The redevelopment of a key Uptown site is moving ahead despite an attempt by the East Calhoun Community Organization to reduce the scale of a proposed mixed-use project.
ECCO argued that the planned 7-story development on the Sons of Norway site at 1455 W. Lake St. was too tall and, with 319 proposed residential units and 23,000 square feet of commercial and office space, too dense for the popular, bustling neighborhood near Bde Maka Ska. It appealed the Planning Commission’s decision in January to grant six land-use applications for the project, including one to rezone a portion of the site to high-density R6 from medium-density R4.
The City Council Zoning and Planning Committee denied the appeal Feb. 15 on a 3–1 vote. Council Member Lisa Goodman was the lone dissenter. Voting to deny the appeal were council members Jeremy Schroeder and Kevin Reich and Council President Lisa Bender.
A project of Weidner Apartment Homes with developer Ryan Companies, the project would replace the Sons of Norway’s three-story headquarters and a large surface parking lot near the heart of Uptown. The plan includes two structures connected via a five-story glass walkway and a rounded tower at the corner of Lake & Humboldt.
More than 20 people spoke during the public hearing, and roughly twice as many supported ECCO’s appeal as opposed it.
Carol Dines, who lives several blocks from the proposed redevelopment, described the project as “really bad urban planning for our neighborhood.”
“If the goal in the city is to build walk-able, bike-able spaces, the Sons of Norway density is not responsible planning in an area that is already highly congested five months of the year,” Dines said, adding that the project’s 323 proposed parking spaces were inadequate.
“It’s particularly that rezoning that is troublesome to people in my community,” said ECCO resident Lara Norkus-Crampton, a former Planning Commission member. Norkus-Crampton said the number of land-use exceptions required by the project showed just how far the city was willing to stray from the Uptown Small Area Plan, a non-binding document that suggests guidelines for new development.
Project supporters, including Nathan Campeau, who described himself as a neighborhood resident and former member of the ECCO board, said the proposed density was ideally suited to a walk-able neighborhood served by high-frequency transit. Campeau said the additional residents would boost neighborhood businesses, and described the redevelopment as “just one of many needed projects” to address the city’s housing shortage.
Goodman, who said she otherwise supported the redevelopment, agreed with the project’s critics on one key point. She said the design failed to include a gradual “step-down” to neighboring single-family homes and duplexes as is recommended in the Uptown Small Area Plan.
“I don’t think it’s really open to interpretation that five stories stepping down to two is not the graceful stepping-down the small area plan suggested,” she said.
Goodman described the city’s small area plans as “a contract, in a way” between the city and neighborhoods, one that creates an expectation that elected officials would “work toward something that would be better and more consistent” with its recommendations.
But Bender, whose Ward 10 includes the ECCO neighborhood, said the city didn’t ignore the small area plan’s recommendations. The building planned for the rezoned portion of the site is similar in scale to an R4 building, she said, but without the density allowed for in R6, the redevelopment would consist of fewer, larger and more expensive residential units.
“I can’t in good conscience, as an elected official in the city of Minneapolis, force a developer to build multi-million dollar homes at this location,” Bender said. “It just isn’t consistent with any of our policies or the promises that I have made when I ran for office.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Nathan Campeau as a former neighborhood resident. He still lives in ECCO.