Sign latest in Lake St. tiff
Wednesday 12 May @ 13:03:47
by Brian Kaller
Any article tells only a piece of the story.
Take, for example, the skeletal remains of a gas station on East Lake Street and 19th Avenue, where a sign shouts in block letters, “NO MORE SCHIFFTY POLITICS” — the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute involving Ninth Ward City Councilmember, Gary Schiff, and the property’s owner, developer Hamoudi Sabri.
A nutshell version of the story would simply say that Sabri wants to build apartments on the land but the City Council, including Schiff, is not cooperating.
The sign [right]on the property at the corner of 19th Ave. and Lake St. is the latest in a series of messages property owner Hamoudi Sabri has directed at Ninth Ward City Councilmember, Gary Schiff. Photo by Matt Mayer.
A somewhat longer, although by no means comprehensive, version would begin a few blocks down from the property at the light rail line set to open next month. The mass transit system is expected to draw 17,800 new residents to nearby neighborhoods in the next 15 years, according to the Metropolitan Council, and city planners are preparing for the influx by refurbishing the more dilapidated areas along the line.
Enter Sabri, one of three Palestinian brothers who have made their fortune as savvy local developers. Long before the ground had been broken for the light rail, Sabri saw opportunity and bought up land along East Lake near the rail line, including three corners of the Cedar-Lake intersection and the nearby gas station at 19th Avenue. He has since unveiled plans for a series of apartment buildings there, within walking distance of mass transit to downtown.
But owning the land is not the same as having the rights to develop it. Those rights the Minneapolis City Council gave last month, not to Sabri, but to Cedar Lake Development Partners, a group headed by former councilmember Steve Minn.
There are several reasons why this decision sparked some controversy, especially among Sabri and other developers. First, the development group included two prominent local political figures, Minn and former City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes. Second, the Council voted to give other possible developers only 25 days to come up with their own plans, which one developer calls a way of keeping other developers out.
“Usually you give people months to come up with that kind of plan,” said Eve White, a local developer who supports Sabri. “Just people who have homes built by an architect, you need to interview architects for a few weeks.”
Thirdly, there is the $24 million cost of the plan, not counting the costs of condemning the property there now, $14 million of which would be funded by taxpayers, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Sabri has unveiled plans for three apartment buildings on the site of the gas station, but said he has not been given permission to build them until the general plans for the area are approved by the City Council.
“People like me should not be given public money,” said Sabri, who accused Schiff, Minn and Cherryhomes of being “three corrupt politicians using the system.”
"Developers should not be given public money," he added.
Schiff could not be reached for comment on this story, and most community leaders in the area declined to be quoted. The whole story, however, depends on who you’re talking to in the neighborhood.
To some, Gary Schiff is one of the most progressive leaders in the city, protecting his neighborhood from an aggressive developer, while others call him a corrupt politician giving corporate welfare to his friends. Some people call Sabri an American success story giving back to his community, others find him a ruthless landlord playing the squeaky wheel. One person says these projects are cleaning up a crime-ridden area, another says they will gentrify the working class out of the city.
Sabri said he will not give up his land for any amount of money, so he and the City Council might be at an impasse for years to come.
The future of the neighborhood could depend on the ending of the story.