Jul 30, 2014

Future BP Property Owner Wants Head Start on Approval Process

The company won’t take ownership until Oct. 1 but wants to ensure construction is progressing before winter.

Future BP Property Owner Wants Head Start on Approval Process

The heir apparent to is asking city officials to kick off the building approval process before the company actually takes ownership of the site.

Minnetonka-based Solomon Real Estate Group bought the rights to the property at a sheriff’s sale in late March. But Minnesota law gives the original commercial property owner six months after the sale to pay off his debt and reclaim the property—meaning Soloman won’t officially take possession of the site any earlier than Oct. 1.

Steve Johnson, the company’s development partner, said Solomon has been negotiating letters of intent with interested businesses and expects to start arranging leases in the next couple weeks.

However, waiting to start the city’s approval process until after official ownership could jeopardize those leases by delaying construction until spring, Johnson said.

“Can we hold onto them? I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not here to threaten anybody or do anything like that, but it is a possibility I have to face.”

Solomon plans to build a retail center that would likely have five to six tenants—although it could have more depending on the needs of the lessees. Johnson said a “service user” is interested but did not specify which companies Solomon is talking with.

If workers are able to complete groundwork before winter, the businesses could open in April or May.

But it’s all but impossible for that to happen if the approval process doesn’t kick off until Oct. 1. The project would require review by the Zoning and Planning Commission and the City Council, as well a public hearing with mandatory advance notice. Johnson estimated that he’d lose about a month of construction.

Simply starting the work before official acquisition is not a simple matter, though. In most cases, city ordinances only allow owners to apply for the types of approval the BP site requires.

Hopkins has kick-started the process in the past when an owner and a buyer have mutually agreed to a deal. But in this case, the property was taken from the owner—who could, theoretically, at least, come back to take possession of the property.

“This is a different situation. It’s more like a hostile takeover,” City Attorney Jeremy Steiner said. “They would literally be trying to rezone a stranger’s property.”

Hopkins officials worried that changing the rules could set a bad precedent.

“I just think when you start going down that slope things get murky—and with our record with the courts, I’m a little gun shy,” Councilwoman Cheryl Youakim said.

For now, city staff are going to put together an estimate of the time a streamlined approval process would take. In the meantime, the Zoning and Planning Commission will take a more informal look at the proposal Aug. 28 to offer input and allow Solomon to get a jumpstart on any changes the city would likely request during the formal review process.


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