Drone - Mayo Clinic Parking

The former Kmart site has been repaved and striped to provide parking for Mayo Clinic employees in Rochester. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

Doris Amundson says 3,600 cars already drive through her Slatterly Park neighborhood every day, according to a state estimate. So, she’s concerned about plans to add 1,400 parking paces on the neighborhood's edge.

But that isn’t her biggest concern about Mayo Clinic’s plans to lease the former Kmart parking lot for an employee park-and-ride.

“The thing that bothers me the most is Mayo wasn’t up front on any of this,” she said.

It’s a concern that is shared by many in the neighborhood, including Mayo Clinic employees.

“It feels like this is being put forward as a thing that is going to happen,” said Nat Barmore, a Mayo Clinic employee and Slatterly Park neighborhood resident.

During the first public step of seeking city approval, approximately 35 residents gathered to voice concerns about how the project is unfolding, many of them Mayo Clinic employees who said they chose to live in a neighborhood within walking distance to work.

“This is a sham,’ said Megan Miller, a Mayo employee who lives in the neighboring Eastside Pioneer neighborhood.

“I have zero trust that this is not going to happen,” she added.

Rochester City Council Member Mark Bilderback, who lives in the Slatterly Park neighborhood and is a supplemental Mayo employee after previously retiring from the clinic, said he’s also disappointed in the process, but it needs to play out.

“There’s a lot of unknowns as we go forward,” he said, noting a traffic study is being conducted to determine the potential impacts of the proposal.

The project is in the earliest stages of seeking Rochester City Council permission for a development outside typical zoning uses. Yet, the property owner has already paid to have Kmart’s former parking lot repaved and striped. Bus stop shelters also await an initial 750 commuters.

Rochester commercial Realtor Merl Groteboer of Re/Max Results is representing the property owner, Camegaran LLC of Hastings. Groteboer said the timing of the work is based on the weather, rather than a council decision, which is likely to come on Dec. 2 at the earliest.

“Obviously, in December, we can’t blacktop, so we had to take a chance,” he said, noting that waiting would likely leave the site unused until work could be done in the spring.

The risk sits in the hands of the owner, who purchased the property for $7 million earlier this year.

Tim Siegfried, division chairman of facilities for Mayo Clinic, indicated that details on a potential lease agreement remain in the works, even after the clinic announced to employees that the lot would be available for Saint Marys Hospital staff this month.

While the announcement caught many, including City Council members, off guard, John Murphy, a Mayo Clinic Public Affairs specialist, said that wasn’t the intention.

“This was not meant to be a surprise to anyone,” he said, noting miscommunication about who would shepherd the proposal through the city process caused a delay.

Ultimately, it was determined the property owner would lead the effort.

Siegfried said talks related to the parking lease have revolved around a 10-year commitment, which would cover the time it could take the city to develop a dedicated transit system between two future hubs serving downtown. That project is expected to take at least six years.

“We see this as a bridging strategy until the circulator is running,” he said.

Neighbors, however, say they are worried parking could become an extended use if it’s allowed, especially with plans for a second phase that would demolish the existing building and add 704 new spaces.

Bill Tointon, a senior planner at WSB’s Rochester office, said the second phase will be submitted for review with the plan for the initial 750 parking spaces.

Caitlin Doran, president of the Slatterly Park Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood has a long-term goal for seeing the site developed into more than a parking lot surrounded by other parking lots.

“We’ve been looking forward to development of the property for a long time,” she said, noting an Imagine Slatterly plan approved by the City Council encourages the property owner to think bigger and better.

Groteboer said other options were considered, but reusing the existing building is not seen as viable without it sitting empty for a long period. He also questioned the suggestion that housing could work on the site.

“There’s only so much housing you can put up,” he said.

Doran disagreed, saying interest in existing housing is high and more could easily be filled due to the ability for more downtown employees to live within walking distance to work.

“I can’t believe that someone doesn’t have the vision and capital to make that happen,” she said.

Amundson suggested Mayo Clinic rethink its plans and extend its primary value.

“‘The needs of the patient come first,’ but the needs of the neighborhood should also come first,” she said.

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