Uptown residents digest condo/office redevelopment

In the past few weeks, Uptown residents have been digesting a proposed 12-story condo building and office project slated for a parking lot behind the Lagoon Theater at Lagoon & Girard avenues.

Developers Stuart Ackerberg and Clark Gassen presented their updated at the February CARAG neighborhood meeting and later at a meeting with CARAG and Wedge residents.

Resident reaction ranged from satisfaction to outrage. Some complimented the developers for a project that would provide daytime customers – the office workers – for Uptown businesses. Others threatened to sue.

CARAG resident Sandy May said she and other homeowners were upset that the developers wanted to exceed the area’s four-story zoning height limit. "We bought [our home] under the [zoning height limit] circle," she said. "I’m unbelievably upset."

Ackerberg and his consultants listened to May’s concerns and said, "We’re listening, but we have the right to develop this site."

May later said she and other neighbors are seeking legal counsel. "We have no voice in this," she said. "We’re trying to hire an attorney and put some kind of hold on this."

Ackerberg said he wanted the city to begin considering the plan March 11 so he can start construction in June. What’s the rush? He said the planned office tenant’s lease expired in July 2006 and needs to move by August 2006. Ackerberg would not disclose the tenant’s name.

May said that the project is moving so fast that neighbors don’t yet know about it. Ackerberg responded that he’s been visiting neighborhood groups for two months and that the Southwest Journal did a cover story about the project in late January.

The area’s City Councilmember, Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) said so far the developers have done everything in accordance with city law and have met numerous times with neighborhood groups. Referring to the residents threatening a lawsuit, he said, "I don’t know how they’d stop it."

Neighborhood views are especially important because the project is expected to get a first City Council hearing Friday, March 11. The Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) and CARAG boards will also vote soon about whether to recommend that the city approve or deny the project.

The project plans

The massive project would sit on the Lagoon parking lot, behind existing Hennepin & Lagoon businesses.

The 96-unit condo building – a "tower" or a "mid-rise," depending on who you’re talking to – would be directly behind the Old Walker Library, 2901 Hennepin. A five-story 50,000-square-foot office complex behind the Lagoon Theater would house a 200-employee ad firm now in the suburbs. The 1320 Lagoon Ave. theater would also be expanded (from 800 to 1,550 seats) as part of the project.

Developers propose a mostly paved 12,000-square-foot "urban" plaza in the center of the complex. A three-story underground ramp (expanding the current 280 lot spots to 730) and 27,000 square feet of retail complete the project.

The ramp’s main entrance would be off Girard between the theater and the recently closed Bilimbi Bay, 1400 Lagoon Ave., space and a reconfigured Lagoon Theater. There will be ramp exits at Girard, Hennepin and Fremont avenues.

Since initial concepts were presented to a LHENA committee in January, the developers have reconfigured a wall bordering the Midtown Greenway and may add a vertical connection up from the Greenway to the public plaza and nearby Uptown Transit Hub. They have also added a spot for public art.

CARAG board member Howard Verson spoke positively about the project. Noting that the area’s long-held desire for more daytime jobs, Verson said, "This is potentially a really great project."

Ackerberg said the project would continue to change as part of the development process.

Concerns

While the project’s proposed ramp would add enough spaces for those new workers and condo-dwellers, some nearby residents don’t want more traffic in an already-congested area.

The city requires the developers to present a Traffic Demand Management Plan; Craig Vaughn of SRF Consulting is preparing it.

Vaughn has collected data and projected traffic in the area he said is already "rather congested." His conclusion: area congestion will be "slightly worse" 12 months after the project opens, but exact figures weren’t provided.

CARAG residents, who live south of Lake Street between Hennepin & Lyndale, are especially worried about more cars because Calhoun Square in their neighborhood is also planning an expansion.

Vaughn said he’s tweaked his traffic model’s light and signal timing, that can alter traffic projections. "It’s a balancing act," he said.

Resident Christine Ziebold, a physician, asked about the affect the additional traffic would have on the environment and about the project’s plaza, which would be made from a nonimpervious material.

Ziebold said they should consider making the plaza impervious surface. "I urge you to consider sustainable principles," she said.

Bill Baxley of BKV Group architects said they will do as much as they can, adding that the plaza is not impervious.

Residents also critiqued the condo project’s 12-story height, asking if it could be lowered. Baxley explained that the height frees up ground space for the public plaza.

The site is zoned C2 and C3, which permits no more than four stories. However, the city could approve the project’s Planed Use Development (PUD), which would allow a taller building.

Want to know more?

€ Developers will meet with Wedge and CARAG residents at a LHENA committee meeting, Wednesday, March 9, 6:30 p.m. at Jefferson School, 1200 W. 26th St.

€ The March 11 City Council meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. in Council Chambers, 450 S. 5th St., Room 317.