Development update // Building approved on Emerson

New restaurant building approved on Emerson

An Uptown parking lot is slated to become a new restaurant following the Minneapolis Planning Commission’s approval of plans at its Feb. 22 meeting.

The commission approved four variances — three for setback reductions and one eliminating off-street parking requirements — for a two-story, 4,500-square-foot building at 3005 Emerson Ave. S. The structure’s second story would consist of a mezzanine level for dining. Other features include an outdoor patio, full kitchen, bar and main-floor dining area.   

No tenant has been named and construction isn’t scheduled to begin until that is finalized.  

Leading the project is area developer Clark Gassen, well known for hundreds of controversial condominium conversions and some major developments including The Edgewater at 1805 W. Lake St. and Lumen on Lagoon (in partnership with The Ackerberg Group) at Lagoon and Emerson avenues.   

Gassen, who at one point also operated his own real estate company in Uptown, had been out of the limelight for years as the market slumped and he became entangled in legal battles with condo associations. He told the Planning Commission Feb. 22 that he wanted the Emerson development to be an amenity for the community and he had been working with the local neighborhood association to make that happen.

He said he envisioned a restaurant similar to Lucia’s or Café Maude and distanced his plans from late-night establishments such as Drink and Stella’s Fish Cafe.  

“When I bought this property, my intent was to hire a design team to create a small, boutique space,” Gassen said. “I didn’t want controversy.”

He scrapped earlier plans for a rooftop patio after the neighborhood disapproved and offered to fix illegal ductwork on a neighboring building at no charge to the property owner. His team said they met with neighboring residents and worked to come up with a building that did not invade those peoples’ privacy, reduce their views or add other disruptions to their lives.   

Still, not everyone was on board with the project as it was proposed.

Some residents argued the plans went against the Uptown Small Area Plan, though city planner Hilary Dvorak said she interpreted the plan differently and the site’s commercial zoning made the use appropriate.

The Calhoun Area Residents Action Group (CARAG) recommended the Planning Commission deny three of the four variances, two of which sought setback reductions and another that asked for a reduction in off-street parking spaces from eight to zero. The neighborhood group recommended approval of a third setback variance.

CARAG said in a letter to the commission that parking would be an issue because of the restaurant’s intensive use, nearby permit parking restrictions and limited spots in the area. Gassen’s team argued that ample parking was available and that foot traffic and the proximity to the Midtown Greenway would lessen parking issues. Bal Arora owns that building, which houses Delights of India and apartments on the second floor. City planners recently found out the south-facing windows of Arora’s property were illegally placed, so building right up to them was technically not an issue.

Arora argued that the windows were there when he purchased the property and pleaded with the commission not to allow a variance reducing a setback from seven to zero feet on that side. He feared losing a tenant if the variance was approved.

“I request please help me and leave my property and income intact,” he said.

The commission ended up approving a variance for a setback of three feet along Arora’s building. All other variances were approved along with the site plan with the following conditions:

— The site needs a total of eight bicycle spaces

— Gassen was encouraged to consider the use of valet parking

— The patio gate has to be locked from the inside and can only be used by staff, except during an emergency

— A planting area near the patio has to be increased in width by 5 feet, so the patio is at least 20 feet from the south property line

— The city must approve the final site, elevation, lighting and landscaping plans

— All site improvements need to be completed by Feb. 22, 2011, unless extended by the city’s zoning administrator.

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Other Planning Commission actions

— After a long debate about whether Calhoun Square’s plans for multiple sign additions created too much clutter, the Planning Commission voted to approve a modification to the building’s conditional use permit, allowing an additional 92-square-feet of signage along Lake Street and new signs for the parking ramp and a vacated portion of Girard Avenue. The commission opted to postpone a decision on requests for additional signage.

— The commission unanimously approved plans for a Lifetime Fitness yoga, pilates and spa facility in the former Walker Library building at 2901 Hennepin Ave. S. Lifetime Spokesman Jason Thunstrom said an opening date has not been set yet.

— The commission unanimously approved plans for a 24,000-square-foot mausoleum addition at Lakewood Cemetery, 3600 Hennepin Ave. The new building will be located to the north of the existing mausoleum.