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France Ave Developer Wins City Council Favor

Project at corner of 46th and France asked for waiver from development moratorium.

By a vote of four to two on Thursday morning, a crucial Minneapolis City Council committee voted to give a large Linden Hills development a waiver from a six month-old moratorium on large-scale development projects in the neighborhood's business districts.

The development is  of . It sits on around one half of the 4500 block of France Avenue South, starting at the Lake Harriet Masonic Lodge and continuing to the corner of West 46th Street and France.

The developer had come before Thursday's meeting of the City Council's Zoning and Planning Committee to get a waiver from , that put the brakes on so-called "large scale" developments in Linden Hills' two business nodes at 44th and France and at 33rd and Upton. The measure was designed to give the neighborhood a chance to complete a set of unique zoning measures to guide future large developments.

Complicated History

The arguments that persuaded City Councilmembers to vote in favor of the development —was this building even covered by the moratorium, did the moratorium cause "significant hardship" to the developer, and did the building harm the nascent neighborhood planning efforts?

In late April, the City Planning Commission  for being too tall. The developers then decided to withdraw their application, rather than appeal the Commission's verdict, and return with a new design that incorporated neighbors' opposition, according to Jim Erickson, the development's spokesperson.

One month before the France Avenue project got tossed out on its ear, the council passed its moratorium. However, the France Avenue project was not covered, as the developers had submitted paperwork before the moratorium went into effect. Once they withdrew their application, however, the developers' new plans were, strictly speaking, considered a separate application.

Developers argued that they could lose financing if their project was delayed any longer, causing the project to collapse.

Better Project, Councilmembers Argue

During the hearing, City Councilmember Betsy Hodges (Ward 13) urged her colleagues to reject the development's waiver request, saying the neighborhood's planning process needed time to play itself out. Hodges, though not a member of the committee, sat in on Thursday's hearing as a non-voting member because the France Avenue project is in her ward.

"The moratorium was established to let Linden Hills establish its own opinion about what development should look like going forward," she said.

The developer, she argued, knew that their revised proposal would be treated as a separate project by city zoning law, meaning they would loose their initial protection from the moratorium.

In reply, Council Member Gary Schiff (Ward 9) said that if the developer had simply appealed the Planning Commission's decision but submitted the current, smaller, revised version of their plan—a perfectly legal move—city regulators would have had very little time to review the project. Schiff suggested that things like the development's fire safety and compliance with city stormwater regulations could have been compromised in that instance.

In the end, Schiff's arguments seemed to carry the day with his colleagues. Only Meg Tuthill (Ward 10) and Cam Gordon (Ward 2) voted against the project.

Assuming the full city council approves of Thursday's committee action next Friday, the France Avenue project will begin its journey through the city approval process once again.

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