Planning Commission approves Harriet Avenue Apartments on the Greenway

City officials pressed for a sidewalk promenade that’s clearly open to the public as part of the Harriet Avenue Apartments slated for the south side of the Midtown Greenway between Harriet and Grand.

The Planning Commission’s March 28 vote to approve the project seeks changes to a new sidewalk along the Greenway, so the walkway doesn’t appear to be private property. The developer previously agreed to widen the sidewalk and move gates so the walkway would be open 24 hours a day, a change advocated by the Whittier Alliance and the Midtown Greenway Coalition.

A separate project proposed to the east called Rana Village recently revised its plans to include a 12-foot promenade adjacent to the Greenway.

“I hope this promenade can grow as part of Whittier as well, as we see projects,” said Planning Commissioner Ryan Kronzer.

The six-story, 111-unit Harriet Avenue Apartments would have 96 underground parking spaces. The fifth and sixth stories of the building would be terraced to step back from the Greenway.

The project would shadow the Greenway between late October and mid-February.

The Whittier Alliance recommended approval of the project, and requested that any houses in habitable condition be relocated to vacant lots in Whittier.

At the public hearing, resident Leo Whitebird said he is concerned about the proposed height. He said it would create a “Grand Canyon” effect already seen between Lyndale and Hennepin avenues.

The Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit to build six stories (74 feet), above the height allowed by right at four stories (56 feet).

“This project is way out of scale for the neighborhood,” Whitebird said. “A six-story glass wall at the end of this block is just not in any way complementary to the neighborhood. … If this conditional use permit is granted and this development is allowed to six stories, that is carte blanche for other developers who are eyeing parcels along the Greenway to be able to say that, well they got six stories so why shouldn’t we?”

He also said the streets couldn’t handle the additional traffic generated by new development.

“Are you all aware that the Whittier neighborhood has the highest population in Minneapolis, not to mention the state of Minnesota?” said resident Cynthia Wong. “I think a project of this size would be more appropriate for a neighborhood that can’t make that claim.”

In a submitted statement, some residents said the apartment does not align with their vision for the area.

“In our immediate vicinity, the home owners have been long-time residents who through the years have actively promoted the return of owner occupied housing,” read the statement.

They lamented a 1960s change in zoning laws that allowed for construction of apartment buildings.

“We enthusiastically endorse development in our neighborhood but desire it to be of a scale that meshes with the village-like character of our neighborhood,” said the statement

Nearby resident Robert Schmid spoke in support of the project, calling it part of the area’s urban renewal.

“I recently invested most of my life savings in a house there, and this project can only suit to benefit myself and other property owners on Harriet Avenue,” he said.

Commissioner Alissa Luepke Pier said she hears the concerns about height. She said commissioners previously discussed the tradeoff between a four-story project that covers the entire space and a six-story project that steps back to prevent shadowing on the Greenway.

“I think this is a really well-designed project,” said Commissioner Ryan Kronzer. “…It meets a lot of our goals as far as adding intensity to the city in the proper locations. And the Greenway is evolving and it’s planned to evolve over time.”