Southwest Minneapolis balks at plan to turn parking lot into affordable housing

Even in the face of an affordable housing crisis, residents don't want to lose a parking lot near the 50th and France shopping district.

Even in the face of an affordable housing crisis, residents don't want to lose a parking lot near the 50th and France shopping district. Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune

On its association website, Fulton calls itself the “quintessential Southwest Minneapolis neighborhood.” Picture tree-lined streets, boutique shopping at 50th and France, a hop, skip, and a jump to Lake Harriet, and mere steps to Edina.

This neighborhood, like every one in Minneapolis, is going to experience some noticeable change in the near future. The city has been effectively upzoned by the 2040 Plan, mostly due to an affordable housing shortage. But two weeks ago, residents met with City Council Member Linea Palmisano to express concern about one change in particular.

That would be the Ewing municipal parking lot next to 50th and France. Right now, it’s 83 spaces of city-owned parking, used by a 50-50 split of customers and employees of nearby businesses. But the city has been considering letting a developer build an affordable housing project on the site. The hope, Southwest Journal reports, is that families making anywhere between 30 to 50 percent of the median area income will be able to rent there.

No developers have been contacted, no deals have been made. The purpose of the meeting was to get an idea of how residents feel. But based on the line extending out the door and the lengthy thread of comments curated by the Wedge LIVE! Twitter account and Southwest, they already have some serious doubts.

“That parking facility is the lifeblood of the east side of France Avenue,” building owner Richard Abdo said. Southwest noted that his property houses both a women’s clothing boutique and a Chuck & Don’s pet supply store. He thinks depriving his tenants of the municipal parking lot would be “absolutely unconscionable.”

Wedge notes a dentist confessed to having lost patients because “they can’t find parking.” Another attendee complained the neighborhood was already “too crowded” and they didn’t need a “triplex” or a “duplex” next door, where tenants could be “looking down on them.”

“I’m all for affordable housing,” one commenter allegedly said, but “build it someplace else.”

City staff say if they do build, current zoning law only permits going as high as three stories – not a looming tower – and they’d likely be including some parking. But it eventually became clear that more than just a municipal lot was being discussed.

“Meeting may be in danger of being all about re-litigating 2040 plan,” Wedge tweeted.

“Yeah,” Palmisano senior policy aide John Freude confirms, there were a lot of feelings about 2040 being vented that particular night. Palmisano, for her part, took it upon herself to tell the crowd that she’d voted against it. But "it’s not gonna change.” 

Palmisano says business owners' concerns are legitimate, but they don't speak for everyone in Fulton. Despite the general rancor, there was a cohort of folks who were onboard, saying this part of the city “absolutely needed” more affordable units and they’d love to see Fulton get more economically diverse. 

"There's very few areas to build new affordable housing in Fulton," she says. Her strategy thus far has mostly fixated on preserving old buildings, and it would be nice to have an opportunity to expand the current stock.

But it should also be noted that a former City Council member had a similar idea about “16 to 20 years ago,” and that ended up going absolutely nowhere.

“We are historically aware this is a conversation that has happened in the past,” Freude says. And unless public opinion has changed significantly since then, it’s unlikely things will change now.