Projectfinds little support

The housing project is running into zoning problems in an area near campus.

by Vadim Lavrusik

Some developers of student housing have found themselves in a border battle.

JPI, the Texas-based developers of large student housing projects such as University Commons, is in the process of purchasing land that straddles the border of Minneapolis and St. Paul, just north of the KSTP building off University Avenue.

On the St. Paul side of the land, the developers have received approval from city officials to rezone the site from industrial to residential. They are planning to start building a student housing project in April 2007, which would be ready for occupants by August 2008.

While JPI aims to pursue a student-housing project on the Minneapolis side as well, Minneapolis City Council members, neighborhood groups and University officials oppose the project and say it is unlikely to happen.

Robin Garwood, aide to Ward 2 Council Member Cam Gordon, said JPI would have to apply to have the area rezoned by Minneapolis, which updated its zoning code on Nov. 3 as part of the Minneapolis Industrial Land Use and Employment Policy Plan.

Garwood said the JPI parcel is zoned as part of the employment district. Thus, nonindustrial or commercial uses are strongly discouraged in these zones, he said.

“I would say that it would be very, very unlikely that it would be rezoned to any nonindustrial use,” Garwood said.

Hubbard Broadcasting, which owns television and radio stations around the Midwest, contracted the land to JPI.

Garwood said Hubbard officials lobbied against including the site in the employment district, but Gordon denied their requests.

Bruce Hagerty, director of purchasing and building operations for Hubbard Broadcasting, said the company marketed the site for six years to commercial and industrial businesses, but never received an offer.

But Hubbard received multiple offers from student housing developers and JPI made the best one, Hagerty said.

He said he can’t speak about the “Minneapolis side of things” but noted that rezoning happens all the time.

Garwood said when a developer applies for rezoning, the city judges a request based on its merits to the community.

Minneapolis city officials, as well as the community, want the area to be designated for industrial and commercial use to create job growth, he said.

Lance Hanna, development associate for JPI, said 45 percent of the properties the company develops reside adjacent to industrial or retail properties.

Placing residential developments in close proximity to industry is fairly common and has proven successful, Hanna said.

He said JPI plans to submit a request to rezone the Minneapolis side, but regardless of whether it is approved, the company will build a four-story, 150-unit condo complex on the St. Paul side of the parcel. The complex will be marketed toward University students, with amenities similar to University Commons.

Joe Ring, president of the Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association, said although JPI has made no official proposal, it has informally discussed rezoning the parcel with city officials and neighborhood associations.

JPI “did not get a warm reception from anyone,” Ring said.

The issue, he said, isn’t that the proposal is for a student- housing project.

“It is the zoning, the zoning, the zoning,” Ring said. “We oppose rezoning because of the change of the land’s use, and instead want to see a development that will create jobs.”

He said the association and the city share the vision of keeping the area industrial, but if JPI did get approval for rezoning, the association would work with the company to make it a safe complex.

Jan Morlock, campus director for the Office of University Relations, said the University is supportive of retaining the land for economic development.

But Morlock said the University isn’t necessarily opposed to a housing project because it hasn’t yet seen a proposal for one.

“Our hope is that there would be more expansion of biomedical science businesses along that stretch,” she said.

Currently, there is a biosciences business incubator in the area, with which the University is a partner, Morlock said.

She said the hope is to see similar facilities, which would create job opportunities for graduating students.