Another debate about height

Developers who presented plans for a 13-story apartment building north of Lake Calhoun are evaluating their options after facing resistance from neighbors who said such a project would be too large for the site.     

The Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association’s board of directors voted in April to oppose plans for a new apartment building on the 2622 W. Lake St. property, a vacant parcel that sits just east of the Calhoun Beach Club. 

Golden Valley-based Bigos Development has not yet purchased the site, but put three separate designs for the property in front of the neighborhood group to gauge their reactions. 

The designs included a plan for a 13-story, 136-foot-tall building with around 170 units and an 88-foot, 8-story, “L” shaped building that would have a broader footprint on the 1.5-acre lot. A “C” shaped, 56-foot-tall building was also offered but not seriously discussed, according to neighborhood leaders. 

The Calhoun Beach Club apartment building is 12 stories and around 130 feet tall, but a resolution passed by the neighborhood group suggests another, similarly-sized building would be “invasive to the neighborhood.”

Neighborhood leaders say the building would disrupt views for those living in the Calhoun Beach Club and loom over the Midtown Greenway and residences that sit north of the site.

They also point to city zoning rules that place the site in a Shoreland Overlay District. The rules apply to buildings within 1,000 feet of a body of water and seek to limit building height to 35 feet or two-and-a-half stories, whichever is lower. 

City officials have not received an application from Bigos to develop the site, but could allow a project that exceeds the zoning height limits to move forward by approving a conditional use permit. 

Wayne Vasilis, the director of physical operations for Bigos, said the plans were being evaluated in the wake of the neighborhood’s vote, however. He said there was no specific timeline for bringing alternatives back to the neighborhood. 

If Bigos continues to push plans that exceed the zoning limits, they will have some precedent on their side. 

The Edgewater Condos, a six-story building at 1805 W. Lake St., and the Lake & Knox apartments, a five-story, 56-foot building at 1728 W. Lake St., were both approved despite being in the Shoreland Overlay District. 

Developers behind the Lake & Knox project originally sought to build a six-story building, but faced similar opposition from neighborhood groups worried about the size of the building. 

Daniel Oberpriller, one of the developers behind the Lake & Knox project, said the development needed to exceed the height limits in order to make the $16 million project work financially. 

Oberpriller said he had looked into developing the Lake Street site, and would likely have faced a similar challenge there. High-rise construction poses significant costs that can only be recouped by adding levels, he said.

“You can’t build something that can’t be financed,” Oberpriller said. 

The project is also being looked at by the Midtown Greenway’s board of directors, because it sits just south of the bike trail. 

The group has not taken a formal position on Bigos’ proposal, but executive director Soren Jensen said the group is concerned about potential shadowing impacts from the development. 

He and neighborhood leaders say they are not opposed to the property being developed, but say they would rather see a lower building that is set back from the trail.

“Coming up with designs is not our job, it’s the developers job,” said Mike Wilson, who sits on both the CIDNA and Midtown Greenway boards. “We’re just giving them ideas.”

Robert Corrick, the chair of the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association’s land use and development committee, said developers have so far appeared unwilling to negotiate, however.

“[The developers] had a vision from the start that an iconic tower on the site is the best way to develop this property,” Corrick said.

Vasilis declined to discuss what kind of alternatives were being explored now. 

This is not the first development planned for the site, one of the only vacant, developable properties around Lake Calhoun.

Once home to the Weisman Enterprises building, the land was cleared in 2006 by the Lander Group amid plans to build 86- and 70-foot towers with high-end condominiums.

Those plans, which stepped down two stories on the buildings’ north sides, were supported by the neighborhood, but faltered amid the economic collapse.

Bigos’ effort to build on the site comes at the same time it tries to expand the Calhoun Greenway apartments, off Chowen Avenue. 

Planning commission officials who looked at plans for a new six-story building in April asked the developers to rework their design so that it would have less parking, and to look at breaking up the building.

Though the 72-foot building that has been proposed is within the zoning limits, there are concerns that it would shadow the adjacent Midtown Greenway for up to four months. 

Architects behind the project agreed at the April meeting to reconsider their plans and have meet with Midtown Greenway officials to explore alternative designs. Bigos hopes to meet with city Planning Commission members again in June. 

The Midtown Greenway’s board of directors opposes the plans as they’ve been presented, but Jensen said he is hopeful a compromise will emerge. 

Shadowing concerns also emerged earlier this year after plans for a mixed-use building in Lyn Lake were put forward. Developers in that case agreed to set the building back to limit the shadowing impacts.  

Jensen said he is disappointed that his group has to continue reminding developers about shadowing impacts, but said he is pleased city officials seem sensitive to the group’s concerns. 

“It does seem like the planning commission is taking the issue of shadowing seriously,” he said. 

Reach Drew Kerr at [email protected]