Debating what fits in Linden Hills

LINDEN HILLS — Plans to build a five-story, mixed-use building in Linden Hills have been thwarted, but the debate over what kind of buildings should be located in the neighborhood is far from finished.

The proposed Linden Corner project was shot down by the Minneapolis City Council on March 8 following appeals from residents who said it was too big for the area. The developer, Mark Dwyer, was seeking city approval to build at 43rd Street and Upton Avenue, a site now occupied by a Famous Dave’s restaurant.

Dwyer said after the decision he felt badly that he “disappointed the council members and the community” and that he and his team were exploring their options to determine if another plan could be put forward for the site.

It remained unclear when and what kind of alternative could emerge, but if and when it does it will come as neighborhood officials continue to sort out what kind of development they want to see in the community.

The Linden Hills Neighborhood Council decided after the Linden Corner project was voted down to renew their efforts to create a small area plan that would outline what kind of proposals would be embraced in the area. Such a plan was created in 1987, but was never adopted by the city council.

Neighborhood officials said that plan will serve as a framework for the renewed effort, and that they hoped setting a clear vision would help developers come up with projects they could be confident the community would support.

“Hopefully, having a plan in place will prevent a scenario like this [Linden Corner] from happening again,” said Patrick Smith, co-chair of the neighborhood council.

Smith said he hoped to have the plan in place by the end of the year after holding several public meetings to collect input. Consultants are being sought to help with the effort now.

And although Linden Corner served as a catalyst, the effort could go far behind the commercial node that Dwyer hoped to build in. The entire neighborhood — including residential areas — could be included.

The broad scope is due in part to concerns over teardowns of single-family homes and development in other commercial areas, officials said.

“It’s just a matter of time before underutilized areas are developed,” Smith said.

One such project that is already getting attention is Sunnyside Flats, a development that calls for a 62-unit building at 45th Street and France Avenue, just south of the commercial area that includes the Linden Hills Co-op and France 44 Wines and Spirits.

The $12-million project would be five stories tall on the side facing France Avenue and four stories in the rear. It would also include two levels of underground parking and retail space.

The site is currently occupied by a smaller apartment building and a single-family home. Some neighbors say the proposal is inconsistent with current zoning and out of character with the area.

“It just doesn’t fit,” said Ken Stone, a nearby resident who is leading the effort to oppose the proposal. “It’s just going to be a huge wall down France Avenue.”

Stone said residents who opposed the Linden Corner project have been offering advice from their experience, and that he hopes to organize a similar campaign against the Sunnyside Flats proposal. He had begun to circulate a petition and said he was willing continue his fight for as long as it took.

But Scott Carlston, president of Carlston Real Estate Inc., said several local business owners have spoken in favor of the project, and that it will serve as a much-needed option for residents who want to stay in the area but are ready to leave their single-family homes.

Carlston said the building would be difficult to downsize because a certain level of income is needed to pay for the building, which he said would be privately financed. The rent structure has yet to be determined, but some of the units will be considered affordable, Carlston said.

“Residents want small buildings and affordable units, and those two things don’t always work together,” he said.

Whatever happens with the project — as well as the Linden Corner site and the forthcoming planning effort — neighborhood leaders said they hoped the community could reunite after a period of turmoil.

Councilmember Betsy Hodges, who represents Linden Hills and opposed the Linden Corner project, said she hoped residents would come together, whatever their feelings on the developments in the neighborhood.

“While we may disagree about a project, there’s no disagreement about the fact that we all love our neighborhood,” she said. “My hope is that we can come together and notice what we have in common.”