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Saving Dinkytown and other charming business nodes
Written by Mpls. City Council Member Diane Hofstede
Posted  9/4/2013
The defeat of the "Dinkytown" moratorium by the Minneapolis City Council is disappointing for the Dinkytown Businesses Association and the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. It has strong implications for other areas of the ward and our city.

"Dinkytown" is well-named for the tiny four-block neighborhood that sits adjacent to the University of Minnesota. The origin of its colorful name is lost to history, but it has long been an energetic and vibrant part of our city and the 3rd Ward that I represent. A proposal to redevelop a sizeable portion of the neighborhood—a half-block parcel right in its commercial core—has (and should have) attracted lots of attention, debate and disagreement.

To understand why, some background is needed. Back in 2003, the city’s Master Plan anticipated the construction of the multi-story apartment buildings now going up along major traffic corridors, developments that are adding 4,000 new units of much-needed student housing near the U (the technical designation for this sort of zoning is "C3A"). That same Master Plan did not, however, call for the development of additional housing units within the commercial core of Dinkytown (which is zoned "C1"). The planners recognized—correctly—that allowing development within the core would harm the neighborhood’s unique character and its locally owned small businesses.

Over the past 10 years, Dinkytown businesses have invested in their neighborhood based on the precepts of that plan. They have opened stores, remodeled restaurants and expanded operations to better serve their neighbors and a decade of University students. Their hard work has kept this century-old iconic neighborhood from disrepair and decay. All of that hard work is threatened by another proposed development in the four block area in Dinkytown. The moratorium would have allowed the planning process, which is now underway, by both the Dinkytown Business Association and the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood to be completed, thus allowing the community and businesses to determine their own destiny and priorities. The planning process is supported by the tax payers of the City of Minneapolis in order to set policy, and to engage business and the community in planning for their neighborhood.

The Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association and the Dinkytown Business Association have voted to support the moratorium.

We had ample grounds to support a moratorium. It is a legally defensible action, given the fact that the two small area plans are in process. Protecting, respecting, and allowing the process to continue and become completed is legally defensible and consistent with the purpose of a moratorium.

Ad hoc development, driven by economic speculation, threatens the traditional form of our city and particularly the fundamental place-making and civic engagement functions of neighborhood small business districts. Developments that reduce livability and diversity by pushing out small businesses that cannot afford the "redeveloped" rent (which leads inevitably to the appearance of more chain stores), tears asunder a vital part of a neighborhood’s defining fabric that took many decades to create.

In truth, Dinkytown is the "canary in the coal mine" for such ad hoc redevelopment of neighborhood commercial nodes throughout the city.

This advance planning approach takes a little more time, but it is the only one that lets all stakeholders participate on an equal footing. There is no recourse once uncontrolled developments are underway. Preventive medicine, using the advance planning approach, is the only tool each neighborhood has to decide for itself—instead of letting developers dictate—what is best for its future development.

The moratorium vote was not just about one project or one neighborhood. It’s about managing high-density development in our neighborhoods that threatens to destroy the individual commercial cores that make so many of our neighborhoods special.

The community can continue to weigh in as another development in Dinkytown is evaluated at the Minneapolis Planning Commission in September. At the Planning Commission the public is allowed to give testimony either in writing or in person. I urge your participation in voicing your opinion to all of us at the City Council. Do not let our neighborhood lose what we have grown to cherish and that makes Minneapolis unique.

Diane Hofstede
3rd Ward Minneapolis City Council Member

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