residents are voicing both excitement and grievances regarding a development plan that would potentially bring a grocery store and other businesses to town.
Paul Tucci from Minnetonka-based Oppidan presented development plans for the now vacant Mason Motors property on Water Street, between Oak and George Streets, to the Excelsior City Council last week. The site plan includes an addition to the building, a second building for businesses and parking.
Bill Mason, owner of the former Mason Motors, told the council about the excitement surrounding the possibility of a grocery store coming to Excelsior.
Many council members, however, had concerns about traffic and the orientation of the building that would house the grocery store. City design standards require parking areas on Water Street to be 50 feet away from the street unless a building obscures the area from view. Public parking lots are an exception.
Tucci explained that reorienting the building to face Water Street would create storm water issues and that potential grocery store tenants were opposed to such changes. Councilman John Olson said he needed more information about the engineering problems posed by changing the building’s direction, though he admitted that he was open to being convinced of it.
Councilwoman Jennifer Caron wants to explore other options.
“There are reasons we have design standards,” she said.
Councilmen Greg Miller wondered about extra traffic going toward the residential areas on George Street while Councilwoman Caron described the difficulty of turning onto Water Street during busy times of the day. When traffic is busy she said that she has had to force her way into traffic. She also had doubts about the safety of having two Water Street access points into and out of the parking lot. Councilmen Miller had similar questions.
Jon Monson, architect for the project through his company Landschute, responded to these and other concerns in a later address to the council at the mayor’s request. He said that limiting access on Water Street would push more traffic onto George Street.
Several residents also addressed the council to voice their opinions about the plan.
Kevin Dilorenzo, a resident on George Street, opposed the design, saying that he didn’t “want a suburban strip mall in the heart of downtown.” He added designs for the site should model the street facing storefronts of other sections of Water Street.
Lynn Walker, also a resident on George Street, countered that she liked the current design and the included greenery. She would love to have the opportunity to walk to a grocery store and was afraid of the costs of delaying action.
“We’ve seen some very positive changes by the developer and architect," John Anderson, another George Street resident, said. "You can’t please everyone.”
Tim Brandow, an Excelsior business owner, asked the council to deny the plan. While he supports the idea of development, Brandow said that the plan could be better.
Linda Murrell, executive director of the South Lake-Excelsior Chamber of Commerce, disagreed.
“Short of blowing up the whole block, you have to work with what you have,” she said. “Let’s get going.”
When Monson addressed the council, he said that the history of Excelsior supported having a different look for the section of Water Street where Mason Motors sits from the portion of Water Street that has the more historic appearance and street-facing buildings. That portion of Water Street is also zoned differently. Having looked at multiple alternatives, he said that he believed they had found the best solution.
Councilwoman Mary Jo Fulkerson said that she liked the design.
“This is a different section of Excelsior," she said. "It’s always been a parking lot and car dealership."
While she initially had questions about traffic, she said that the developer had adequately dealt with the issue.
Council members Caron and Miller rounded out the discussion with more questions, and Miller mentioned his preference for more detail on the buildings to give them a more historic look. Mayor Nick Ruehl, who said earlier in the meeting that he thought the plans were on the right track, asked for patience as the city gathered more information.
The city council will return to the topic at the May 7 meeting.