Sunlight at stake in Greenway developments

Latest building project stepped-back for more light

THE WEDGE — The developers behind a six-story, mixed-use building in the Lyn-Lake area won approval for their plans after agreeing to build the project in a way that will allow more sunlight to reach the Midtown Greenway.

Midtown Greenway Coalition officials asked the developers, Greco Properties, to use a stepped-down design for their proposed building on Lyndale Avenue, just south of trail, so that the building’s shadow would be reduced. The concern was that the Greco building would cast a shadow over portions of the Greenway for more than three months during the winter, when sunlight is crucial for clearing ice and snow from the popular bikeway.

The $33-million project won approval from the City Council on March 8 only after Greco agreed to set the entire building further back from the Midtown Greenway, a move that will reduce the shadowing period by around three weeks.

The council vote followed an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval in February filed by the coalition’s board of directors.

The unnamed building will still have 171 apartments. But a plaza area, 68 public parking spaces, a rooftop area for a restaurant and a sign on the top of the building that would have served to identify and promote the Lyn-Lake area were eliminated to allow for the setback.

Greco President Arnie Gregory said he was disappointed to see so many amenities lost, and he questioned why his plans were denied while MoZaic, which is 112 feet tall and also sits just south of the Greenway, was allowed to be built.

Gregory also said he could have built a 56-foot building — without having to seek special approval — that would have cast a greater shadow than the building he wanted to construct, and that there wasn’t a good discussion of the trade-offs required to meet the coalition’s demands.

“I didn’t want to build this building,” Gregory said. “That’s why I didn’t suggest it. It’s going to do a lot less for the neighborhood than we could have.”

But Soren Jensen, the executive director of the coalition, described the outcome as a “win-win” that would help solidify the coalition’s position: Builders should do whatever they can to avoid projects that could create shadows.

“I think at this point it’s time to celebrate what we think is a real win-win for Lyn-Lake and the Midtown Greenway,” Jensen said. “We were always very supportive of the project, we just wanted a different design.”

At least three other projects along the Greenway are being planned now.

One is at the Bennett Lumber site between Fremont and Colfax avenues along West 29th Street, a project that coalition officials have embraced. Others are located at the old Weisman Enterprises site and off Chowen Avenue. A coalition committee recently voted not to support a six-story building proposal for the Chowen Avenue site out of concern the building would shadow the trail for four months of the year.

Jensen said he hopes to have a working relationship with developers so that the corridor could be enhanced without sacrificing the Greenway.  

“Our message to developers is: ‘Yes, please build along the Greenway, but also realize there are rules,’” he said.