What Minneapolis Planners should have said to Trader Joe

A nice mixed-use two-story Trader Joe’s store in Seattle’s U District.

A city council committee is expected to vote later today about whether to move ahead with plans for a new Lyndale Avenue Trader Joe’s store. The store is controversial. Building the project would involve razing a block of old two-story mixed-use buildings along Lyndale, and require negotiating with Minneapolis’ (Lutheran) ordinance about liquor store density. If built, Trader Joe’s would threaten the balance of food and booze power in Lyn-Lake, competing with The Wedge, Hum’s, and Bill’s Imported (among others).

That said, those complaints aren’t deal breakers. Competition is a good thing, generally, and there’s plenty of demand. (Disclaimer: I personally despise Trader Joe’s even more than most chain stores, but some of my best friends shop there.) Having the option to buy faux gourmet (“faouxrmet”?) frozen food, slightly cheaper mediocre wine, and a wide selection of ironically packaged fruit and nuts close at hand in Minneapolis might be a nice thing for a lot of people. (Prediction: Believe me, almost everyone I know would shop there incessantly.) Maybe messing with the sometimes too-smug Minneapolis liberal status quo might not be the worst outcome in the world.

The same might be argued about the properties on the site. While I personally adore the buildings on these block, and wish dearly that they could be rehabbed and continue to provide harbor for unique diverse businesses with apartments on the top, the owner of the building doesn’t want to maintain them any more, and would rather redevelop the site. Shouldn’t that be the kind of choice a person who has spent decades owning and caring for these buildings be able to make?

No, the real problem with the Trader Joe’s Lyndale store is that the proposed storeplan doesn’t fit the future of Lyndale Avenue, and you’d think that the Planning Commission would have pressed harder to get a better site plan out of the developer. The proposed building would be a one-story box on a site dominated by a large surface parking lot along Lyndale. (There are also some underground spaces.) It’s basically the same building style as the store on Lexington in St Paul, only with the storefront pushed up along the sidewalk (and without the second retail building).

The proposed plan for the Trader Joe’s parking lot (and store).

Lyndale Avenue can do a lot better than this. As the recent Open Streets proves, the difference between St Paul’s Lexington Parkway and Minneapolis’s Lyndale Avenue is huge. Lyndale is one of the key points where walkability, density, and mixed-use fabric should be maximized in the city. Even if you enjoy making snide remarks about condos, the recent developments near Lake Street have increased density along this corridor, and in the future this area should continue to increase in density with infill. It’s one the few places you can actually walk to more than one store to buy food, where you can actually get by semi-successfully without a car. The parking ratios should be decreasing. Large surface parking lots should be a thing of the past along Lyndale.

In Boston, Trader Joe’s is located in a three-story building on a busy street corner in a walkable neighborhood.

Unfortunately this building plan actually decreases density. You’re essentially replacing two-story mixed-use buildings with a single-story surface lot. It’s unfortunate, because Trader Joe’s is not averse to building stores in mixed-use urban areas. Their store in Boston’s Coolidge Corner (actually Brookline) is in a great three-story building and fits well with the dense fabric of the area. Their store in Seattle’s University District is similar, a two-story building along a dense commercial street with parking in the back. When the city is sacrificing historical property and messing with long-standing zoning rules, and particularly along one of the city’s main streets, shouldn’t the city be setting higher standards for developers? Shouldn’t they be asking for more than just a little plaza by the parking lot? Minneapolis isn’t Boston or Seattle, but is asking for a mixed-use development for this site unreasonable?

The City Council committee unanimously shot down the development.
Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

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Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.