Bloomington looks to sell public parkland, and people aren't happy

If the Bloomington City Council votes to sell the green space beside Hyland Greens to developers, some residents fear the entire 63 acres will eventually be lost to private interests.

If the Bloomington City Council votes to sell the green space beside Hyland Greens to developers, some residents fear the entire 63 acres will eventually be lost to private interests.

The nine-plus acres of green space along Normandale Boulevard in Bloomington lays torpid. In 2012, the city, "due to falling golf demand," consolidated Hyland Greens Golf Course.

Eighteen holes became nine. The driving range that operated beside the thoroughfare was swapped out for a tighter facility located within the course's interior.

The southwest suburb of some 80,000 residents hasn't known what to do with the hibernating acreage for five years. That was until the city council unanimously voted in June to request proposals to sell the public land for private development. 

The decision was unprecedented. Never before have elected officials moved to sell parkland. On November 20, the council will discuss what offers developers have submitted as well as vote on a sale. 

It's estimated the parcel could fetch about $2 million. But it's not like the suburb needs the cash. According to a recent a recent article in the Business Journal, Bloomington is sitting on "as much as $400 million in funds dedicated solely to development in… the area east of Mall of America."

Meanwhile, the upcoming council meeting has all the makings of a rowdy affair. That's just what longtime resident Wade Lindgren is hoping for. He's among the people behind the group Citizens United to Save Bloomington's Public Land. It wants the city to kill the sale.

An online petition has collected 1,200 signatures. That's in addition to the 400 physical signors accrued while door knocking. 

Hyland Greens has been operating in the red since 2005. Bloomington convened a task force in 2015 to study what the future could hold for the entire 63-acre site. Most of the panel members were picked by city council. 

Last year, the task force reported back. It proffered six options, including keeping the golf facility, selling the land to private developers, and converting it into a park. 

Lindgren and city council candidate Larry Frost, who's challenging longtime incumbent Jack Baloga, are among those arguing for the latter. 

"I have yet to hear an argument why selling this land to private business interests is good for the citizens of Bloomington," says Frost. "We know the golf course land loses money, but all of our parks lose money."

Low-income apartments and older rental complexes girdle the old driving range to the east and north. Houses front the golf course to the west and south. Lindgren foresees a park with a community fruit and vegetable garden. 

Mayor Gene Winstead doesn't share that vision. He's voiced a desire to see affordable apartments built on the former driving range site. 

The numbers from the city's 2016 rental survey support the mayor's argument that more are needed. Bloomington's apartment vacancy rate is less than 1.5 percent. (Winstead did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment.)   

Lindgren would also like to see more residential units built. But he doesn't think Bloomington should concede green space to do it.

"We would understand if the only land that's available for housing was owned by the city and the only way to build more housing was the city to sell land," says Lindgren. "But that is just not the case. 

"If you look at what Edina is doing by Southdale, it's building housing on what were parking lots. It's got people wondering, 'Why can't they do that in Bloomington?' It makes you wonder why now they want to build where there's parkland. Something just isn't right here about that."