A first-time apartment developer’s plan for a four-story, 23-unit building in Tangletown appeared to be cleared for construction, but the project has hit a snag after a group of more than 30 neighborhood residents successfully appealed the Planning Commission’s approval of a parking variance for the building.
Now the developer, Joshua Segal, is heading back to the drawing board and revising his proposal for the Fullertown Flats project at 4736–4740 Grand Ave., a half block north of the 48th & Grand commercial intersection near Fuller Park.
Segal, the co-founder of the fitness studio Urban Cycle, said he wants to keep the height and footprint of the building the same but lower the number of units to 12–14, which would help bring the project in line with a city rule requiring at least one parking space per unit in areas without access to high-frequency transit. (Segal said this means monthly rents would average significantly more than the $1,800 he’d previously predicted.)
Segal’s initial plan called for just 10 parking spaces for the building’s 23 units, and city staff argued in favor of granting the parking variance because of a 2015 ordinance eliminating parking requirements for small apartments located within a quarter mile of bus stops visited at least every 15 minutes during midday.
While the site of Segal’s building was technically ineligible for this transit incentive reduction, city planner Lindsey Silas noted that the site is within a quarter mile of bus stops for five different lines and said it has “excellent access to transit.”
Tangletown residents vehemently disagreed with this assessment and hundreds signed a petition opposing the parking variance.
During an Oct. 31 Zoning and Planning Committee hearing on the parking variance appeal, Denise Takeshita said she would love to be able to rely on transit, but she often must drive to the Wedge to catch a bus with frequent service. “It’s not an efficient bus system if you’re not going to Downtown,” she said. “While this site is near transit, it’s not near great transit.”
The Zoning and Planning Committee sided with the residents appealing the variance. Committee members Lisa Goodman and Jeremy Schroeder said they agreed with the appellants’ attorney that there were no practical difficulties unique to the property that merited a variance to the parking requirement.
Segal argued that the site’s 9.5-foot grade change made it impossible to build underground parking, but the grade change wasn’t mentioned on Segal’s application for the variance. Schroeder, who represents Tangletown as Ward 11’s city council member, said Segal’s argument wasn’t “fleshed out to the detail we’d need.”
“It is a very clear cut issue that it does not meet the requirement for the transit variance,” he said.
More than a dozen residents testified during the hearing, with many saying that Segal’s proposed apartment building will change the character of neighborhood, increase noise and make Grand Avenue more difficult to navigate during snow emergencies. Residents also raised concerns about numerical errors and inconsistencies on Segal’s application and some said they wished he had done more to solicit their input on the project.
After the hearing, a frustrated Segal said that the committee’s decision was influenced by the “uproar from the neighborhood” and that “we got bullied.”
“I respect the neighbors, but I thought it was a little bit dramatic,” he said. “The emotions and the politics won. I’m not this big bad developer. … We just asked for a parking variance that was really in line with what the city wanted. … I had looked at houses in Tangletown and considered moving my family here, but I don’t know if I feel that way right now.”
Segal’s proposed apartment is currently zoned for high-density, multi-family development up to four stories in height, though no buildings in the immediate vicinity are taller than two stories. Segal’s plot of land is one of the few areas in the city scheduled to be downzoned under the Minneapolis 2040 plan, which calls for buildings of no more than 2.5 stories on the site.
Working to rejigger the configuration of the apartment building, Segal said he may decrease the size of the lobby to fit an 11th parking space on the main floor and that he was considering adding four parking spaces to the building’s second level, accessible via the south alley.
Segal said he would submit a revised proposal by the end of November. Since the Planning Commission has already approved the project’s site plan, a new proposal complying with the parking minimum could bypass the commission and go directly to city staff for review.