Plans are underway to move the bus transit center from the west side of the Northtown Mall in Blaine to the south side — but that won’t happen if the Spring Lake Park City Council gets its way.
On Aug. 19 the council voted unanimously to oppose the proposed relocation of the Northtown Transit Center from University Avenue to an overflow parking lot between Northtown and Sanburnol drives. The new site would be on Spring Lake Park’s northern border.
The current center was built in Blaine 20 years ago on property partially owned by the mall. Spring Lake Park City Administrator Daniel Buchholtz said Washington Prime Group, the owners of the mall, are working with Metro Transit to relocate the center to the overflow lot.
Buchholtz said this relocation would be facilitated by a land swap where Metro Transit vacates its existing property and the Minnesota Department of Transportation right-of-way along University Avenue in exchange for the overflow parking lot land.
Once that exchange is complete, the new location would be co-owned by Washington Prime Group, the Met Council and MnDOT.
Spring Lake Park’s resolution asks the city of Blaine to deny requests by Northtown Mall for a preliminary plat and conditional use permit that would facilitate the land swap transaction.
The Blaine City Council will soon review a preliminary plat for the project that will only address creating two new parcels. A public hearing on the preliminary plat will be at the Blaine Planning Commission meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, and the City Council will consider the preliminary plat at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16. If the preliminary plat is approved, the Blaine City Council will review the final plat Oct. 7.
If the transit center moves forward, Metro Transit will be required to go through a conditional use permit approval process for shared access and parking. The permit process includes a public hearing at a Planning Commission meeting, followed by the City Council giving final approval of the conditional use permit. This application has not been made yet, but would likely come before the council this winter or in the spring.
Six local and three express bus lines are routed through the center with more than 170 buses visiting the site daily.
Buchholtz said the city feels the new site would overwhelm Spring Lake Park’s Sanburnol residential neighborhood, located south of the mall.
“When we look at the land around the mall, there are other locations for this that wouldn’t cause harm to this residential neighborhood,” he said.
Spring Lake Park Police Chief Douglas Ebeltoft expressed concerns that the new site would pose public safety concerns for the Sanburnol neighborhood because the current transit center and Northtown Mall have seen numerous public safety incidents.
The Northtown Transit Center relocation project has been proposed on three separate occasions since 2005.
Spring Lake Park Interim Mayor Bob Nelson said the city was approached in 2011 and 2017 about the project. Both times the council said it wanted to be part of project discussions, but that never occurred. This happened again when the project was brought up again this summer, he said.
“It affects or city and our neighborhood,” Nelson said. “We were left in the dark this time.”
Nelson primarily blamed Northtown Mall management.
“I think the management of Northtown has put us all in this unfavorable attitude,” he said.
The city has been working with Rep. Erin Koegel, D-Spring Lake Park, who’s also a Sanburnol resident, to facilitate discussions with the Met Council. The Blaine City Council was also notified of Spring Lake Park’s concerns.
Metro Transit Senior Project Coordinator George Serumgard informed the Spring Lake Park Council that in mid-June Metro Transit was issued a 180-day eviction notice by Washington Prime Group, saying the current Northtown Transit Center would have to be vacated by December.
“We still are working with WPG to find a solution,” he said. “As of right now we have a closing window of opportunity in which to leave the premise and restore the transit center to parking.”
Serumgard said Metro Transit is currently working with Washington Prime Group to extend the time frame of the eviction.
Representatives for Washington Prime Group were not present at the Aug. 19 City Council meeting, and the company did not respond to the Life’s request for comment.
Serumgard said Metro Transit is currently working with the firm Stantec to develop plans for screening and sound walls on the new site. Those plans will be made available later this fall.
“It’s a mall initiative,” Serumgard said. “We are participants. We care very much about our passengers. We care very much about the residents. We care very much about the success of Northtown Mall. It’s in that spirit that we’ve been very good corporate citizens. We’ve listened to the mall, we’ve looked for alternatives and we’ve not exhausted anything. We are continuing to find the best solutions.”
“It’s not the right spot as far as I’m concerned for the city, and it’s residents that live along there,” Nelson said. “It’s unacceptable.”
“We’re willing to talk, listen and work on a solution with the mall ownership, Metro Transit and the city of Blaine,” Buchholtz said. “This (resolution) isn’t saying we’re completely obstinate, but we do need to protect this residential neighborhood.”