Expanded pedestrian district would boost density, promote foot traffic

An expanded pedestrian overlay district would include areas like Franklin & Hennepin.

Uptown’s commercial streets are under scrutiny, and city officials may expand regulations for new development that would promote density, limit the vehicles in view and focus on pedestrians.

Under the new rules, a developer could never create a block like the one home to Arby’s at Lake & Emerson. Parking lots would be limited to 40 feet of street frontage. New buildings would rise at least two stories. A new drive-through and a new fast food building couldn’t be constructed.

Council Members Lisa Goodman and Lisa Bender are proposing an expansion of the city’s pedestrian-oriented overlay district. The scope of the impacted area includes Hennepin and Lyndale avenues south of Franklin and north of 31st, Lagoon Avenue from Humboldt to Dupont, Nicollet Avenue from 29th to 31st, and West Lake Street from Knox to I-35W.

Pedestrian overlay Map-page-001

The proposal comes after city Planning Commissioners and neighborhood residents voiced displeasure with recent “suburban-style” developments, including a new Walgreens slated to replace Roat Osha at 27th & Hennepin.

“We were upset that all we were getting was a one-story, single-use building,” said Andrew Degerstrom, president of the East Isles Residents Association. “If we were in the Pedestrian Overlay, things might be different and we might actually get something a little bit better.”

Minneapolis Principal Planner Brian Schaffer said new regulations are modeled after cities like Portland, Seattle and Chicago, and most are already in use elsewhere in Minneapolis.

The following is a rundown of some of the proposed design guidelines:

— A building could not downsize to a smaller number of stories.

— New buildings would rise at least two full floors in height.

— Principal parking lots would be prohibited, with the exception of parking ramps.

— New development could rise at least four stories or 56 feet as of right. That holds true for blocks that currently have C1 zoning, where regulations normally allow just two-and-a-half stories or 35 feet as of right.

Schaffer said the change would give property owners an even playing field.

“There is a desire to make sure these properties are really the same along the entire corridor and have the same height requirements,” he said. “…Buildings that have more density help create that pedestrian traffic.”

— At least 40 percent of a public street-facing façade should be glass.

— Nonresidential development would not need to provide off-street parking, but would be required to provide bicycle parking.

— The first floor of buildings would be located no more than eight feet from the front lot line. Space between the building and the lot line should include amenities like landscaping, tables and seating.

“It helps create more interaction between the building and the pedestrian on the sidewalk,” Schaffer said.

He said it matches the standard of how buildings were constructed when cities were less auto-oriented.

— The main entrance on corner lots should be located no more than 15 feet from the corner. In the Walgreens development at 27th & Hennepin, Planning Commissioners ordered the primary entrance moved closer to the corner, rather than front the parking lot.

— New development would have a minimum floor area ratio of 1. As explained by the Metropolitan Council, floor area ratio (FAR) is a measurement of a building’s floor area in relation to the size of the lot. Under an FAR of 1, one story would cover the entire lot, two stories would cover half of the lot, and four stories would cover a quarter of the lot.

— New development could increase further in density if it hides parking inside or underground, creates a mix of uses, or creates affordable housing.

— Parking lots would be limited to 40 feet of street frontage. The space between Intermedia Arts and Hagen’s Auto Body on Lyndale is about 40 feet, for example. So is the space between D’Amico and Specs Optical on Hennepin. An example of too much parking space between buildings would be the Lyndale Avenue lot between Common Roots and the Lyndale Animal Hospital, which has approximately 60 feet of street frontage.

City staff considered recommending that no surface parking should front the street at all, based on resident feedback at an open house in May. But Planning Commissioners worried about the implications of that rule, Schaffer said, and they anticipated that some businesses would place primary entrances in the rear. Forty feet is enough space for a two-way drive aisle and one parking bay.

— Curb cuts at corner lots would be prohibited.

— Drive-thru facilities would be prohibited.

— Fast food restaurants could only operate in buildings that exist when rules go into effect.

— Auto services and gas stations are typically prohibited in pedestrian overlay districts. But minor auto repair shops would be allowed in Uptown so long as all vehicles and materials were stored behind or within the building. City staff cite Autopia at 24th & Hennepin and Lehman’s Garage at 54th & Lyndale as examples where vehicles appear to be stored inside.

Schaffer said existing auto businesses and parking lots would be grandfathered in, and substantial expansions or alterations would trigger a more extensive city approval process to allow noncompliance. A gas station’s remodel or general maintenance would not trigger a public hearing, but a gas station adding square footage or more pumps would see a public hearing.

Staff at the Uptown Association and Lake Street Council said they haven’t heard much feedback yet from area businesses.

John Meegan, owner of Top Shelf and board president of the LynLake Business Association, said he doesn’t think there are many places in LynLake where the changes will become an issue. The biggest impact will be seen in new construction, he said.

“It’s the way that the world is rolling,” he said. “I’m more concerned about developments being allowed with less parking restrictions. … When winter comes, everyone still drives their cars. Parking at LynLake is going to be the No. 1 thing.”

Developer Steve Minn said transit needs to be more frequent on streets like Hennepin and Lyndale to encourage more pedestrian travel. “Forced density” sends people to locations where they can more easily park, he said.

“If you don’t have light rail a block out the front door, they won’t do it,” he said. “At the end of the day, people want to own a car.”

He said pedestrian overlay districts can unintentionally handcuff developers, and he said existing design controls are adequate.

“It makes it more complicated to let developers do the things they need to do to make buildings marketable,” he said.

Dan Oberpriller of CPM Development said the city should be careful not to undermine parking for businesses.

“The last thing you want is a bunch of empty retail,” he said.

But Oberpriller said that overall, he thinks pedestrian overlay districts have been good for Minneapolis. Fewer parking requirements give small lots more potential for developers, he said.

“Over the long term, it’s probably a good thing and something people have to adjust to,” he said. “It’s good urban planning.”

Degerstrom said Hennepin Avenue holds far too many curb cuts that exit mid-block to the street. With all the street parking, he said drivers tend to creep out over the sidewalk to check oncoming traffic.

“Every single curb cut is an opportunity for a pedestrian to get hit by a car,” he said. “…Right now, Hennepin Avenue is not the most friendly pedestrian environment.”

The expanded rules would apply to two existing Pedestrian Overlay Districts in Uptown and LynLake, making all districts uniform. A separate Nicollet-Franklin pedestrian overlay would not be included.

New pedestrian rules would encompass blocks at Nicollet & Lake where city officials are working to promote redevelopment and reopen Nicollet Avenue where Kmart sits today. A Walgreens developer attempted to purchase the Supervalu site at 30 W. Lake St. last year. At the time, council members worried about a single-story Walgreens surrounded by surface parking.

Degerstrom said he’s most excited about provisions that would increase density of new development. Increased density would provide more walking destinations and shorter distances to travel, he said.

“Our No. 1 amenity is walkability,” he said.

A public comment period on the changes runs through Sept. 30, with comments going to Schaffer at [email protected]

For more information, visit the project website.