Whittier takes first look at “Rex 26” project at 26th & Lyndale

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The developer Master is proposing a four- or five-story building for the southeast corner of 26th & Lyndale, negotiating with a national retailer to occupy the first floor with apartments above.

Master Principal Don Gerberding said he could not yet confirm the business, though he distributed documents indicating the retailer Aldi, with the name covered in white-out.

One development option would place three levels of housing above the retail, topping out at about 59 feet. The apartments would consist of 45 one-bedroom and 31 two-bedroom units.

A taller option would install four levels of housing above the retail at a height of about 70 feet, with an additional 24 units.

Gerberding estimated pricing at $2 -$2.10 per square foot, or $1,000 per month for 500 square feet.

Two floors of underground parking would provide 100 spaces for residents and 60 free spaces for retail guests, he said.

The project would encompass six lots, including the former Rex Hardware site and houses at 2609, 2613, 2617 and 2621 Lyndale Ave. S. The incoming ownership group has a purchase agreement for all six lots, set to close in late February.

Gerberding said he’s planning a canopy above the retail, and said he’s aiming for a contemporary design.

“I think we’ve got enough brick and stone down the street,” he said.

Resident Laura Jean requested that independent businesses occupy the 20,000-square-foot retail space, rather than one large corporate chain.

Resident Giancarlo Casale said he’s disappointed to see chain stores like Starbucks and CVS occupy new developments. Casale lives near a new project slated for 26th & Stevens, and said his neighbors are betting on whether the new retail will be Jimmy John’s or Subway.

Mark Trehus, owner of Treehouse Records, said he wants to see more density, but said he also doesn’t like the idea of a national chain on the corner. He called the proposal huge and “ostentatious.”

One man in attendance said he didn’t think the area would turn into a “big mall,” however, and said a mix of chains and independent shops can work at the right equilibrium.

“The vibrancy of the community is reliant on a broad range of choice,” Gerberding said. “I think the two can cohabitate within the community.”

Erica Christ of the Black Forest Inn said she’s concerned developers are overbuilding small units, and she pushed for more large apartments in the mix.

Resident Jen Kader echoed that she sees friends leaving Whittier in search of a guest room or space to start a family. The neighborhood rent price for larger units is out of reach for many, she said.

Gerberding said market studies show strong ongoing demand for small units. He said builders could continue construction at the current rate for at least three years without hitting absorption.

Some residents voiced traffic concerns, and the group discussed ideas for traffic calming in the area.

Gerberding said he hopes that as Minneapolis becomes more dense, it will become harder to drive and people will increasingly choose not to drive.

Responding to questions, Gerberding said he is exploring alternative energy forms, will look into composting, and expects to install some form of greenhouse on the roof. He said he liked the suggestion of raised bed garden plots for residents.

The loading dock, trash and recycling would be handled inside the building.

The project as currently proposed would need a conditional use permit for height and a variance to reduce a south-side setback from the required 13 feet to nine feet.

Gerberding said plans are “not etched in stone,” and said he plans to return to a Whittier meeting next month. He said he would likely flip the current design so that a large second-floor terrace fronts Lyndale, an idea supported by residents in attendance.