Original plans for a new Wells Fargo bank at Lake & Humboldt call for too much parking, the city Planning Commission ruled in a 5-1 vote Nov. 16.
Wells Fargo will demolish the existing 1973 bank building and consolidate its employees from the Sons of Norway building into a new structure at 1505 W. Lake St.
Wells Fargo wanted to include 36 surface parking stalls, which is more than double the maximum allowed by city code. (There are 49 stalls onsite today.) The current seven-lane drive-thru area will be reduced to two ATM-only lanes.
Commissioner Nick Magrino said a site with two-thirds pavement and mostly surface parking is hard to swallow.
Commissioner Sam Rockwell noted that the site has the highest pedestrian counts outside of Downtown and the University of Minnesota, as well as the city’s fourth-highest 2014 bicycle counts and two of the top four busiest bus routes.
“It’s a walkable neighborhood,” he said. “That’s the goal of our city codes, that’s the goal of the Uptown Small Area Plan. … I don’t think the fate of this branch is on the line.”
Brian Reno of Stantec Architecture represented Wells Fargo and argued that the consolidation means they’re really eliminating over 70 parking spaces on two sites.
“We have a real concern that by not providing adequate parking for existing employees and existing customers, that will force people to use the neighborhood parking areas on the street, when they should be, for safety reasons, for access reasons and for convenience reasons, using parking provided by Wells Fargo on the site,” he said.
One nearby resident agreed. She said spillover parking would land on her street, Humboldt Avenue, where many Uptown employees park today.
“They’re all the people who work in the Lake & Hennepin area,” she said. “The reason they park on Humboldt is it’s the closest one to Calhoun Square where it does not have meters and there is no permit [requirement] there.”
The bank reported that all of its 27 employees currently drive to work. The bank has a goal to see 5 percent of employees using public transit and 5 percent biking. By comparison, similar projects aimed for only 50 percent of employees driving to work, city staff said.
The goal didn’t sit well with Planning Commissioners and city staff, who called it extremely low. Staff cited the bank’s proximity to the Grand Rounds and Midtown Greenway, future plans for shared lanes on Lake Street, transit with midday service every 15 minutes or less, a bus stop at Lake & Irving, and the Uptown Transit Center.
“They can’t tell an employee they must take transit,” Reno said in response. “We’re just being honest with what the demand is today.”
Planning Commissioner Ben Gisselman said it might be fair to give Wells Fargo more spaces, given the consolidation of the two sites.
“When we’re talking about bank transactions, I feel like there is some argument that perhaps customers … do want the safety of having their vehicle there,” he said.
Council Member Lisa Bender voted to deny Wells Fargo’s 36-space parking request. The vote holds the bank to a maximum of 17 spaces.
“I think you can see it both ways. There is an argument that the space is there, it could be used for parking, so why not — but I do think we’ve made so many other compromises at this corner in a place that … all of the policy guidance is telling us that we envision this area to be more transit-oriented, walking and bicycling-focused,” Bender said. “This is one of the most walkable parts of the city.”