Lake Calhoun. It’s one of Minneapolis’s most unique assets, as well as one of the defining features of Uptown. It’s even the inspiration for the name of one of the Uptown-area neighborhood groups – CARAG (Calhoun Area Residents Action Group) – even though even the westernmost borders of CARAG are still at least four blocks from the lake (and is, of course, the namesake for lake-adjacent ECCO, or the East Calhoun Community Organization). The lakes are a major draw for most Uptowners, and one of the reasons people are willing to shell out some big bucks (comparatively) to live in the area. It’s also the source of much ongoing controversy, serving as a lighting rod of sorts for practically any and all development issue in Uptown. Take, for example, the Uptown hotel proposed a few years ago; opponents complained that they might be able to see the top floor when walking around the lake. Needless to say, any development taking place on or across from the lake attracts even more neighborhood ire.
None of this is new news, but it might be dragged up again during the course of the Ward 10 City Council race. At the recent debate (“forum”) between Wedge residents and candidates Meg Tuthill and Matt Filner, Tuthill once again pulled out that oh-so-popular development card. While answering a question about the relationship between new development and local Small Area Plans (Uptown has one; Lyn-Lake’s is being finalized) she referred to the danger of Lake Calhoun looking like “Miami Beach.” She’s not the only or the first one to say this. Participants in the Uptown Small Area Plan process also referred to the Miami Beach concern, while developer Clark Gassen was slammed locally when a 2006 New York Times article quoted him as referring to his vision of making Uptown – and presumably some of the land by Lake Calhoun (his company was responsible for the controversial Edgewater project) – a “little Manhattan.”
I’m treading on sensitive ground here, but I think Meg Tuthill (along with the active and outspoken NIMBYs who fill many, although not all, of the seats on our local neighborhood boards) is wrong to excessively limit development by Lake Calhoun. The stretch of land between Lake Street heading northwest towards St. Louis Park could, if anything, use more development. Sensitive, well-done development could add housing to the neighborhood, potentially add useful retail, and decrease the car-dependent nature of the development along the northwest portion of the lake. There are already tall buildings in the area, so it’s not as though short, single-family homes would be converted into towering apartment buildings.
Not every lake needs to provide local residents with a “pure” nature experience. These are urban lakes, and I love the fact that I can see the downtown skyline from Lake Calhoun. Buildings such as the Calhoun Beach Club are certainly a visual presence on the lake, but that doesn’t detract from the overall experience. I would not advocate for tall buildings along Lake of the Isles or Lake Harriet, or for the ECCO portion of Lake Calhoun, for that matter, but I think it’s appropriate and desirable for part of the lakeshore. Increased housing options also means more opportunities for people – and not just rich people – to live within close proximity to the lake and its amenities. I know what the NIMBYs think; now I’d like to know what other Uptown – and Minneapolis – residents and visitors think about Lake Calhoun-adjacent housing development. As for me, I say build, baby, build.