Housing development is on hold

by Jake Kapsner

A proposed West Bank student housing development hit a snag Thursday when the Board of Regents suspended plans to sell land now used as a University parking lot.
The long-term decision to sell Lot C91 for $314,500 to private developer GrandMarc requires assessing how the property gels with University parking, housing and community goals, the regents said. The lot is located across the street from the Law Building.
The deans of the Carlson School of Management, the Humphrey Institute, the Law School and several administrative groups favored the development project, calling it a viable recruiting tool, according to a letter to the regents from the Office of the Treasurer and Associate Vice President for Finance.
But more important than immediate action, the regents said, are questions of affordable housing on and around campus. Apartments in the proposed development would cost tenants between $550 and $800 per month, according to the letter.
The parking lot, which holds 63 contract spots, is the last portion of the Seven Corners block needed before construction could begin — as early as April, said Eric Galatz, an attorney who represents the developers.
Obtaining the University land is basically the only obstacle to development, aside from “the ordinary city permitting process,” he said. “If we have to work around (Lot C91), it becomes a very different project,” he said.
The proposed five-story complex would house retailers on the ground floor. The apartment portion would feature approximately 188 units and 342 beds.
“It’s not going to be inexpensive, but it’ll be similar to other apartments on campus, like Dinnaken,” Galatz said, because the rooms will be furnished and provide a bathroom, phone and Internet line for every resident.
He said the purpose is twofold: The company is marketing to students, not people who want to establish a household; and management wants control over how many people live in each unit.
Controlling a resident population is important to the city of Minneapolis because of the impact on traffic and parking congestion, Galatz said.
While the GrandMarc plan to boost living space in the area has pleased the bulk of West Bank business owners, some residents fear tearing down their homes and businesses will leave them lost in the transition.
Numerous structures would be demolished, including the Washington Square Apartments, a radiator shop and the building that houses the Seven Corners Grocery and Restaurante Puerta Azul.
University graduate student Doreen Bower said that the existing 110 apartments — priced between $400 and $500 a month — will be replaced with luxury rentals that most students cannot afford.
“The problem is that developers build housing and think they’re helping, but these apartments are very expensive for most students,” said Kara Kramer, a senior in human ecology.
High-priced housing marketed to a wealthy minority is not the answer, she said.
“We need affordable housing instead of just housing,” said Mandy Cheung, a sophomore in the Institute of Technology.
Kramer and Cheung, members of an MPIRG Housing Task Force, submitted a letter to the regents with 25 signatures stating that the GrandMarc development is not in student interests.
They plan to hold a forum on different housing developments in the University area, including the proposed South Mall project and University Village.
— Staff Reporter Stacy Jo Enge contributed to this report.