The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board is voting on a resolution tonight on whether to pause decision-making on the implementation of its own master plan.

The Southwest Service Area Master Plan, passed in November 2020, lays out a redesign for The Mall in the East Isles neighborhood that maintains much of the existing street and parking, but removes two blocks of the western end for green space development. A planned sewer project at The Mall is spearheading redevelopment.

“The goal of this reconfiguration of the west end is support for a more continuous, uninterrupted green and forested space,” reads the master plan, colloquially known as the Southwest Parks Master Plan.

The east part of the street, closest to apartment buildings and Lagoon Street, would be maintained, per the master plan.

In the Southwest Service Area Master Plan, two blocks of The Mall’s top-end streets are planned to be removed, with the bottom streets remaining as is. Image courtesy of Google Maps, visual design by Southwest Voices.

The East Isles Neighborhood Association invited Park & Recreation Board President Meg Forney and District 4 Commissioner Elizabeth Shaffer to its February meeting to share concerns about public safety and the removal of street parking in The Mall’s master plan. The neighborhood organization president also wrote a letter to the Park & Recreation Board arguing against the master plan.

“While expanding this park might make sense, this plan adds no new usable park space to The Mall but does create unsafe traffic patterns and in particular hurts the rental community who live directly on The Mall Park and represent 50% of our neighborhood,” East Isles Neighborhood Association Board President Michael Erlandson wrote in late January.

Park & Recreation Board President Meg Forney, third from left, East Isles Neighborhood Association Board President Michael Erlandson, and Commissioner Elizabeth Shaffer at the Feb. 20 East Isles Neighborhood Association meeting. Photo by Melody Hoffmann

Shaffer told the neighborhood association in February that it was a “sticky situation” given The Mall design was already approved within a Park & Recreation Board master plan. Nonetheless, Shaffer and District 6 Commissioner Cathy Abene proposed a resolution at the April 24 Planning Committee meeting to pause decision-making on its own master plan.  

A former member of the Southwest Parks Master Plan community advisory committee, Craig Wilson, told the Park & Recreation Board on April 24 that he has “deep concerns” about The Mall plan. He told the board that renters are concerned about losing parking in the area.

“We rely on our cars to meet our daily needs and we need access to parking,” Aaron Jorgensen Briggs, a renter, said at the April 24 meeting. “We enjoy The Mall park the way that it is.”

When the committee took up the resolution, At-Large Commissioner Tom Olson was the lone no vote.

“What I am hearing is this amendment is not necessary,” Olson said . “We have the full ability within the current master plan to ensure safety in the road design.”

Concerns about emergency vehicle access did not sway Olson.

“Nowhere else in the city of Minneapolis is it required that you have a second road across from your road that's in front of your building for fire access,” Olson said in a follow-up interview with Southwest Voices.

Shaffer represents residents in East Isles and the greater Southwest area. She said listening to constituents when they approach her with concerns is important.

“When I, as the park commissioner for that neighborhood, get a letter from the neighborhood on their letterhead, saying we're against the implementation of this part of the master plan on the west side,” Shaffer said in an interview with Southwest Voices. “I have to listen. I feel like that's part of my job.”

Shaffer said she was also motivated by the amount of community input.

“I was surprised at the [Park & Recreation Board meeting] how strong the community's response was. Now the petition to try to save the roadway is up to over 550 signatures,” Shaffer said.

But Shaffer said she isn’t looking for reasons to change her board’s own master plan.

“I don't like to go around amending master plans,” Shaffer said.

The Park & Recreation Board and the community are not in a terrible hurry, depending on the resolution’s outcome tonight. The Mall’s sewer project planned for this summer has been delayed until this fall or until spring of 2025, according to Shaffer.

The Park & Recreation Board meets tonight at 5 p.m. The public can attend in-person or watch the meeting online.