Monday, January 18, 2010

Are YOU Happy? CARAG Residents Speak Out

You may remember last August when CARAG gathered community input for use in making NRP funding decisions. You may have even filled out one of the surveys yourself. The final results have been tallied and are being discussed; check out the full report for yourself on the CARAG website. While voluntary and therefore not fully representative, a respectable 409 respondents filled out the surveys, including a decent number of traditionally underrepresented younger people and renters. You can read the details for yourselves, but some highlights that I found interesting:
  • Nearly everyone (98.5%, to be exact) said they were somewhat or very satisfied with the neighborhood. The numbers did vary a bit with age, with younger people (18-34) more satisfied than the 55+ crowd.
  • Crime was the number one issue. No surprise there, I don't think. While I think some people's perception is off ("crime is high"), obviously while CARAG isn't a high-crime neighborhood it's also not without its problems.
  • Transportation was cited as important by three quarters of respondents, but the written comments made it clear that people defined "transportation" in very different ways. Some took it to mean light rail or public transportation, others read it to mean parking, while others focused on speeding on residential streets.

And now to the good, or at least interesting part... the comments. I love reading these, as it's interesting to see how drastically opinions can vary. Most of them were reasonable or straight-forward (i.e. petty crime is a problem, street lights are out, etc.), but there were a few that deserve to be pulled out for special consideration.

"Gang graffiti is everywhere." I'm not criticizing this one; I just have a question. I've been meaning to look more into this myself, but is gang graffiti really everywhere? Graffiti does seem to be an increased problem and while the weather was still warm and sunny I wandered the streets and took what seemed like hundreds of photos of examples in CARAG and other Uptown neighborhoods. But is it gang-related? Any gang experts out there? I know there's gang activity in neighborhoods like Lyndale, but how far over does it reach? Is CARAG's graffiti problem gang-related in nature? If so, what gangs are most active in the area? I'll have to do some more research into this, as I have some major gaps in my knowledge here.

"Neighborhoods look old and run down." There are some individual properties that look run down, but I think that as a whole the neighborhood looks pretty good. Then again, I'm happy with places looking "old," although not "run down." (would be worse to be new and run down, though!)

“The increased density may lead to crime issues and transportation issues which may cause long time residents to relocate.” Ah, the old density equals crime argument. Facts need not apply. As far as transportation issues, I'm guessing the person means parking. My honest opinion? If long time residents don't like increased density then maybe they should leave. Uptown has been busier in years past, so it's not like this was every some quiet little village (at least not in most of our lifetime) that suddenly exploded in population; why would anyone move to an urban neighborhood and then complain about still relatively population density levels? I know I've said it before, but I just don't get it.

“Too many rental buildings being built. Buildings too tall now. Utter disregard for home owners.” Not to be negative or mean-spirited, and kudos to this respondent for being totally honest, but this attitude needs to be singled out as a problem in the neighborhood. "Utter disregard for home owners"? HA! Because CARAG's homeowners are oh-so-underrepresented in local politics.... Seriously, what could they possibly mean by this? Home owners are the kings of the CARAG castle. They have nothing to complain about in that regard. I'm crossing my fingers that one day (soon, I hope!) I'll be one of those poor CARAG homeowners who are so disregarded. As to the rest of it: typical. Another anti-height person. Because a five story building on Lake Street is going to bring down the neighborhood, as we all know. And rental buildings... god forbid we provide opportunities for more people to live in Uptown, including those who can't or don't want to buy. What an elitist.

In general, though, anti-renter, anti-density, anti-renter respondents aside, the results were quite interesting and useful. Everyone seems to have a shared concern for making the streets and alleys safer, so maybe we can focus more attention to addressing those issues and less time zeroing in on building height. It's also great news to see that so many people are happy with the neighborhood, despite having some legitimate concerns about livability issues. It's clearly a neighborhood worth fighting for, and this survey does its job in identifying some common ground for how to move forward in the years ahead.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Updated 3005 Emerson Renderings

Hoyt Properties has provided an updated rendering of the proposed 3005 Emerson site, although they note that this, too, is subject to change. While I still can't say I like the design itself, I will concede that this rendering is far more attractive than the previous version. Clark Gassen noted that these were intended to demonstrate scale of the building more than final design details, so I'm still hopeful that whatever goes into this location will be a valuable asset to the neighborhood, both in terms of aesthetics and function.

Friday, January 1, 2010

3005 Emerson: CARAG's Next Controversial Building

Image from (additional renderings and specifics can be found there as well)

What's a neighborhood to do without a good building controversy to keep things interesting? Some CARAG residents certainly seem to follow that train of thought. I'm not criticizing, by the way; I might not agree very often with the Aaron Rubensteins and Howard Versons of the world, but I have as strong opinions as anyone else when it comes to discussing the built environment of Uptown's neighborhoods. The latest controversial project seems to be the proposed building at 3005 Emerson. Developer Clark Gassen and local firm BKV Group envision the site as a restaurant, and some preliminary renderings also show a rooftop deck in the back.

Neighbors are not, as you can imagine, happy. There's a petition going around; I haven't seen it and am not sure what is being protested, but since the site is zoned commercial I can only assume that the neighbors are protesting the requested parking variance (they're asking for only six parking spots, not eight), and probably the roof patio.

I have mixed feelings on this, and can see the pros and the cons. Let's address the negatives first:

Hideous architecture. Yeah, I know not everyone agrees with me; I know some people actually like this, and some people think while it's not exactly beautiful, it's not atrocious, either. I think it's absolutely terrible, and looks like an architecture clip art book vomited up its contents onto the rendering page. It's going to look dated in about a year, and has absolutely zero architectural charm. I know it's subject to change, but that horrible blend of brick coupled with that dark siding (or is it metal sheeting?) on top, plus those weird jutting outcroppings just scream dated-upon-arrival. Please, please, BKV Group, don't make us live with this atrocity in our neighborhood.

Do we really need another restaurant? I love restaurants, and wish I could afford to eat out more often. I don't have a problem with restaurants, necessarily, but enough already. What Uptown really needs is more daytime uses; what about an office, or maybe a medical building? Useful retail space would be okay, too. A daytime-focused use would bring more workers to Uptown during the day, while a restaurant would inevitably contribute to making Uptown and Lyn-Lake even more of an entertainment/nighttime destination. I have no problem with plentiful evening options, including restaurants and bars, but I'd really prefer not to have one on this specific site.

On to the positives:

Filling in the parking lots is a good thing. More businesses closer to housing is a good thing. It's not really a corner store, and it's not in the heart of the residential areas, but I like to have lots of businesses within walking distance. I also am happy to see surface parking lots disappear.

Potential. I hate the building, but admit it could be worse. At least it's not a drive-through credit union or a strip mall-like building with parking in front. Even an ugly building is better than a parking lot. It's also exciting to think about what new business might move in to the location, and hope it's something good.

Some final thoughts:

Parking. This is always a big one. Permit parking is the name of the game in that section of CARAG, and I'm sure parking is going to be one of the big reasons many of the critics oppose the project. I admit that I don't care much about parking, other than to admit that parking issues are important to the economic viability of most local businesses. Maybe I should say that I don't care about the parking issues for residents. If you want guaranteed parking then buy or rent a place that comes with a garage or parking spot, otherwise join the rest of us and look for street parking, take the bus, walk, or bike. Free parking shouldn't be considered a right, and parking problems for people who choose to live so close to Lake (their location certainly comes with plenty of other perks) shouldn't be something that concerns any of us. That's another topic, though. Still, parking remains an issue in Uptown and will undoubtedly continue to be a hot topic for years to come, so at least a daytime-focused business would help spread the parking needs throughout the day.

Height. Height is, of course, always another hot topic. This project is short, so the usual cries of "it's too tall!" aren't going to be heard. My complaint is that it's too short. As currently proposed, it's a one-story building with a rooftop patio. Let's skip the patio (I can see why neighbors aren't thrilled with that, and I think they have a legitimate complaint there) and put apartments or additional small office space on the second floor. A one-story (even one-story with rooftop additions) single-use property is a wasted opportunity.
So, what do you think?