Como residents fight possible traffic increase

by Max Rust

Nearly 200 people clamored against the possibility of increased traffic through their Como community streets that would result from a business-development project north of their neighborhood.
At a meeting between city and development officials in suits and neighborhood residents Monday, attendees criticized both the project’s details and the process that brought the $88 million project to this point.
“Obviously, the neighborhood didn’t know all the issues of the traffic,” said Paul Ostrow, city-council member for Ward 1, which is home to the project.
Ostrow was under fire from residents who said city officials did not give them adequate time to assess the project and respond.
Most of the residents attended to oppose aspects of the “Stinson Technology Campus,” a Hillcrest Development proposal to renovate a cluster of warehouses north of the neighborhood into an office haven designed for high-tech businesses.
Currently, the buildings house small businesses and artists’ studios.
Developers and city officials say the project could bring 8,000 jobs to the area, raising the city’s tax base and property values.
Neighborhood residents generally support the transformation of the deteriorating and contaminated buildings.
However, many residents are concerned that a study examining the impacts such a development would have on the community does not adequately address how to curb the inevitable increase of traffic through the neighborhood.
Both the city’s Ways and Means and the Community Development committees voted last month to provide $16.6 million in tax-increment financing. Tax-increment financing involves folding back into the development property-tax revenue earned as the site appreciates in value rather than going into city funds.
They also voted to acquire eight buildings through eminent domain, a process through which city officials can seize properties they deem blighted and underused.
The city and developers did a study that found traffic would increase near the intersection of Stinson and Hennepin avenues. It called for measures such as widening the roads and encouraging commuters to use mass transit and biking.
But critics charge the city cannot change commuters’ behavior and, while the study examined Hennepin and Stinson avenues, it did not address traffic impacts on Como Avenue.
Ostrow said if people cannot be persuaded to use mass transit, then “we as a city have failed.”
The traffic concern is best summed up in a letter to the city planning department from the Southeast Como Improvement Association, which stated: “What happens when the drivers discover that the southbound entry onto Highway 280 from Hennepin doesn’t work well, and the entrance on Como is much better for merging? What happens as the drivers trying to go south on I-35W get tired of waiting at freeway-entrance ramps? With this amount of traffic and knowing drivers’ propensity for trying shortcuts to avoid the bottlenecks, the Como neighborhood is very vulnerable to traffic impacts.”
Officials at Monday’s meeting said they did not think there would be a significant increase in traffic near Como Avenue, eliciting hisses and cries from the crowd who said “Come on!” and “Yeah right!”

Max Rust covers University communities and agriculture and welcomes comments at [email protected]