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Portillo’s Plan for Maple Grove Faces Denial; Community Members Petition for Reconsideration

Apr 13, 2017 09:52PM ● Published by Wendy Erlien

Portillo's concept drawing for proposed Maple Grove location. (graphic provided by city of Maple Grove)

The journey for Portillo’s Restaurant to open their second Minnesota location in Maple Grove has been a difficult one for the Illinois-based eatery.

Since the beginning of 2017, an application for a PUD Concept Stage Plan Amendment for The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes and the Development Stage Plan for Portillo’s has been making its way through the standard application process with the city.  

The proposal asked for approval to construct an approximately 9,000 square foot Portillo’s restaurant, according to documents provided to the City Council, in the “northern portion of the existing parking lot just east of the primary entrance into the shopping center where Elm Creek Boulevard intersects the primary entrance” at The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes.

Portillo’s was founded in 1963 and includes menu items such as hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, char-grilled burgers, salads, ribs, and dessert in addition to catering. As of the beginning of 2017, 46 Portillo’s restaurants were operating in California, Indiana, Arizona, Florida and Wisconsin. The first Minnesota location for the restaurant in Woodbury is anticipated to open in July, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.   

When the request for the Maple Grove location appeared before the Maple Grove City Council at its April 3 meeting, it ended with a 3-2 vote to direct Maple Grove City Attorney to draft a resolution denying PUD Concept Stage Plan Amendment and Development Stage Plan.

The vote came after a presentation and question/answer session by the Maple Grove Community Development Director, General Manager at The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes, and Portillo’s. 

 Among the items addressed included parking, traffic congestion, and the potential positive addition the restaurant could have to local retailers.

The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes General Manager Michael Landstad shared an overview “state of retail” with the council, stating as part of the evolution of the general retail environment, “the retail sector has been witnessing an alarming number of closures” and the consumer is now “devoting a larger portion of their wallet to restaurants, travel, and technology.”

“Destination restaurants are drivers,” he said, referring to retail shopping centers.

After the presentations, the Mayor and City Council Members each shared their views on the project before voting.

Councilmember Judy Hanson expressed concerns about the Planning Commission recommendation and traffic.

“I’m still really concerned that our Planning Commission did not approve it. They look through things very thoroughly, so that troubles me. And, I know that there has been great lengths taken with the traffic studies. I had intended to ask for further traffic studies, but I don’t think that would make any difference. We recently had a city survey and one of the top things the residents were concerned about is traffic and congestion. When I look at this, I’m very concerned about traffic and congestion,” she said. “I’m not entirely convinced bringing in a destination restaurant is going to deal with the vacancy issues we have at Arbor Lakes. I know for myself, it is far enough away from The Shoppes, it wouldn’t cause me to then walk the distance and then go shopping. I recognize there is a problem with shops closing and vacancies – I don’t think this is the answer in this location.”  

Mayor Mark Steffenson focused on the state of retail and parking during his comments.

“My concern is The Shoppes. I think we all up here [the council] have concerns about where retail is going in this community. Do we have too much retail in the community? And, how we’re going to continue to support or revitalize that retail base as we go forward. The reality is, additions like this, to places like the Shoppes are necessary to fulfill that,” he said. “I think that Portillo’s is a great restaurant to bring to our community…I would like to see it here. I like the project and what it would do to help do our community. There may be days where parking may be more difficult. In order for these malls to succeed, we’re going to have to make some of these accommodations or we’re going to see more empty mall space.”

Councilmember Kristy Barnett addressed her comments toward what drew people to The Shoppes and traffic congestion.

“I personally have nothing against this restaurant, but I do wonder being we have P.F. Chang’s, Biaggi’s, and the Brazilian restaurant as well as a Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and movie theater to draw people to the shopping center – and yet, you’re saying we’re having a hard time keeping occupants,” she said. “I don’t know what one more restaurant will do, except add more congestion to what is already a congested area – based on the ways to enter and exit the entire shopping area. That is where my concern is. I’m sure the restaurant would do well, I’m just not sure it would do well for Arbor Lakes.”

Councilmember Phil Leith stated his concerns about drive thru stacking were addressed during the presentations. “I know it is a good restaurant. That particular lot, I drive through there often, is never very full,” he said. “I don’t think there will be an issue with the parking. I’m in favor of the restaurant coming.”

In the final comments before the council voted, Councilmember Karen Jaeger expressed concerns about traffic and stacking at the drive thru, commenting if the restaurant is destination, customers likely would go and leave. “If it was further up into the shopping area, I could see where you would walk around and shop, but it’s quite a long ways from there to go,” she said. “I don’t think it fits putting it in the middle of a parking lot. I’m not in favor of it.”

Mayor Steffenson made a motion to approval to direct the city attorney to draft a resolution approving the PUD Concept Stage Plan Amendment for The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes and the Development Stage Plan for Portillo’s. The motion was voted down 2-3, with Councilmembers Jaeger, Hanson and Barnett voting to have the Maple Grove City Attorney draft a resolution denying the PUD Concept Stage Plan Amendment for The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes and Development Stage Plan for Portillo’s.

After the proposal was denied, Steffenson shared comments about the direction taken. “I don’t understand, quite frankly, I have to comment. We have to have a vision for this community and I don’t understand it [denial],” he said.

With the motion to direct the Maple Grove City Attorney to draft a resolution to deny the PUD Concept Stage Plan Amendment for The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes and the Development Stage Plan, the resolution come before the Maple Grove City Council for a vote - which is anticipated at the Monday, April 17 meeting.

Some of the community feedback (in and outside of Maple Grove) and support following the April 3 meeting has taken form on social media, including an online petition on Change.org started by Twin Cities resident Adam Wells - which as of April 13 - has gained 1,511 supporters.

On Twitter, comments included included “Please reconsider your denial of the Portillo's restaurant development. Portillo's would add GREAT VALUE to Maple Grove!!!” and “...having a Portillo's in Maple Grove would have been huge. “

“The support in the community has been overwhelming,” The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes Property Marketing Manager Jennifer Zafft said, stating in response to the action taken by the City Council at the April 3 meeting, The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes has forwarded additional information to council.


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