The James Ford Bell Research Center in western Golden Valley was reguided and rezoned at the June 1 City Council meeting.
City Planning Manager Jason Zimmerman said the actions were an effort to create conformity between the city’s comprehensive plan and existing zoning. In general, zoning conformance changes have been requested by the Metropolitan Council, the governing body that approves comprehensive plans.
General Mills purchased the land in 1956, which was planned as an alternative site for Holy Angels Academy. Today, the company maintains 1,000 employees at the site.
The city previously identified all three areas of the property as industrial, including the research building, the nature area and undeveloped land on the northeastern tip. The future land use map in the comprehensive plan identifies the property as light industrial.
Through discussions to conform the properties, Zimmerman said General Mills officials asked for the southernmost parcel to remain industrial, as it includes the research facility and activities there are more defined as industrial than light industrial.
The June 1 approvals included rezoning the nature area and undeveloped parcel as light industrial, and the research facility’s return to industrial in the future land use map.
Zimmerman also clarified the city’s position on use of a right-of-way within the nature area. The nature area has been open to the public since 1976 but remains privately owned by General Mills. Zimmerman said that while the original intent of the acquisition of right-of-way was to complete Duluth Street through the nature area, that isn’t currently being entertained by staff.
A caller worried that even if it wasn’t in the city’s current plan, it could happen sometime in the future.
Zimmerman said no plans were in place, and if the time ever came, residents would have ample options to speak against such plans.
“The theory is that the city could go in unilaterally and put the street through that nature area, and that’s certainly not going to happen,” Zimmerman said. “I’m sure we’d hear a lot of comments from residents and General Mills.”
Mayor Shep Harris agreed that he did not “see a through street here,” and that it would go against the city’s environmental principles.
Zimmerman did, however, mention the possibility of a cul-de-sac on the eastern edge of Duluth Street, which stops at a dead-end at the border of the nature area. He said the cul-de-sac would allow nature area visitors a place to park and a larger area for snowplows to place snow and turn around. No timeline was offered on when the cul-de-sac could be constructed.
According to a memorandum from Zimmerman to the Planning Commission last month, the city lists the nature area as a “potential target for future acquisition and incorporation in the City’s open space system.”
At that meeting, the Planning Commission wondered if the nature area should be zoned green space instead of light industrial since that better defines its current use. The commission opted to recommend approval for a change to light industrial.