Neighborhoods embrace small area plans

More communities are making plans, but some question their effectiveness.

Neighborhoods embrace small area plans

Alex Bitter

When Ricardo McCurley first discussed drafting a small area plan for Southeast Como last year, some residents questioned whether the document would have significant power in shaping the community.

“They were worried about how much teeth these things would have,” said McCurley, Southeast Como’s neighborhood coordinator. “They thought that it would be a lot of spinning wheels.”

Although the city doesn’t require small area plans, neighborhoods around the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus have embraced them. Three of the four neighborhoods adjacent to the University have started revising their long-term plans or drafting them for the first time.

A de-facto amendment to the city’s own master plan, a small area plan allows a community to share its development priorities with the city. Although the city doesn’t have to follow the plans, Minneapolis city planner Haila Maze said local community organizations are unique in how they proactively plan.

“We have an unusually strong and well-developed neighborhood base,” she said. “That’s not typical nationwide.”

McCurley said he’s skeptical of how seriously the city would take the zoning suggestions and other input derived from a small area plan.

“That’s a suggestion, not anything set in stone,” McCurley said. “How much weight is that going to have?”

The Southeast Como Improvement Association is drafting the plan, which they’re calling the Como Blueprint. McCurley said residents hope it will help them deal with population increases in the area.

Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents three University-area neighborhoods, said he’s referenced the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood’s plan when discussing new developments in the area.

Initial plans for a proposed University recreation center on the West Bank called for the center’s back wall to face Riverside Avenue. Gordon said this conflicted with the neighborhood’s 2008 small area plan, which encourages structures on Riverside to be open to the surrounding community.

“Right here in the small area plan, we’re saying we want to build things to face Riverside, so that’s a connection between the institutions and the community,” he said.

In order to complete small area plans, Maze said neighborhoods must conduct a comprehensive study of the neighborhood and cover topics from land use to public facilities.

Gordon said he helped draft the 2008 small area plan, which was Cedar-Riverside’s first.

“We used the small area plan and the neighborhood revitalization plan to say, ‘Here’s the consensus of the area. We can move forward on some of these projects,’” he said.

When a developer wanted to build an addition to the Stone Arch Apartments on a triangular piece of land between the Mississippi River and Main Street Southeast in 2009, Marcy-Holmes residents referenced the neighborhood’s 2003 plan, which designated the development area as “green space.”

Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association President Cordelia Pierson said the land is a key recreational site near the Stone Arch Bridge, and the plan contributed to the city’s ultimate decision to reject the develop-
ment.

“They have to reference adopted policy, which the master plan reflected,” she said.

Pierson said she’s pleased with how the Marcy-Holmes plan has functioned over the last decade. Still, she said, it’s not without its pitfalls.

The association has largely ignored one portion of the plan, which required MHNA to submit a list of infrastructure improvements to the city each year, Pierson
said.

As a result, Marcy-Holmes has fallen behind in repairs to public infrastructure. Pierson said she hopes a new emphasis on capital improvement requests in the 2013 plan will make a difference.

Many neighborhoods use small area plans to help determine the future. McCurley said Southeast Como has to plan proactively because development is inevitable.

“Construction is coming our way,” he said.