Linden Crossing developer Mark Dwyer has approval from the city’s Planning Commission to move ahead with a revised project that allows him to build a fourth story for his condo project planned for 43rd & Upton.
The commission approved his application for a conditional use permit July 14.
Dwyer already had city approval to build three stories at 43rd & Upton, the site currently home to Famous Dave’s. The additional 14 feet in height would give him space for four rooftop condos set back 12 or more feet from the wall edge. The building’s first story would have space for four retailers, possibly including a jeweler, an orthodontist, and a real estate or insurance office.
Dwyer said the housing market is stronger than it was a year ago, allowing him to build a higher-end project.
“Since we got this approved, there have been large increases in construction costs,” Dwyer said. “This is a very fair and negotiated result of what’s been a five-year process.”
The Planning Commission decision can be appealed to the Zoning & Planning Committee, with the final decision resting with the City Council.
Pending city approval, preliminary site work would likely begin in October, with groundbreaking in November. In order to start construction, eight units must have purchase agreements with 20 percent down payments. At that level of presales, the project would have enough money for completion, Dwyer said.
At a July 9 neighborhood meeting, some residents spoke in support of the project, calling the building “handsome” and saying Minneapolis will inevitably become more dense over time. Others raised concerns about the potential four-story height.
Linden Hills resident Dona Clark wondered what would stop future developers from proposing buildings of five or more stories if Dwyer’s project is approved.
“Once that precedent has been set, how does that affect the future?” she said.
“I can promise you, you shouldn’t come to this neighborhood and ask for five stories,” Dwyer said in response.
Dwyer said that given the project’s street-level experience, upper-story setbacks and minimal shadowing, it “may not be the worst precedent to have set.”
One resident told the room that growth in Linden Hills is natural: the neighborhood once consisted of farmland, and today is convenient to mass transit.
“Incremental change is part of what makes us a city,” he said. “We can expect all of Minneapolis to be denser than it is now.”
The controversy over Linden Crossing (previously called Linden Corner) prompted the neighborhood to craft a small area plan to guide future development.
“I want to reinforce that the neighborhood spent two years and $60,000 [on the plan],” said Ken Stone, who volunteered on the neighborhood’s small area plan steering committee. “It seems like we’re ignoring this huge effort by the neighborhood.”
Linden Hills’ small area plan, featuring language on height recommended by Mayor Betsy Hodges, says development in neighborhood commercial nodes could reach three or four stories. The plan encourages “heights that reflect the adjacent architectural context” and “buildings that are shorter than the current Zoning Code maximums for 3 and 4 story buildings (42 feet and 56 feet respectively).”
Constance Pepin, a Linden Hills Neighborhood Council (LHiNC) Board Member who spoke as a neighborhood resident, said the small area plan would not foresee the four-story, 56-foot Linden Crossing project at 43rd & Upton.*
“This is not compromise, this is coercion,” she said, referring to the small area plan.
Pepin asked Dwyer if he ever considered a 44-foot building, a number that would accommodate four stories which LHiNC approved in an earlier draft of the small area plan.
Dwyer said he didn’t want the ceiling heights that a 44-foot building would necessitate, particularly with standard retail ceiling heights at 13 or 14 feet.
“I don’t know how that would work in a mixed-use product with first-floor retail and anything anybody would want to live in,” he said. “By the time you do retail right and condos right, you’re at 56 feet.”
Resident Carol Greenwald said the small area plan talked about a desire for Linden Hills to attract more diversity. She said the project instead caters to people who own mansions and want to downsize.
“I would rather see people who want to downsize who can’t afford to live here,” she said.
“We don’t have any of this product either,” Dwyer said. “It’s single-level living for people who can pay more to do it.”
He said many of the prospective buyers love Linden Hills and are empty-nesters from the lakes area, Edina or Wayzata. The current prices for the units are $600,000-$1.5 million, and he said he has reservations or purchase agreements for nine units.
Dwyer said his project is attracting an entirely different demographic than the original five-story, 40-unit project the City Council denied in 2012. Those units would have cost $400,000-$500,000, he said, and he generated a list of nearly 200 interested people, many of them requesting anonymity amidst the controversy.
“That list of people isn’t looking at this project now,” he said.
Resident Edward Crandall said he’s surprised that Dwyer hasn’t picked up and moved his project to Edina.
“If he leaves, be careful what you wish for, because you’re not going to get a development like this,” he said. “At some point, if this is shut down, that’s going to drive a bigger development later. Negotiate and make it work.”
LHiNC Zoning Committee member Larry LaVercombe said any future request for six or more stories in the neighborhood’s C1 Neighborhood Commercial Districts would likely be a long shot, but five stories might be plausible — the Planning Commission originally approved Dwyer’s five-story project in 2012, though the decision was later overturned.
LHiNC Zoning Committee member Jeff Magnuson said he was concerned about the method used for the additional height request: a conditional use permit, rather than a more extensive rezoning process. He mentioned concerns raised in 2012 by then-Council Member Gary Schiff, who said the method was an “end-run around the zoning code.”
The C1 zoning district allows heights up to 42 feet; Linden Crossing’s height would be 56 feet.
“If the city said this wasn’t the proper process the last time, why are we doing this again?” Magnuson asked.
Asked about the project’s four retail spaces, Dwyer said he has interest from an orthodontia business and an area jeweler. Another space would likely be occupied by an office tenant like a real estate or insurance office. He’s not sure who might occupy a 2,100-square-foot space that faces Zumbro.
*This story has been updated to clarify Constance Pepin's comments and note that she was speaking as a neighborhood resident, rather than on behalf of LHiNC.