Prospect Park residents sue developer over Witch’s Hat tower view

Some residents want Prospect Park Association members to disclose their relationship to the lawsuit.

Visitors celebrate at the top of Witch's Hat Tower on Saturday, June 1. Built in 1913, Witch's Hat Tower has been a major landmark in Minneapolis for generations. New developments have been proposed near Prospect Park, and the Prospect Park Association is concerned that the height of developments will block the view from the tower.

Tony Saunders

Visitors celebrate at the top of Witch’s Hat Tower on Saturday, June 1. Built in 1913, Witch’s Hat Tower has been a major landmark in Minneapolis for generations. New developments have been proposed near Prospect Park, and the Prospect Park Association is concerned that the height of developments will block the view from the tower.

Imani Cruzen

A lawsuit is underway claiming that a development is encroaching on the Witch’s Hat Tower view, and some neighborhood residents want to know who is involved in the litigation.

Friends of Tower Hill Park, a Prospect Park group, filed a lawsuit in Dec. against Vermilion Development’s Art and Architecture building redevelopment. Following nearly a year of discussion and multiple changes made by Vermilion, the group claims the structure will block the view of the historic Witch’s Hat Tower. 

A motion at a Jan. 28 Prospect Park Association meeting sought to require all board members to disclose their relationship to the lawsuit, but was delayed for later discussion due to opposition.

The lawsuit cites the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, stating that the “Witch’s Tower is a natural resource entitled to protection” under a Minnesota state statute.

“[MERA] exists to protect legitimate environmental concerns, and [to] twist and turn it to accuse us of violating environmental law by building a building that can be seen from the top of a historic building is absolutely insane,” said Vermilion Minnesota development director Ari Parritz.

Friends of Tower Hill Park requested that the City evaluate whether the Vermilion development would block the view of the Witch’s Hat Tower, but Ward 2 Council Member Cam Gordon says the City doesn’t have the authority to do so. 

Though the Witch’s Hat Tower is a designated landmark, there is no existing ordinance that would regulate development height based on its impact on landmarks or historic districts. 

“That’s all we’re really asking is that the City recognize that they have not just a local historic property, that they have national historic property, and they have to become good stewards,” said Joe Ring, Friends of Tower Hill Park member and PPA board member. “And they’re not doing that.”

Though it’s too late for the Vermilion development, Gordon said he is working to see what can be done about future developments and the impact their height would have on other landmarks.

Board members opposed to the disclosure motion expressed confusion with its purpose, and some argued that PPA was not involved with the lawsuit.

“It’s not associated with PPA and it’s not like PPA has a decision about this lawsuit before us so it’s just unusual,” said Lynn Von Korff, PPA treasurer. “I think this is important to discuss, but I’m confused about what’s prompting it.”

Though Von Korff said she had been open about her involvement with getting the development height lowered, as attempted by a petition made in June, she said she did not like having a motion that would force her to disclose that involvement. Others were open to disclosing their involvement, or even having PPA openly support the lawsuit.

Several board members eventually voted against disclosure, including board president Eric Amel, and the motion was delayed to be discussed at a later date.

A court date on the lawsuit is set for the end of February.