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Brooklyn Park residents steamed up over Project Hotdish

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Neighbors Jen Geisinger and Jim Bortolussi.
Neighbors Jen Geisinger and Jim Bortolussi discuss a proposed development of the property near their homes in Brooklyn Park on Oct. 9, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The Twin Cities suburb of Brooklyn Park is accustomed to huge real estate developments. But a new plan called Project Hotdish has aroused the ire of many residents. 

Project Hotdish is a plan for a warehouse nearly half the size of the Mall of America. 

If you visited the site of Project Hotdish recently, you'd see little more than a vast sea of pumpkins awaiting harvest and a corn maze. 

The proposed project would be built within the NorthPark Business Center east of Highway 169, south of 109th Avenue and west of Winnetka Avenue.

This 230-acre site has long been zoned for development as a business park. Developer Scannell Properties wants to build a four-story warehouse with about 2.6 million square feet of space.

Every week hundreds of semi-trailers would deliver products for repackaging, and more trucks would haul them to another location for final distribution.

The prospective tenant is a secret. But Amazon is widely suspected. So far the company is keeping mum. But it's been on a growth spurt in the Twin Cities and plans to open a fifth facility near this location. 

Neighbors don't want Project Hotdish whether it's Amazon's or not.

Hundreds of pumpkins sit in a field that is the site of "Project Hotdish."
Hundreds of pumpkins sit in a field at the site of Project Hotdish, a proposed warehouse nearly half the size of the Mall of America.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"This would have never even been considered in Edina or Minnetonka or in Eden Prairie," said realtor Jen Geisinger who is also a neighbor of Project Hotdish. She's launched a campaign to stop the development. 

"They would be laughed out of city hall if they brought something like this to go next to homes," she said.

More than 1,150 people have signed Geisinger's petition opposing the project. 

Her husband, Jeff Geisinger, said people understood the business park would be developed, but never contemplated anything as big or distressing as the proposal on the table.

"When anybody thinks of a business park, the last thing they think of is a 2.5, 2.6 million-square-foot distribution, fulfillment center, whatever they want to call it, with over 200 trucks every day. A truck every seven, nine minutes," he said. "This is not a business park in anybody's mind."

Critics fear the truck traffic would overtax roads and make them more dangerous. They're also concerned the mega-project will be an eyesore, raise dust and pollution levels, and hurt property values.

Aaron Balzer can see the project site from his home. He said he never would have built the house had he known he could be looking at Project Hotdish.

"It's not safe for my kids. It's going to be loud. It's going to be annoying. It's going to cost us a lot in terms of quality of life," he said.

The site of "Project Hotdish" from the window of Aaron Balzer's home.
The site of Project Hotdish is seen from the window of Aaron Balzer's Brooklyn Park home.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The Brooklyn Park planning commission voted against the project last month, but lacks the final say. Developer Scannell  Properties is working on addressing concerns brought to that board. The City Council will determine the project's fate and votes late next month. And it's no secret constituents are up in arms.

"I'd say the No. 1 thing is traffic," said Mayor Jeffrey Lunde. He said the city will ban truck traffic on Winnetka Avenue, the county road that borders one side of the site. Lunde said the opposition is not universal, and the economic benefits of the project can't be ignored. 

The project would generate at least $5 million a year in taxes and create some 2,500 jobs, he said. And that's better than previous proposals, Lunde said.

"Something is going in there. And so really, we're talking about what is going in there. There are people who want to keep it a corn field forever and that's not going to happen," he said. 

Lunde won't reveal his vote on Nov. 26. He said he needs to see how the project may be revised. And legally, he said council members can't say in advance how they would vote.

The critics are not limited to Brooklyn Park residents. Many people in neighboring Champlin don't like it either.

Champlin Mayor Ryan Karasek contends Project Hotdish is not permitted under zoning rules for the site, as well as an agreement between Brooklyn Park and Champlin barring distribution centers.

"A major concern is traffic, traffic congestion and safety for the folks in our community and infrastructure expense and the long-term damage to our roads and intersections," said Karasek. "Who's going to pay for it?"

At a recent public hearing, Scannell Properties defended the project. Development manager Dan Salzer said the project would generate more than 5,000 daily vehicle trips, including the 200 semi-trailer stops. He acknowledged Project Hotdish sounds big. 

"But when you compare that to what we had approved in the previous development plan — it's not that far off in terms of operation, and from a traffic perspective it's a little bit less," Salzer said.

It's not clear which way the council vote is leaning, but it's possible the decision could fall to a group of lame-duck council members. A majority of council seats are on the ballot, and the vote on Project Hotdish is slated for after the election.