Minneapolis blocks building permits at Sabri-owned Village Market mall

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Tuesday January 24, 2017
By Adam Belz

The lengthy public hearing Monday was the latest episode in a continuing saga that pits the Sabri family against the mall’s neighbors. 

Village Market Mall on 24th Street and 10th Avenue South in Minneapolis
Village Market Mall on 24th Street and 10th Avenue South in Minneapolis


The city of Minneapolis on Monday blocked permits for new work at the Village Market mall after several homeowners in the Phillips neighborhood pleaded with the Planning Commission to take action to alleviate concerns about traffic, litter and crime.

Owner Omar Sabri wants to complete construction of a covered porch and walkway that was begun without permits last year, and also wants to build a new lane into the parking lot for the building, which is home to roughly 125 Somali businesses and is known as the 24 Mall.

The lengthy, emotional public hearing Monday was the latest episode in a continuing saga that pits the Sabri family against the mall’s neighbors. Council Member Abdi Warsame joined the battle earlier this month, pledging to build a new mall for East African merchants to give them an option that isn’t owned by the Sabris.

Ultimately, planning commissioners said, the problem is that the busy mall has outgrown its neighborhood.

“This is a regional destination, retail, where people are coming in every couple minutes, or whatever the case is,” said Commissioner Nick Magrino. “I’m not sure that there’s a way that we really can deal with this.”

Sabri said the permits were not for an expansion, but for measures that will help address neighborhood concerns.

Neighbors, who believe the mall’s management has not responded adequately to years of complaints, wanted the commission to deny what they view as an expansion by owners who have flaunted city rules and refuse to hire an off-duty police officer to help bring order to the chaos on nearby streets.

The flash point on Monday was, again, the porch.

“People congregate on that porch. And not just two people,” said Lawrence Benson, who lives nearby. “The semantics about it not being an expansion, is insulting, to be honest.”

Commissioners questioned the purpose of the structure, which Sabri said would be for merchants to load their products into the mall and a way for customers to get into the building. They also expressed doubts about Sabri’s good faith, given that he started construction without approval and still hadn’t provided architectural drawings to demonstrate the specific purpose of the porch.

“This isn’t a case where some poor guy built a deck on his house and didn’t realize he had to pull permits because he’d never done it before,” Commissioner Alissa Luepke Pier said. “This isn’t his first rodeo.”

Sabri said the covered porch would help alleviate congestion on 24th Street by preventing trucks from parking on the street to unload. Security would allow only merchants into the parking lot.

“It is strictly for delivery,” Sabri said, “instead of us always having conflicts of them parking in the middle of the street.”

He also said, through his lawyer, that an off-duty police officer would be cost prohibitive.