised plans

The planning commission asked Interstate Development to alter the complex’s designs after it was originally proposed last year, addressing the main concern that the building’s entrances didn’t sufficiently embrace 66th Street. Commissioners largely met the revised plans with approval.

“The developer’s already gone back and really moved mountains to make a more appealing, more visually appropriate facility compared to where they started,” Planning Commissioner Gordon Vizecky said.

Plaza 66 plans “generally” comply with the city’s Comprehensive Plan and zoning code, states a staff report to the planning commission.

But neighborhood resident Paul noted her objection to two requirements that the plans don’t quite satisfy. The drive-thru window, a noise concern noted by neighbors, would be 147 feet from the adjacent residential property line, while city code requires 150 feet. Additionally, city code requires a 15-foot buffer between a parking lot and a residence, while the plans call for a 10.5-foot buffer.

While neighbors resist the change, longtime resident Bill Killian has seen it coming since 1968, the year he moved into his house adjacent to the property now slated redevelopment, and the year the space in question was zoned commercial.

“I always knew that it would happen,” Killian said, adding he just didn’t expect it to take so long.

He views the Plaza 66 proposal as “much nicer than what other alternatives may have come up.”

Although Killian feels for his neighbors losing their houses, “I think this is a reasonable development that I’m next door to, and I’m willing to live with it as long as there’s a few concessions made,” he said, noting concern over parking in the neighborhood.

A planned 6-foot-tall privacy fence is a “no-go,” he added, explaining it allowed a view from the neighboring complex onto his deck. Interstate Development representative Lonnie Provencher was receptive to raising the fence height to 8 feet.

While Killian saw what was coming for his neighborhood, others were caught off guard.

“One of our neighbors is 95, and has been here since the ‘50s, and had no idea,” Paul said in an email to the Sun Current.

While most Plaza 66 neighbors who spoke at last month’s planning commission meeting pleaded for certain accommodations while accepting that the new commercial complex would get built, Larry Nelson noted his opposition to the development itself.

“To me, it’s not commercial property, it’s my neighborhood,” Nelson said, worried that Richfield is turning away from its identity.

“Consistently what I hear from people, why they like being in Richfield for the most part, it’s because of their neighbors and their community. It’s not because of commercial development.”

Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RISunCurrent.