Minneapolis residents east of downtown, just across the Mississippi River, have reloaded.
They're running out of ammo.
Neighbors for East Livability, a group consisting of Marcy-Holmes and Nicollet Island-East Bank residents, could've hoisted the white flag of surrender months ago. In late September, the Minneapolis City Council said no to the group's appeal to halt the 40-story Alatus tower penciled in for the corner of Central Avenue and 2nd Street SE.
Despite the fact the two parcels were zoned for no more than four-story buildings and that they're located in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, the city had granted a tenfold variance. The decision allowed developer Alatus LLC to move forward with its mixed-use development that would largely consist of high-dollar condos providing sweeping views of the river and the central business district's skyscrapers.
But last week project opponents put one last hold on progress. East Bank Livability filed an injunction against Alatus' construction, with a hearing tentatively scheduled for December 23. Alatus was set to begin demolition of a funeral home on the site, but decided to postpone those plans after communicating with East Bank legal counsel.
According to the East Bank Livability's Erich Wunderlich, the city's decision to grant the generous variance sets a dangerous precedent, essentially saying that existing zoning matters little if a developer can convince the powers that be of the virtues of any project.
"From a citywide perspective, it's the overreach," he tells City Pages. "This isn't a case of NIMBY. It's not a case of affordable housing. This is a case of developers taking advantage of a tight market and extracting as much value from the real estate as they can, with high-rent buildings that's driving up values from a speculative position."
The city green-lit the variance in the hopes of bringing more mid-priced housing to east of the river, and trumpeting the project as an example of high-density development.
Wunderlich sees Alatus as further gentrification inside Minnesota's most populace city.
The numbers support his argument.
Alatus' 214 units, which are being sold through Sotheby's, begin at $300,000 for condos less than 1,000 square feet, with the more expansive upper floor flats climbing well into seven figures.
Wunderlich says his group has never once thought about giving up its fight to get a development more in line with current regulations no matter how many times the city ruled against it.
"We're not going to quit," he says. "We were expecting we'd wind up in a legal action. We expected from the city from the beginning that this would just go through.... The mixed message the city puts out there that they believe in housing diversity, that's a crock. They believe in maximum property value, high taxes possible, the highest tax revenues, increasing the population of the city, and they have absolutely zero commitment to diversity, affordability."
Alatus spokesperson Chris Osmundson declined to address the recent court filing.
"The project has received all the necessary approvals from the city and we look forward to it moving ahead once the legal matter has been resolved," he says.
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