Planning Commisson OKs Track 29 project

In another sign that residential development activity in Uptown is picking up, the Minneapolis Planning Commission approved a site plan for the Track 29 apartment project in Lowry Hill East.

According to the development plan, Track 29 will be a 198-unit, two-building project at the corner of the Midtown Greenway and Bryant Avenue South. Both buildings will five stories. One building will front along the Greenway, the other along Bryant Ave.

Minneapolis-based Phoenix Development Company, LLC, recently presented the Track 29 plans to the Lowry Hill East neighborhood board. Citing concerns about the quality of the building design, materials and color scheme, the board voted 9-1 against supporting the site plan.

Despite neighborhood concerns, the city’s Planning Commission approved the development’s site plan Feb. 7. Planning staff recommended approval of the site plan, concluding that the Track 29 plans are consistent with city ordinance and advisory plans for Uptown and the Greenway.

Bill Casey, president of the Midtown Lofts Condominium Association, a property near the proposed project, said that he planned to file a formal appeal of the Planning Commission’s site plan approval on behalf of his association and some single-family homeowners in the area later that day. The LHENA neighborhood board was set to discuss whether to support Casey’s appeal during its Feb. 16 meeting.

Regardless of what LHENA decides to do, if an appeal is made, the issue will come before the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee at its March meeting.

“We aren’t against this development. We hope to have something built and have no desire for the lot to remain empty,” Casey said. “We would just really like to see [Track 29] be a little more in-tune with the neighborhood.”

In particular, Casey said he objects to the five-floor height of the building on the north side of the property. He said he thinks that building ought to be shorter, which would facilitate a more seamless step-down from the taller, higher-density uses along the Greenway to the one or two-floor housing units to the north.

Other neighbors raised concerns about the safety of routing incoming and outgoing traffic from the development onto Bryant Avenue, a narrow two-way street designated as a Bicycle Boulevard by the city.  

Track 29 construction would likely start late summer or in the fall.

“It’s typical, because what has to happen [after site plan approval] is you have to go complete your financing. And typically, developers won’t do constructional-level drawings until [after approval] because it is such a huge expense,” Brueggemann said.

From 2006 to 2009, it was more the exception than the norm for construction to actually begin on multi-unit residential developments approved by the Planning Commission, indicating that developers often had difficulty obtaining financing for their projects.  

According to city stats, out of 74 10-unit or more residential developments approved by the Planning Commission from 2006 to 2009, only 33 projects have been either partially or fully completed, meaning most never advanced beyond the conceptual stage. The city has not yet compiled data for last year.

But Thatcher Imboden, president of the Uptown Association, said that Uptown’s low apartment vacancy rate indicates that there is demand for the construction of more rental units.

Minneapolis-based Marquette Advisors reported that while there was a citywide 4.2 percent apartment vacancy rate at the end of last September, the vacancy rate in Southwest was 3.4 percent.

However, three major apartment developments — one at the intersection of Lake & Knox, the second at W. 28th Street and Fremont, and the third at W. 28th Street and Lyndale — are already under construction, raising the question of how much new rental construction is enough to satisfy existing demand.

In addition to Track 29, the LHENA board recently supported plans for an apartment development along the Greenway between Dupont & Colfax and was set to discuss plans for a proposed “workforce housing” project at 1006 W. Lake St. at its Feb. 16 meeting.