Bennett Lumber site targeted for LEED-certified apartments, townhomes

THE WEDGE – Developers eying Uptown’s Bennett Lumber site have presented city officials with plans for 373 new apartments and 15 new townhomes, suggesting the city’s rental market remains underserved.

Houston-based Greystar Real Estate Partners, one of the largest apartment operators in the country, brought plans for the 5.6-acre site, now an abandoned lumberyard, to the Planning Commission of the Whole for the first time on Thursday.

Though developers described the proposal as preliminary, planning commission members expressed support for the designs presented at the meeting.

As the plans stand now, the company would construct a six-story, 220-unit “U-shaped” building on the lot between Emerson and Dupont avenues. It would be stepped down to four stories on the north side.

A six-story, “L-shaped” building with 153 apartments would be built on the western lot, between Emerson and Fremont avenues. The north end of that lot would also include a group of 15 two- to three-story townhomes.

The developments would come in addition to a six-story building with 203 apartments that city officials approved in July 2011. Work on that project, on the east end of the Bennett property between Dupont and Colfax avenues, is expected to begin in a matter of weeks.

All of the buildings would be LEED certified, and there would be 1.2 enclosed parking stalls per unit. The plans also call for a promenade and improvements such as new lighting and landscaping meant to create a connection to the Midtown Greenway, which sits just south of the site.

Developers are meeting with neighborhood leaders and the Midtown Greenway to be sure the plans have broad support, and say they hope to return with more specific plans in the coming months.

David Reid, who is managing Greystar’s Midwest developments, said the designs have already received support from neighborhood leaders, however. And while Midtown Greenway leaders have expressed concerns about shadowing when presented with other developments along the trail, they too have been receptive to the designs.

A shadow study has not yet been completed, and the group will not take a position on it until designs are complete. But the Midtown Greenway’s executive director, Soren Jensen, said Greystar “continues to create designs that we believe are very Greenway friendly.”

Jensen and other Greenway leaders met with the developers on Thursday, and suggested a few tweaks to the design thought to improve the buildings’ connection to the trail. They also suggested the developers consider incorporating a retail element or restaurant into the project.

Reid declined to say exactly how much Greystar expected to invest in the development, but described the project as costing “several hundred million dollars.” The work would be privately financed.

Reid said the company is investing in the area because the city’s apartment market remains underserved, with nearby apartment buildings at or near capacity.

The apartments Greystar wants to build would be distinct from other apartment projects in the area because the units would be larger, he added. The exact mix of bedrooms and rents is still being worked out.

Jim Gearen, among the investors who sold the eastern property to Greystar, said this week that Greystar must exercise its option to purchase the sites where the additional units are planned by the end of the year.

The properties include 2820 and 2828 Dupont Ave. S, 2812 and 2828 Emerson Ave. S. and 1209 W. 28th St.