As originally printed in the Minnesota Monitor Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 6:50:00 AM
by: Chris Steller
As state funding to local government shrinks, raising cash by selling off Mississipi River bluff parkland for development has proved tempting for both the metro’s biggest city and one of its smallest urban entities.
Despite sizable resident opposition, the city council in Lilliputian Lilydale, Minn. (pop. 736) voted last week to allow single-family residential development on its last vestige of undeveloped bluff, a 0.85-acre parcel donated for parkland more than 30 years ago. Lilydale’s intention: to erase debt of $230,000 built up during the city’s recent reign as Minnesota’s highest per capita user of tax increment financing.
Legislation that might have preserved the park by providing state aid to the tax base-impaired city fell short at the Capitol this week, as did a similar sales tax proposal last session. If expected sign-offs from the Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are forthcoming, Lilydale could find out just how bad the market is for new construction of what would only be Lilydale’s sixth single-family house. (Almost everyone there lives in apartments or condos.)
Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, another parcel of river bluff parkland remains in limbo between past industrial use and neighborhood residents’ visions of a planned public green space. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has moved to sell the land twice this decade; Rosemary Knutson, a local leader in the campaign to build a new Bluff Street Park in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, fears that a housing market rebound could negate recent assurances that no sale is imminent. The fact that the Bluff Street Park site now serves as the Flatiron Corporation’s I-35W bridge-building headquarters further clouds the picture. Knutson said the site won’t benefit from the landscape improvements planned around the new bridge, so the park’s immediate future depends on the condition in which Flatiron leaves the land when the company leaves town.
Both parcels — and, in fact, the entire city of Lilydale — lie within a zone of the metro Mississippi River that a state law called the Critical Areas Act is supposed to protect from “negative impacts” environmentally. But it’s an aging and obscure area of law that suffers as cities lose institutional memory through staff attrition, according to Steve Johnson of the National Park Service’s Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. A new DNR study mandated by the state Legislature will help lawmakers determine whether the act is doing what it’s supposed to. State Rep. Rick Hansen, who represents Lilydale, expects to jump-start that effort later this year.