Planning Commission approves applications for Sons of Norway project

Rendering courtesy City of Minneapolis

The City Planning Commission on Jan. 22 approved six applications for the proposed Sons of Norway mixed-use project on Lake Street in Uptown.

The commission unanimously approved applications to allow for a conditional-use permit and to rezone part of the site to allow for more density and a taller building. It also approved a variance to allow for a larger building footprint, among other applications.

“This is one of the most urban and walkable places in the city of Minneapolis,” Planning Commissioner Sam Rockwell said. “… If this kind of development isn’t appropriate here, I’m not sure where it is appropriate.”

Ryan Companies has proposed a two-building, 319-unit project for the site, which includes most of the block between Lake and 31st streets and Holmes and Humboldt avenues. The project would have 23,000 square feet for commercial uses, including 16,000 feet for Sons of Norway, the fraternal and cultural organization that currently resides in a building on the site.

The two buildings would be connected by a five-story glass walkway. The northern building would include all of the retail and commercial uses, which would be located at ground level along Lake Street. The southern building would be five stories and 59 feet tall and would include ground floor walk-up units and ground-level parking.

The project would also include one level of underground parking spanning the entirety of the project site and a total of 323 parking spaces. In addition, there would be 15,000 square feet of backyard space, which would include green space and a skating rink in the winter.

Tony Barranco, vice president of real estate development for Ryan Companies, said the project is a great opportunity to “bring life” to the site. He noted that the site currently has environmental contamination and no active stormwater management.

Barranco said there has been wide support for the project, except from East Calhoun residents who are concerned about height near the southern edge of the site. He said Ryan Companies eliminated an entire story of the southern building to address those concerns.

In meetings and public comments, East Calhoun residents have also expressed concerns that the project would exacerbate traffic congestion in an already busy neighborhood. Several dozen wrote to city officials urging them to reject Ryan Companies’ application to rezone the site to allow for higher density.

“While we recognize the desire of the City to facilitate new housing construction, we feel developers are excessively targeting this desirable neighborhood such that it will become undesirable,” the East Calhoun Community Organization board wrote.

In their letter, the ECCO board noted that the southern half of the site is zoned to allow for buildings up to four stories. They asked what the purpose is of a comprehensive plan if the city ignores it.

The ECCO board also questioned the veracity of the traffic study done in conjunction with the project. They said that it did not take into account seasonal traffic and planned construction projects, such as the upcoming Hennepin Avenue reconstruction.

In a staff report, Senior City Planner Peter Crandall wrote that the traffic study concluded that the project would have minimum impact on traffic and road functionality in the area.

Crandall also wrote that the project is in line with the city’s comprehensive plan, which guides plans for development. He said the project would allow for a greater density of housing units in a high-demand area of the city.

Planning Commissioners appeared to agree with Crandall’s assessment. At the Jan. 22 meeting, Rockwell said the city has an obligation to think about creating developments for people who don’t have cars. Commission Vice President John Slack said he thinks the site is the one in the Uptown area that needs to be denser.

Planning commissioners did attach three conditions to Ryan Companies’ conditional-use permit, including one requiring parts of the southern building’s fifth floor to be set back six feet. But Barranco said Ryan Companies will be able to make that work, though it will likely lead to fewer units.

“We’re very excited,” he said about the project. “… We’re just excited to take the next steps in the process, with the hopes of getting started this spring.”