Richfield neighborhood prepares for transformation

 

Plaza 66, planned for the intersection of 66th Street and 16th Avenue in Richfield, will house a restaurant and a coffee shop in addition to other tenants. (Image Courtesy Interstate Development)

A group of Richfield residents are realizing their neighborhood will never be the same.

A 10,650-square-foot commercial complex on the city’s east side was unanimously approved at a Richfield City Council meeting last month. Now, the neighborhood at 66th Street and 16th Avenue is anticipating the removal of four homes to make room for the new multi-tenant building, part of ongoing changes to the city’s identity.

Neighbors cited concerns over traffic and other nuisances as they challenged plans for Plaza 66, whose tenants will include a restaurant with a patio and a coffee shop with a drive-thru. Before the council approved the plans May 24, neighbors lamented the fundamental changes in store for a place some of them have called home for decades.
Jane Petersen has noticed the difference since moving into her home 40 years ago.

“Richfield looked nothing like it does now,” Petersen said. “It was such a small-town community feel.”

Contributors to that change, she noted, were the loss of a golf course due to airport expansion and the removal of homes to make room for the Best Buy headquarters. She is now preparing to watch more homes be taken to make room for redevelopment.

“This is what concerns me for ourselves as a small community, losing the family homes,” Petersen said.

But as the councilmembers approved the redevelopment, they said the new complex was in the best interest of Richfield as a whole, despite the neighborhood’s grievances.

Councilmember Edwina Garcia recalled times when Richfield lost opportunities for a bolstered tax base in favor of remaining a bedroom community.

“Because we wanted to remain a bedroom community, we lost out to sit-down restaurants, department stores, to hotels. We lost out on a lot of tax base,” Garcia said.

The city must balance the desires of one neighborhood with the needs of the rest of the community, at-large Councilmember Michael Howard noted.

He said people are often wondering, “When is the east side going to get their development. When are we going to have a restaurant where we can sit outside.”

While some residents fight the east-side redevelopment, others grow impatient as it slowly unfolds, said Councilmember Maria Regan Gonzalez, who represents the east side in her Ward 3 seat.

“For some it’s been too slow, and for some it’s been too quick,” Regan Gonzalez said.

Despite the presence of single-family homes, the future neighborhood of Plaza 66 has been zoned commercial since 1968.

There will be more transitions similar to the one at 66th Street and 16th Avenue, Regan Gonzalez said.

“This is going to continue to happen, particularly on the east side,” she said.

Traffic, noise, lights

“I worry about my street,” Rosalie Hinrichs, a neighbor to the incoming development, said before the council approved the plans.

Although there was no scheduled public hearing during the council meeting, the council granted residents time to step to the podium and voice concerns prior to the vote.

Increased traffic on 16th Avenue is the number one concern of Hinrichs, who hosted meetings at her home between neighbors and the developer, Interstate Development. Drivers already routinely blow the stop sign near her house, she noted.

“We don’t even notice it anymore. It happens all the time,” Hinrichs said.

She continued lobbying the city to install a dead end at the north end of 16th Avenue to keep the anticipated commercial traffic out.

For the time being, the city has rejected the idea of the dead end, citing the increased maintenance such a feature would create and problems it would pose for emergency responders. However, while city staff don’t believe a dead end is the best option, that doesn’t mean it absolutely can’t be installed in the future as the city monitors conditions at the site, according to Regan Gonzalez.

In addition to concerns over the complex as a whole, the coffee shop drive-thru is another point of consternation for Hinrichs. “Drive-thru is cars. Cars is traffic. When that traffic has nowhere else to go, it’s going to back up onto 16th Avenue,” she predicted.

The city will continue to monitor traffic in the neighborhood, along with factors such as noise from the drive-thru and light pollution.

“This is going be something that we’re going to continue to work on,” Community Development Director John Stark said. “I can guarantee you there’s going to be bugs, but we need to know about those bugs so we can address them.”

Stark expects that lighting won’t be a nuisance for neighbors, thanks to LED technology that can accurately direct beams so that they don’t have the flooding effect found with other forms of lighting.

“There is really zero light spillover form these lights onto adjacent properties,” Stark said.

Similarly, the volume of the drive-thru is supposed to be customizable to avoid being a nuisance. And Stark noted there will be an ongoing dialogue about another point of contention – the height of the barrier that will separate the development from the adjacent homes.

Plaza 66 has made headway in the city council’s eyes after initial plans, presented last year, failed to show adequate access points onto 66th Street.

The current reconstruction of the thoroughfare was the source of reflection for Mayor Pat Elliott as he compared the 18 homes sacrificed for that project to the loss of four homes — one of which is owned by the Richfield Housing and Redevelopment Authority and is unoccupied — for Plaza 66.

After the homes on 66th street were removed, “I kind of caught the vision of what 66th Street’s going to look like,” Elliott said.

“And as much as I felt bad and horrible about allowing those houses to be taken, I took a look at that and realized, as much as it hurt those 18 homeowners, as much as it hurt me to lose them, I think it’s going to be a tremendous benefit to the city of Richfield itself.”

While as a councilmember he came to the defense of the homeowners in his former west-side ward, Elliott noted a need to look at the bigger picture.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “you’ve got to set aside the narrow view and approach the wider view for the entire city and the entire community.”

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

This post was corrected from an earlier version in which the number of homes being lost to the redevelopment was misstated.