Developer nixes plan; future of corner lot still up in air

TE Miller still has this house on the corner of Third Street and Cook on contract to purchase. 

Neighbors near Third Street and Cook may have gotten their wish. 

A proposed four-story apartment building and adjoining parking ramp on the northwest corner of that intersection appears to be scrapped. 

In a Feb. 25 email to downtown business owners and other interested parties, City Manager Ellen Hiniker said developer TE Miller will not be submitting an application for the project as proposed (See “Downtown development project draws neighborhood ire,” Feb. 24). 

“However, the developers still have the corner house under contract and plan to take more time to determine whether there is an alternative concept worth pursuing before abandoning the site altogether,” Hiniker said. The developer also canceled plans to conduct soil borings on the site. 

Hiniker and City Planner Anne Kane had met with representatives of the Eden Prairie company earlier that day. 

Their meeting was one of several held last week regarding the unpopular project. The opposition met with White Bear Lake attorney Fritz Knaak at Kellerman’s Event Center to plan strategy and learn the legalities of the permitting process. Knaak specializes in municipal law. 

Terry Kellerman knows Knaak and invited him to speak to the group. “He knows the depth of the problems we’re dealing with,” Kellerman explained. 

The attorney reminded those in the room, and on a Zoom call, that they’re “dealing with a professional development staff being told by Met Council that they are supposed to like increased density and apartment buildings. They are getting certain pressure for that development,” Knaak said. 

He also told the group that a “sophisticated developer” knows the first step is an informal approach. “It allows them to get a response to an early concept or a soft plan. They know the process and start fishing. 

“Encouraging meetings with neighbors gives the city a change to vet or see where opposition comes from,” Knaak added. “It’s a sensible system. It’s not a bad thing the city reached out to gauge reaction.” 

The attorney advised the opposing camp to get past the initial reaction phase, the “not in my backyard” phase, and identify points of friction, like inadequate parking downtown and zoning issues.

Residential zoning across from a business district is problematic, he continued, describing the line as “fundamental incompatibility.” 

Those in attendance were encouraged to think about what they want before going into battle. “You may decide with modifications you can live with this thing. If there was a reasonably priced way to put two more levels of parking on the ramp, would you be OK with it?” he asked.  

Neighborhood opposition is not enough to stop a development project, Knaak continued. “The Supreme Court has told us that cannot be the basis for denial,” he pointed out.

It was Knaak’s intention to articulate the opposition’s issues with the city and gather documentation, something that likely won’t be needed at this juncture.

Kellerman said it was his hope that the developer “will go away once they see organized opposition.” That was before he saw the email from the city manager.

Following the Feb. 23 attorney meeting, the business owner said he’d expected residents to be opposed to a ramp on the corner. “They weren’t necessarily against it,” Kellerman observed. “That corner is our last footprint in town to get a decent-sized ramp. That’s what we need. Downtown employees don’t have a good place to park.”

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