New City Council could change Dinkytown

Freshman City Council members mostly favor development.

Alexi Gusso

The Minneapolis City Council saw a large turnover in last month’s election, leaving many projects — including Dinkytown development — in the hands of newcomers.

Of the seven freshmen members, most said development in the area is necessary, but they also said that it’s important to consider the community’s needs.

Dinkytown development has spurred debate between developers and those who want to preserve the district’s character.

“I don’t think we’re at the point where there’s consensus, and I think it’s my job to build that consensus,” said incoming Ward 3 City Councilman Jacob Frey.

The full City Council could vote on a Dinkytown small-area plan as early as January.

Frey will take over current City Councilwoman Diane Hofstede’s seat representing Ward 3, which covers Dinkytown and other neighborhoods in the University of Minnesota area.

He said Dinkytown’s future should balance the demand for student housing and the protection of small businesses, and it’s best to find a middle ground between new development and preservation.

“There are people that would like to keep Dinkytown just as it is,” Frey said. “And there are people that want to build skyscrapers. Probably neither of those options are best in the short term.”

Incoming Ward 5 Councilman Blong Yang said people shouldn’t shy away from new housing development in Dinkytown.

“I think new development is good there,” he said.

In August, Hofstede proposed a moratorium that could have potentially blocked Dinkytown development.

The proposal failed in a tied vote a month later, echoing the City Council’s split stance on the issue.

The majority of newcomers said they would have voted against the moratorium because it would limit city growth.

Incoming Ward 10 City Councilwoman Lisa Bender, a former San Francisco urban designer, said moratoriums halt conversations about progressing a neighborhood’s development.

“Generally, I wouldn’t support moratoriums on development because they’re such a blanket approach,” she said.

Incoming Ward 12 City Councilman Andrew Johnson agreed, and he said it’s important to consider each development issue individually.

“I think we need to look case by case and stick to our area plans,” he said.

Small area, big plans

Dinkytown’s small-area plan focuses on preserving the area’s business district while considering development options.

City planner Haila Maze has been drafting the plan since spring. She said the incoming council members will need to get up to speed, which is challenging because the area is constantly changing.

Planning is difficult because there are many businesses looking to develop in the area and there’s never a still period, she said.

“The area doesn’t stay the same, so you’re planning for an area that’s in motion,” she said.

Incumbents, like Ward 11 Councilman John Quincy, agreed the new council members will need time to digest the plan before voting on it, which will mean doing research on what’s been done.

“I think the learning curve is pretty vertical when people come in,” he said.

Bender said she plans to delve into the small area plan and consider its proposals before voting.

“I think doing a small-area plan is appropriate because it’s a roadmap for growth,” she said.

‘That Dinkytown feel’

Opponents of Dinkytown development argue the area’s unique character and history could be lost with new construction.

Incoming Ward 6 City Councilman Abdi Warsame said historic preservation is important when considering change — but only for the right reasons, like being “good on the eyes.”

Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon said he’s drafting a new ordinance to present to the City Council next year that would create a new classification system similar to historic districts, called “conservation districts.”

Since 2006, Gordon has represented Ward 2 — an area that includes parts of the University, Southeast Como and the Prospect Park and Cedar-Riverside neighborhoods.

The new ordinance would be more flexible and have a unique set of standards, he said.

“That might be a way to … keep that Dinkytown feel,” he said.