Linden “corner “project “moves ahead

Proposed Linden Corner development secures approvals from city’s Planning Commission

LINDEN HILLS — It’s been nearly four years since Mark Dwyer began sharing his plans to bring a mixed-use development to the commercial core of Linden Hills.

This may be the year he finally sees his idea come to fruition.

Dwyer, the developer behind what’s known as Linden Corner, recently obtained a series of zoning exceptions from the Minneapolis Planning Commission that he needed to move forward with a 90,000-square-foot building planned for 43rd and Upton Avenue.

And while significant obstacles remain — including a possible lawsuit from neighbors who oppose the plan and an unresolved question about a city-owned pocket park on the site — Dwyer said he believes construction could still begin as early as this year.

“What’s right is right, and I think what’s right will prevail here,” Dwyer said in an interview after the Planning Commission voted 6-1 in favor of a series of requests related to the $20 million project.

The forward momentum for Dwyer and his team comes as a setback for those who have fought the project and sought further environmental review from the city.

The project has become a lightning rod in the community, splitting neighbors and business owners — a divide that was in evidence at the recent Planning Commission meeting. A show of hands taken at the meeting showed the room to be evenly split, and nearly two hours of testimony revealed deep divisions between the two sides.

Proponents argue the project is precisely the kind of dense development the city needs to boost population, build a tax base and support local businesses. They also say it would provide a needed housing option for empty nesters who want to give up their homes but remain in the area.

Opponents, including many longtime residents, say they are afraid the project will upset property values and mar the neighborhood’s small-town aesthetic. Those arguments have won support from board members on the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council, which voted on Feb. 7 to oppose the project.

The board’s vote has no legal standing, but will be taken into consideration by city officials left to resolve outstanding issues and consider any appeals of the Planning Commission’s vote.

The land targeted for development currently houses a Famous Dave’s restaurant, a city-owned pocket park maintained by residents and surface parking lots.

Opponents have focused much of their attention on the request to allow a five-story, 59-foot tall building. Zoning rules limit construction to three stories and 42 feet on the site, but allows 90,000 square feet of total building space.

Dwyer has argued that a taller building is the best way to utilize the available space. If the building were limited in height, the project could require as many as 74 apartments to be financially feasible, rather than the 40 one- to three-bedroom condominiums included in the current plans, he said.

“There will be change here, and there will be a large building,” said Dwyer, a longtime neighborhood resident embarking on his first development project. “I’d like it to look nice.”

The project plans also call for six retail spaces, a restaurant, an office space that could potentially be used as a co-working space and a patio area. Dwyer hopes to take ownership of the commercial space after the project is built.

There would also be 135 parking spaces, primarily in an underground lot that will be partially dedicated to building residents.

Several members of the Planning Commission — hearing from residents about the project for the first time in early February — seemed to embrace Dwyer’s vision, and said such developments are to be expected in an urban setting.

“We have to recognize that we have chosen to live in a city, and that it is a dense environment,” said planning commission president David Motzenbecker, who described the proposal as “low density.”

The only commission member to voice objections to the plans was Gary Schiff, who also sits on the City Council.

Schiff expressed concerns about traffic impacts and said he was “honestly surprised” that the zoning code even allowed such a project to be considered in an area like Linden Hills. The proposal goes “way beyond the intent of the code,” he said.

Despite the Planning Commission approvals, residents who oppose the project have vowed to continue fighting.

Opponents had 10 days from the approvals to file appeals, and though no immediate decision was made, Jane Prince, an attorney representing residents who have fought the proposal, said such a move was likely.  

Appeals are heard by the City Council’s Planning and Zoning Committee. No time or date had been set for such a meeting as of press time.

“[The Planning Commission’s decision] was not unexpected because of the staff recommendations that were made, but we’re hopeful that once we get to the Zoning and Planning Committee that elected officials will listen to their constituents,” said Jean Johnson, who lives a block from the site where the project would be built.

Failing a successful appeal, opponents could also file a lawsuit seeking to stop the project from moving forward.

Dwyer said he expects such a lawsuit to be filed, but says that he has invested too heavily in the project to be cowed into backing down now. Long-term, he said he hopes residents who dislike the change will come to see it as a net win for the community.

“I don’t plan to do this and leave, I plan to do this and stay,” he said. “And my hope is that they’ll fall in love with it and people see it not as an example of what not to do, but as something that sets the standard for what to do.”

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