Neighborhood Comment on request to Vacate 1st St NW for Lourdes sale.

Here is a note from Dave Edmonson regarding a request to vacate (give away) 1st St. NW between 6th and 7th Avenues NW. Dave raises a number of excellent points.

The decision as to whether or not to vacate will be a difficult one as the new Lourdes campus will be a benefit to the community, however a detriment to Kutzky Park. When we initiated this requests (started the process to see if this is a good decision), I specifically instructed staff to determine how we could protect the intent of the Downtown Masterplan and the 2nd Street study if we were to approve this vacation. Currently the zoning on the property would offer little protection. This can be in the public interest if this a a beautiful neighborhood / downtown connector as envisioned by the Masterplan or it could be a big parking structure or low quality development. Regardless of the decision made it is my hope that the council will act to protect the nearly one million in planning work and continue the revival that the Kutzky Park Neighborhood is experiencing.

October 14, 2010
Dear Editor:
The Lourdes Foundation has petitioned the Rochester City Council to vacate and transfer ownership of 1st St NW between 6th and 7th Avenues. Lourdes was issued a revocable permit to use this city street for head-in private parking since the 1990s after they purchased all remaining properties in the block north of 1st St NW. This was a temporary, compromise solution pending submission of a site development plan. At that time Lourdes’ intent was to expand at their downtown site. I live just a block west on 1st St NW and attended the city meetings held at that time. I spoke in favor of this action. I and many of my neighbors believed it was in the public’s and our neighborhood’s best interest to incent Lourdes to stay. The understanding was that when Lourdes submitted a plan to redevelop the site, the street would be vacated.
Lourdes’ current plan is to relocate to a new site and to sell blocks 10 and 11 of McCullough’s Addition. Despite changed plans, the Foundation is asking the city to give them the street anyway to include in their sale. This 75 ft by 298 ft street parcel adds 0.51 acres (12%) to a combined 4.14 acre parcel. Acquisition of this much land in our neighborhood might cost up to $1,000,000 as it could contain 4 to 6 lots and would likely include income properties. Clearly any increased sale price would be a fundraising benefit to Lourdes.
Minnesota Statute 412.851 grants wide leeway to cities in regard to street vacations. If an owner or owners of land abutting a public street petition the council, the council may grant the request by vote of a simple majority. The city need only provide a detailed finding of fact that the vacation is “in the interest of the public”. The law is intentionally vague and allows the council to determine what that interest might be. The city may not ask for compensation since the street is in law an easement being returned to the original owner – if you read the plat of McCullough’s Addition (1864) that would be William and Agnes McCullough and their heirs and assigns. That plat dedicates the streets and alleys to “the City and the Public for the Public’s use as such forever”. The State Legislature has ruled that the City Council can decide when “forever” ends and what lucky “assign” gets a property windfall at current market rates.
The Public benefit in this case can only be that a new Lourdes High School will be an asset to the community and to this end the city should help them in their fundraising. Many people might agree with this sentiment, but others may see it as tenuous ground or even improper. But what about the land that gets left behind? How is this super block in the public interest? It could become a detriment. The city could end up paying to acquire a greenway path across it. I would have to admit that I do not drive this block of 1st St NW very often because it is still one-way and half blocked off by a fence (it is also posted “Private Road” – which it is not). Were it fully open, I would use it to drive to and from 6th Ave as would many people. Since we are so close to downtown we do use it regularly to walk and to bike. If this became private land we would be trespassing. We neighbors are most leery of this becoming a giant parking lot, or worse a ramp that would wall us off completely. This could happen on the individual blocks, of course, but adding 1st St to it would compound it terribly. Nothing in the zoning code could prevent it. This is not smart development; in fact it is quite stupid. It limits the future options of the central city’s development without regard to any plan. If the city wishes to assist Lourdes, they should find a way to do it at their new site, rather than this attempt to help them make a few more bucks off the sale of their old one. This is a request that the City Council should deny.
It is also worth pointing out that recently, Rochester Public Schools made a similar petition to have a portion of a divided (and abandoned) boulevard on 10th Ave NW vacated adjacent to Washington School: that request was denied because the District did not produce a plan of what they would do with the land, a reasonable finding. This petition similarly lacks purpose.
Finally, I would argue that denying this request wouldn’t necessarily result in a lower sale price of the combined land nor would granting it cause it to go substantially higher. The next owner (or owners) can petition the council and make a case for closing the street that would include elements truly in the public interest on that site. The 0 to 100 block of 1st St NW was closed long ago and the 100 to 300 block sections were vacated for Methodist Hospital’s expansion, the street is not a throughway. But it is used extensively by bicyclists, pedestrians, and yes, ramp parkers. We need a smart city plan to address this corridor and this is definitely not it.

Sincerely,
David Edmonson
807 1st St NW

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