Opposition mounts to proposed 43rd & Upton redevelopment

LINDEN HILLS — Mark Dwyer’s vision for a five-floor, mixed-use building at the corner of 43rd & Upton is running into stiff neighborhood opposition.

According to Linden Hills residents opposed to the proposed development, more than 400 people have signed a petition asking City Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) not to support the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) Dwyer needs to build a five-floor structure at the corner. Without the permit, the Linden Corner development can’t exceed three floors.  

Dwyer’s $22 million plan involves tearing down the converted gas station currently home to Famous Dave’s and an adjacent office building along Upton Avenue. Those buildings would be replaced by a 59-foot mixed-use building featuring a restaurant, five commercial spaces and a large office on the first level, with 32 to 34 one- to three-bedroom condos on the upper floors.

There would be 136 total parking stalls on site, 122 underground and 14 surface spots.

Since Dwyer — a longtime Linden Hills resident and president of the neighborhood’s business association — first went public with his plan last spring, opposition has coalesced around concerns about the proposed building’s height and intensity.  

Lesley Lydell, chair of the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council (LHiNC), said “the thing that gets people energized for good or ill is looking at the scale of the project. That’s really the crux of the issue.”

Though Linden Corner wouldn’t be the tallest building in Linden Hills — that distinction belongs to the seven-floor condo building on the top of the hill at 44th & Upton — some residents are concerned the size and intensity of Dwyer’s proposed development will damage the “village within a city” feel of the neighborhood.

Deb Pierce, a 15-year neighborhood resident and former LHiNC member, said she and many of her neighbors are concerned about “over development.”

“People want to be able to walk [in the neighborhood] and know each other instead of dealing with a traffic jam,” she said. “That’s not what we want — the human scale is why we live here and have worked hard to keep it this way.”

None of the Linden Corner opponents interviewed for this report said they are opposed to the redevelopment of 43rd & Upton as such, but all said they want any new structures to conform to the city’s Neighborhood Commercial District zoning code. That code limits height for buildings of the type Dwyer is proposing to 42 feet without a CUP.

Laurie Foster, Linden Hills resident and former co-chair of LHiNC, acknowledged “something should really move into Linden Hills” and said “the neighborhood could really use revitalization,” but added that “the zoning is three floors for a reason.”

Granting Linden Corner a CUP could lead to “a very slippery slope” culminating in other tall, intense developments coming to the neighborhood, Foster said.

Not all residents are opposed to Dwyer’s vision for Linden Corner. Felicity Britton, a 15-year neighborhood resident and executive director of Linden Hills Power & Light, said she thinks the vocal opposition overshadows a significant proportion of neighborhood residents who have no objection to the project.

“I know Mark will do a beautiful job and so my concern is that somebody else will come in and build an ugly three-story box on that corner,” she said. “There are thousands of people who don’t oppose (the project), but they aren’t out there getting petitions signed.”

Britton added that Linden Corner’s commercial space would help revitalize a business node that still hasn’t recovered from the Linden Hills Co-op’s departure almost a year ago.

“Our little businesses are hurting. (Linden Corner) will bring vitality and I don’t see a big impact with traffic,” she said.  

Dwyer doesn’t have any plans to reduce the height of his proposed building in response to the petition drive. He said that reducing Linden Corner by even one floor would force him to eliminate some of the amenities that will make the building such an asset for the neighborhood, such as high-quality limestone and brick finishes, an ornate cornice above the third floor and upper-floor step-backs.

But opponents, such as resident Christopher Maddox, argue that making the redevelopment of 43rd & Upton profitable isn’t the neighborhood’s concern.

“I like the fact that Mark is a local person, but we feel the plan is so wrong. If another developer came in, they’re still going to have to comply with code, “ Maddox said, adding that he’s “never felt so strongly that something is wrong for the community in which I live.”

Dwyer said he’ll be submitting plans to the Planning Commission’s Committee of the Whole for informal review this month, with a formal review before the Planning Commission tentatively slated to take place in early October.

In the meantime, LHiNC plans to solicit more public feedback. The Linden Corner plan is on the agenda for the Aug. 9 LHiNC meeting, a special community meeting about the proposed development will be scheduled for sometime later in the month and the board will formally vote on whether to support Dwyer’s vision for 43rd & Upton before the CUP and site plan are considered by the Planning Commission.

“We’re not going to hold off until the last possible minute — we want to make sure feedback is heard earlier in the process,” Lydell said.

Reach Aaron Rupar at [email protected]