Dinkytown meets to plan future

City planners sought feedback on the neighborhood’s small area plan.

Principle planner of Minneapolis Haila Maze speaks to an audience of about 150 in regards to the Dinkytown small area plan while Third Ward City Councilwoman Diane Hofstede and Dinkytown business Associate President Scott Johnson sit on stage, Tuesday evening at Varsity Theater.

Principle planner of Minneapolis Haila Maze speaks to an audience of about 150 in regards to the Dinkytown small area plan while Third Ward City Councilwoman Diane Hofstede and Dinkytown business Associate President Scott Johnson sit on stage, Tuesday evening at Varsity Theater.

Nicolas Hallett

Amid controversy over new development and the character of Dinkytown, community leaders and business owners are collaborating to decide the area’s future.

The City of Minneapolis unveiled its preliminary findings and possible recommendations for the $45,000 Dinkytown small area plan at a community forum at the Varsity Theater on Monday.

Minneapolis Planner Haila Maze, head author of the small area plan, presented the city’s preliminary findings and asked for feedback on the plan, which has been in progress since the spring.

“How we accommodate continual growth and change — while still maintaining the area’s unique character — is the essential question of this planning process,” Maze said.

After Maze’s presentation, the audience was invited to give feedback, but the discussion was short.

“They asked the group to speak, and they didn’t speak,” Dinkytown Rentals owner Tim Harmsen said after the forum. “There was no emotion in this crowd. I felt like I was at a funeral.”

Those who did speak focused on protecting local businesses. Some asked about potential historical designation for Dinkytown.

Maze said the Varsity Theater and adjacent buildings could be the only ones in the four-block Dinkytown core with a chance for such designation. Further research could uncover more, she said, but new development complicates the process.

“Some of these questions are urgent.” Maze said. “If an area is historic but you chip away enough pieces of it, eventually there is not enough historic integrity left to preserve.”

The process

Maze said she predicts a completed draft of the small area plan will be finished before the end of the year. It will be submitted to the City Council and, if approved, made city policy.

“Which means we’re referring to that when we make other decisions [regarding the area] as a city body,” Maze said. “It’s also a guide for the community, the property owners and the businesses — to give them a vision of the area.”

Maze said these plans are for areas in transition, which tend to need detailed guidance. The entire process will take slightly less than a year. The small area plan is the first for Dinkytown, and it comes at a time of rapid change.

The buildings containing House of Hanson and other businesses were torn down over the weekend to make way for a controversial new apartment complex. Prolific area developer Kelly Doran revealed plans for another new complex in the area last month.

“We are trying to plan areas [of Dinkytown], but they are changing while we’re planning them,” Maze said. “The analogy I like is: We are building an airplane while we’re flying it.”

The previous plan regulating the area was the Marcy-Holmes Master Plan, which was originally adopted in 2003. Marcy-Holmes’ plan is being updated along with Dinkytown’s new small area plan.

Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association President Cordelia Pierson said Dinkytown’s identity is tied to Marcy-Holmes’ and vice versa.

“When I think of Marcy-Holmes as a place, Dinkytown is a huge anchor,” Pierson said. “It’s a defining element in the community.”

Creating the Dinkytown plan is a collaborative effort between the city and the community.

City staff coordinate and conduct research, which includes hiring paid consultants. Throughout the process, the community is asked to provide input at public forums like the one hosted by the Dinkytown Business Association on Monday night.

Maze said she will present an advanced version of the small area plan later this fall.

Maze said she is seeking approval from both the DBA and the MHNA when planning the area.

“We’ve worked with them in the past,” Dinkytown Business Association President Skott Johnson said. “They’ve supported us in the past, and we’ve supported them. They’re very good people to work with.”