Planning commission finds path forward for contentious Minnehaha Academy field plan

The city of Minneapolis Planning Commission has approved most of Minnehaha Academy’s requests to make their proposed field improvements, but not the one needed to install a new synthetic turf field.
The field is located on the school’s north campus at 3100 W River Pkwy. S, 3105 46th Ave. S, and 3106 47th Ave. S in the Cooper neighborhood of Ward 12.
Following a lengthy public hearing and discussion on June 10, 2024, the commission approved variances and a conditional use permit that will allow the school to install floodlights, larger bleachers, a press box, and a taller scoreboard. But they denied a request to increase the maximum amount of impervious surface on the site that would have allowed them to install an artificial, synthetic turf field.  
On a 5 to 3 vote, commissioners found that an athletic field is not a unique circumstance of the property and that choosing to use synthetic turf is a “design choice.” They also noted the heat island impact, and that the request “does not meet the spirit and intent of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan.” Commissioners Bill Baxley, Aurin Chowdhury, Angela Conley, Alyssa Olson, and Chris Meyer all voted to deny the variance that would have allowed the artificial turf. 
Aurin Chowdhury of Ward 12 is the city council appointee to the commission. Angela Conley, who is also the county commissioner for the area, is the appointee of the Hennepin County Board. 
For many speakers, the use of plastic and ground up tires in the astroturf was their main concern. 
“They’re known carcinogens, mutagens and endocrine disruptors,” said John Guerra, who lives with his spouse and three young children on 47th Avenue S, north of the school. “I don’t want them building up on my sidewalk, in my yards or in my river.”   
The school indicated that the artificial turf would safer for players, easier to maintain, and could be built to allow water to drain through it.
Concerns also included light pollution, noise and more. “Issues of parking, traffic, and litter, which already introduce stress into the neighborhood, will only grow worse,” said Bob Victorin-Vangerud who lives at 31st and 45th Ave.
Supporters of the school also spoke. “I feel like Minnehaha has been not just a good neighbor, but a great neighbor to the neighborhood,” said Nicole Sheldon, who has worked at the school for six years and lived in the area for 11. “They have listened to concerns, they have addressed those concerns, and want to work with the neighborhood to be a great neighbor.”
Salamina Brenner, who lives near the school with her partner and two children, disagreed. “Minnehaha Academy has made no effort to address our concerns in the past, and I have no confidence this will happen in the future,” she said.
Margo Paul lives a block from the academy but attends an area public high school. She talked about “micro plastics and toxic chemicals” in the proposed field. “My generation has enough environmental problems that have been given to us,” she said. “This is a chance for our community to stop some of the problems ahead of time.”
The approved conditional use permit will allow the school to install four light poles higher that the permitted 35 feet. They plan to put in two that are 70 feet high and two that are 80 feet high. The approval is conditioned on having full cut off fixtures on the lights, using them only when the field is in use, and having them shut off by 10:15 pm. This was approved on a 6 to 2 vote with Chowdhury and Planning Commission President Chris Meyer voting no. 
The commission approvals of the variances that would allow the larger bleachers and scoreboard passed unanimously. 
Since the planning commission meeting and within the 10-day requirement, the school did not appeal the commission's decision. Nearby property owner Saumya Verma is appealing the height of the lights. The appeal will be heard by the council's Business, Housing and Zoning Committee on July 9 at 1:30 p.m. 


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