Future plans for 34 Northside parks will soon be up for community review
By Kenzie O’Keefe | Editor
Long term planning for over 30 North Minneapolis neighborhood parks has been underway since late 2016. This fall, community members will have a couple final chances to shape this “North Service Area Master Plan” (NSAMP) before the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) votes on it.
MPRB staff, a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) of community members appointed by MPRB commissioners, city council members and neighborhood organizations, and design consultants worked with the larger community to envision future plans for each of the 34 North Minneapolis parks involved in the process.
At this point, the work is strictly meant to provide a strategic roadmap for the future. No funding is yet in place for any of the changes being discussed.
The CAC completed their part of the process in July when they reached near unanimous recommendations for all of the parks after months of community engagement. “Overall, I think it was a good process. Perfect process? No. But I’ve never seen a government process that is perfect,” said CAC chair Jonathan Palmer. “Overall it had a pretty wide level of input from across the Northside.”
Soon, park staff will complete a document that comprehensively details those recommendations for each park. They will then ask board members to open a formal 45 day comment period where people will be able to review the plans and submit thoughts on them. Park staff will review the results and respond as they deem necessary.
MPRB project manager Adam Arvidson says the plan will eventually be brought to MPRB’s planning commission where a public hearing will be held. That will be the public’s last opportunity to provide feedback before the plan goes in front of the full board of commissioners for a vote. Arvidson says his hope is that the board will vote to adopt the NSAMP by the end of the year.
CONTENTIOUS PARTS OF THE PLAN
Though the CAC has completed its work, there are some lingering questions about the park plans. Aspects of the visions for North Commons and Farview Park remain particularly controversial.
Some members of the “Friends of North Commons” (FONC) group have voiced concern about a seasonal sports dome envisioned in the recommended plan for their park. They worry the dome will change the character of North Commons – creating a tall, bright, visual eyesore during the dark winter months – and potentially inspire gentrification by attracting users from outside the neighborhood.
At a meeting they held at the park on August 6, they expressed worry over potential negative environmental and health impacts of the artificial turf that might be inside the dome. The group also had broad criticism for the CAC’s community engagement work, with some members saying nearby homes should have been door-knocked and flyered. One member of the group shared a petition against the dome that he said had 196 signatures on it.
Two park commissioners, Kale Severson (District 2) and Londell French (At-Large), along with MPRB assistant superintendent Tyrize Cox, attended the August 6 meeting and assured the group that nothing is set in stone at this time. They praised the crowd for their passion and engagement and encouraged them to keep vocalizing their concerns throughout the public comment period. “This is healthy, what’s happening right now,” said Severson. “If our community showed up like this more often, we wouldn’t be left out.”
CAC member Brett Buckner has empathy for those who don’t want to see the dome in the North Commons plan, acknowledging that it could change the character of the park “to a point.” But he says North Commons is “underutilized” by the neighborhood’s nearly 11,000 children, and he sees the dome as solution to the great need for additional recreational space in the winter months.
Buckner believes the CAC’s community engagement process was adequate, noting that several members of the FONC participated throughout the 16 month process. He attributes remaining controversy to a “handful of residents” who “just don’t want change.”
Palmer says those involved with North Commons had the “healthiest debate” among those who came out to voice their thoughts on the plan. He says he doesn’t know if the petition against the dome was ever submitted to staff. “We’re talking about something that whether or not it has a dome, it’s beneficial for North Minneapolis. If there are 196 voices saying we don’t want the dome, that is something the park board should take into consideration.”
Over in Farview Park, one CAC member voted against approving the final plan. According to Arvidson, that dissent was due to opposition toward the idea of a paved path to the top of the park’s hill. Arvidson believes the desire not to see a path is due to safety concerns, but he says he has a “hard time budging” from a paved path to the top of the hill, which was once the tallest point in the city. “We’re interested in ensuring that privilege isn’t just for the able bodied who can walk out across the grass and climb up the hill,” he said.
Questions also remain in Bryn Mawr Meadows, where Arvidson said questions around parking will need to be addressed during the public comment period.
As soon as the drafted NSAMP is complete, Arvidson says it will be available on the MPRB website and printed out in rec centers throughout the Northside. Additional community outreach is planned as well.
Palmer urges the community to keep the big picture in mind moving forward. “We’re doing something for North Minneapolis,” he said. “These are new improvements, new amenities, things that are going to be coming to North Minneapolis. It shows progress in North Minneapolis. There are always going to be people who agree and people who disagree, but the beauty of this is the people of North Minneapolis being engaged and working together to build a stronger Northside for everyone."