Emerald Park project raises traffic concerns

by Tom Ford

Residents of two adjacent neighborhoods in St. Paul and Minneapolis have expressed initial enthusiasm for a proposed housing development but worry over its impact on traffic.

While the St. Anthony Park neighborhood in St. Paul is the prospective site of the Emerald Park development, the project would border the Prospect Park neighborhood in Minneapolis and affect its residents.

“Clearly the development will have its greatest impact on Prospect Park,” said Tanya Bell, director of development for St. Paul-based Wellington Management Inc., the project’s developer.

The proposed development would be built within two blocks, bounded by Franklin and Ellis avenues and Curfew and Emerald streets. Bell said it would include four buildings containing 164 condominiums and townhouses, and a fifth building housing 220 to 240 apartments.

“We’d welcome some new neighbors,” said Florence Littman, co-chairwoman of the Prospect Park and East River Road Improvement Association zoning committee.

Littman said the housing would not be too dense and the buildings would blend with the character of the Prospect Park neighborhood.

Also, with new families expected to move in to Emerald Park, she said, she hopes more children could attend schools in Prospect Park.

Bell said the site is unique because it is an “extension of a Minneapolis neighborhood in St. Paul.”

The primary concern of both St. Anthony and Prospect Park residents is the traffic the development would generate.

Melissa Matthews, executive director of the St. Anthony Park Community Council, said the neighborhood has been a “hotbed of redevelopment” since Interstate 94, Highway 280 and University Avenue run through it and it sits between the Twin Cities.

She said a “major source of concern” among council members and residents is that Emerald Park would make already-increasing traffic problems worse.

Littman said the development would raise traffic levels along Franklin Avenue and congestion could become severe if the
developer doesn’t provide more than one conduit for entrance and exit.

Bell said WMI hired a traffic engineer to address those concerns. She said traffic would be worse if Emerald Park was not a housing project.

She said WMI had initially planned on developing the site commercially, but the economy “went soft” and the market for office tenants disappeared.

“Our other alternative, which was developing office space, would have created much more traffic,” she said.

Littman said WMI is aware of Prospect Park residents’ concerns and is working with them for solutions.

At a Nov. 28 meeting, the St. Paul City Council will consider approving the redevelopment of the two-block area. Council members will also discuss the establishment of a tax-increment-finance district for Emerald Park, said St. Paul city planner Donna Drummond.

The city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority must give final approval to the development, which she expects to come in December.

If approved, Bell said construction would probably begin in May or June 2002.

Tom Ford welcomes comments at [email protected]