Minneapolis church opposes high-rise as potential neighbor

| March 20, 2015 | 0 Comments
Father Dan Griffith, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, stands outside the church, which opposes a proposed 300-foot high-rise development less than a block down the hill at Nye’s Polonaise Room, slated to close by fall. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Father Dan Griffith, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, stands outside the church, which opposes a proposed 300-foot high-rise development less than a block down the hill at Nye’s Polonaise Room, slated to close by fall. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

A 65-year-old northeast Minneapolis restaurant is closing, and parishioners of a 158-year-old Catholic church 200 feet away are concerned about what will take its place.

Our Lady of Lourdes, home to 1,080 families and Minneapolis’ oldest church building in continuous use, hosted a meeting March 19 to address the 29-story mixed-use high-rise development proposed for Nye’s Polonaise Room, which announced in December its plans to vacate in late summer or early fall. The restaurant is working with Minneapolis firm Schafer Richardson.

“Our Lady of Lourdes has long been a proponent of development in the neighborhood,” said Father Dan Griffith, noting that previous pastors worked with developers and city planners to ensure proper consideration of the church. “But we want to make sure that any development is prudent and sensible. This development obliterates the zoning code by 25 floors. It’s completely out of place.”

Our Lady of Lourdes church and rectory are officially designated historic structures in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, which has specific land use guidelines. According to a fact sheet from the church, two of Nye’s buildings maintain the same historical standing in the district. The church attests that the proposal doesn’t meet those guidelines and also those of the Nicollet Island East Bank Neighborhood Association’s 2014 plan.

Architectural rendering from Schafer Richardson

Architectural rendering from Schafer Richardson

Schafer Richardson project manager Maureen Michalski said two buildings in the neighborhood set precedence in allowing the development to progress as planned, noting the firm met with historical consultants and Our Lady of Lourdes from the onset.

Father Griffith said past development around the church has been done to highlight its historical significance; the height of adjacent townhomes was limited to maintain clear views of the church.

Aesthetics aside, given the proximity to Nye’s, the church doesn’t want to repeat an expensive consequence of nearby construction. When the Riverplace development was built in the 1980s, more than $230,000 worth of damage was done to the church basement. In recent years, the church has invested more than $5 million to preserve its structure for future generations.

What’s more, Father Griffith said, the process has sped along without considering the impacts on the neighborhood and environment.

A 12-member task group of the Nicollet Island East Bank Neighborhood Association in February recommended that its board support the project, including any zoning variances and conditional use permits necessary for construction. Although the association’s support has no official influence on the development, it does tell the Minneapolis City Council that a neighborhood group approves.

In a statement, association president Victor Grambsch said the proposed design “generally meets the ideas” of its own plan, and with “careful engineering and construction techniques, the probability [of damage] can be minimalized.”

“In any event, Lourdes Church will receive full indemnification,” he wrote.

Michalski said any construction would include vibration monitoring, and that a bigger building doesn’t mean more damage. She added that in response to the church’s concerns, a level of underground parking was eliminated from the design.

“Ultimately, we hope that the church will benefit from having new residents and more activity in the neighborhood,” she said.

According to Grambsch, the association supports the proposal because members believe the neighborhood needs high-density development in order to thrive.

Father Griffith said the group didn’t give the neighborhood enough time to weigh in, even while parishioners and area residents were asking the group to consider what’s at stake and slow the process.

Not a done deal

Thus far, Schafer Richardson has only presented the proposal to the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission at an information session. No formal proposal has yet gone before the Minneapolis City Council.

To make sure the proposed development doesn’t get the green light, Our Lady of Lourdes has formed an advisory committee, began work with a public relations firm and sought legal counsel.

Parishioner and 18-year neighborhood resident Dale Herron, who chairs the advisory committee, said committee members were surprised by and disappointed in the association’s support. The advisory committee, along with neighborhood residents, have filed a grievance with the association, asking it to rescind support. The grievance was on the agenda for the association’s regular monthly meeting March 25.

UPDATE: The Nicollet Island East Bank Neighborhood Association voted to table its support for the proposed development until an environmental review of the proposal could be completed. In a March 26 email to Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners, neighbors and other stakeholders, Father Griffith said the decision is in response to the grievance.

“We’re not trying to dictate to Schafer Richardson or to the owners of Nye’s that they can’t develop on the site,” said Herron, adding that he personally likes the design. “We’re simply saying that we would like to work with them to have it done in a manner that’s consistent with the accepted guidelines, zoning codes, small area plan . . . that it is consistent with all agreed upon rules for the neighborhood.”

Father Griffith said the church is not alone in opposing the plan as it stands. Preserve Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission also have concerns.

“As one member of HPC said, ‘It’s a nice building; it’s on the wrong corner,’” Father Griffith told the group of about 200, consisting of parishioners and neighbors.

“We will be vigilant and respectful and factual in fighting to protect the church and the surrounding neighborhood — and the special and unique character of this neighborhood — from a development that we believe is imprudent,” he said. “It has been rushed through, and it is not in the best interest of the neighborhood or our church.

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