Council Meetings, New Taco Bell, Blake Road Development

Tonight I came home and decided to watch the most recent city council meeting - you can too! They stream it on demand, and show it on local access (more info here).

I really like watching our meetings, it's a great way to get caught up in what's going on in the city. Agendas and minutes are also available online, but it's great to watch the whole thing if you can. I'd like to make communication about the main goings-ons more widely available, either by working within our current city publications or working with the local press to try to get more coverage.

One big piece of news was that Border Foods would like to re-locate the Taco Bell to the current Lindee's site from its current site next door. They are planning to start construction on Labor Day, and while two of us in the household had been there today, we had no idea. Overall, I think this is going to be a big improvement, though I do have a bit of hesitation. Since this is in my neighborhood, I have really high hopes for it. Some highlights:

  • A better, safer drive-thru. Currently, pedestrians have to weave their way through cars parking and waiting in the drive through (both exiting and entering cars of both cross the same tight area). It's honestly a fairly harrowing experience for both driver and pedestrian, and I'm glad to see that they are using lessons from other Taco Bells and will be able to build this one from scratch. They will also have 2 driveways in the Lindee plot, versus the 1 in the current location.
  • Minnesota made pre-fab construction. Making as many parts of a building in a factory makes it extra efficient, both in the building process, and by ensuring tight fits of pieces together. With this being fabricated in Minnesota, the transportation impact will be minimized. Also, the building will be up in 7 days! They plan total completion by the end of the year.
  • Outdoor space, rain garden, watershed. They are planning on green space, including a rain garden, an outdoor patio with a fireplace, and underground water storage. This will be a big improvement from the current situation, which is primarily a cracked asphalt parking lot.
  • No clear plan for current site. It sounds like once they move out of their current site, that lot will be open for the next user. I'm hesitant to strongly support a project where we are trading one vacant restaurant for another, especially as there are clearly issues with parking and safety in that area that might make it hard to find a new owner.

Another main point of the meeting was regarding the Blake Road Corridor Development Initiative. There were a series of workshops for local citizens regarding the LRT station area development held this spring, and some of the team came to talk about their findings. Because of funding issues, plans were cut dramatically after the last worship, but this program reinforced a lot of what we know about development:

  • Community input in development is critical for success (earlier in the meeting there a review of another outreach program for the ARTery development). This is a great example of community outreach, from sending out postcards to locals, to providing childcare. As a Hopkins representative for the SWLRT Citizen's Advisory Committee, I always have an open ear for what we should be considering during that process - feel free to contact me about the LRT plans!
  • Mixing up creative brainstorming with reality - This was a great way to formulate a longer program like this, by allowing a lot of input and then slowly bringing people to what was realistic to help define priorities.  
  • There were 4 goals that came out of this, which were all spot-on:
  1. Create stronger connections and walkability for the Blake Road area
  2. Preserve the neighborhood diversity
  3. Improve water and environmental quality
  4. Strengthen residential and neighborhood-oriented retail to enhance vitality and livability

Finally, a reminder from the Mayor - please support those local businesses on Maine Street that are impacted by the road construction. There are some really great places to visit, and many of them have back doors for easier access. Park in the ample parking lots and walk in to your favorite spot while the city improves our roads for the future!