West Lake neighborhoods become hub for new development

Photo by Julia Peacock

Foundry_2The Foundry Lake Street is serving gourmet popcorn and cotton candy at a grand opening celebration this week, advertising a rooftop pool and apartments starting at $1,350 for a 563-square-foot studio at 3118 W. Lake St.

The building is part of a wave of development that has added more than 400 units to the Cedar-Isles-Dean and West Calhoun neighborhoods since 2013, with developers hoping to build another 750 units in the coming years. In addition, the proposed West Lake light rail station is estimated to be the most heavily used station along the Southwest line, located south of Lake Street behind Whole Foods.

West Lake 1_Photo by Julia Peacock
Photo by Julia Peacock

The neighborhoods north and west of Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) continue to see new development proposals. A plan by Brickstone Partners to build a 200-unit, eight-story building at 3100 W. Lake St. awaits a city vote. Bader Development acquired Calhoun Towers at 3430 List Pl. with a vision to build 530 more units in a mix of mid- and high-rise buildings. CPM Companies recently pitched 29 “Minnesota micro” apartments in a new five-story building at 3823 W. 31st St.

Even at the top of the market, the neighborhood’s priciest units appear to be moving. The Lakes Residences opened last year at 2622 W. Lake St. with average rents of $4,800. A Greystar senior director said the 90-unit building stands at 80 percent leased — including four out of five available penthouses that top out at $14,600 per month.

Neighbors express mixed reactions to the development. Some are calling for safety improvements to aid walking and biking. Some question where everyone will park, and ask how streets like Dean Parkway can handle more traffic. Some wonder how new luxury apartments will impact neighborhood home prices over time. Some raise alarms about the height of development near lake shoreline. And others feel lucky to live in the neighborhood.

On a recent afternoon in June, resident Melissa Wightman walked her dog on the Midtown Greenway and said she doesn’t mind new development — better to see growth than decline, she said.

“It will be really hard to move,” she said. “Everything you need is right here.”

Street safety

While neighborhood walkability is often cited as a prime amenity, some question the safety of biking and walking on the crowded streets. Lake Street’s average daily traffic count in the neighborhood is 39,500, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“Who cares about skyscrapers? We care about all the cars,” said a nine-year resident of Lake Point Condominiums who declined to give her name. “In our unit we can hear crash-bang every day.”

“I can’t tell you the number of people who say my kid’s not walking across Market street,” said Craig Westgate, former chair of the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association.*

A West Lake transportation study completed last year identified several long-term ideas to improve safety, and a few changes have already arrived or are coming soon. Signals at the intersection of Dean & Lake now include left-turn arrows for traffic traveling north and south. The study identified the intersection as a critical area due to its crash rates and crash severity. The Minnesota Department of Transportation tallied 71 crashes there from 2010-2014.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is increasing the width of trails over the Lake Street  bridge in a project to be completed in mid-November. The Park Board will also begin construction this year on an enhanced pedestrian crossing at Lake and Lagoon along the west side of East Calhoun Parkway, with new signals and attached lighting. Separate bike and pedestrian lanes will include white zebra crosswalk markings and a painted green zone for bikes.

Westgate said one of the most promising ideas to improve congestion is a land bridge over Lake Street connecting Lake of the Isles and Bde Maka Ska. There is no funding tied to the idea, however.

“We know some of the answers, but nobody can afford the answers,” Westgate said.

Commuting and parking

If the light rail station arrives, some neighbors worry about parked cars clogging neighborhood streets. They’ve seen it happen around other stations, Westgate said.

An environmental review estimates the station would account for an average of more than 4,000 weekday boardings by 2040. The station would not include a park-and-ride lot. An estimated 36 percent of riders would walk to the station and 64 percent would transfer to the station, according to the project’s environmental impact statement.

Image courtesy of Metropolitan Council

West Calhoun Neighborhood Council Board member Richard Logan said parking and congestion are top reasons he sees people move out of his building near 32nd & Chowen.

“It’s an issue of growing density without the infrastructure to support growing density,” he said. “…By nine o’clock at night, there is no more street parking left. Every possible street parking space as far as I can see is full in every direction.”

U.S. Census data from 2015 show that 61 percent of Minneapolitans drive to work alone. An estimated 13 percent take public transit, 7 percent walk, 5 percent work out of the home and 4 percent bike — Minneapolis’ bike commuting percentage is among the highest in U.S. cities.

Resident John Abraham-Watne said in an email that he worries about the parking and traffic implications of another luxury building like the Brickstone project on Lake Street.

“The parking proposal for this new building already does not reflect what needs to be a current mindset among people my age and older who would be interested in living here — i.e. being car free, taking the bus (which runs multiple lines right down Excelsior/Lake),” he said. “But it is also simply going to add that many more cars to an area already plagued with traffic.”

Brickstone consultants have said preliminary studies show the apartments would generate traffic comparable to the office building’s traffic today. Parking would be offered at a rate of 1.5 stalls per unit.

Compact development encourages people to drive slightly less, according to a study by Mark R. Stevens published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, and a variable with the largest influence on driving is the distance to downtown. A household would drive roughly 32 percent fewer miles if its distance from downtown decreased by half, Stevens said. (Some researchers say Stevens understates the impact of compact development on driving.) Stevens said other factors that influence driving to a lesser extent include population density, accessibility to jobs and street connectivity.

Nicolle Mackinnon said she’s seen a lot of construction in her four years at Be @ The Calhoun Greenway, although she hasn’t noticed a change in congestion around the lakes and Greenway. Her household has dropped to one car and they use Lyft or hitch rides with friends when needed. She said she’s interested in the transit access that light rail would bring.

“I would love for Minneapolis to become more accessible in that way,” she said.

One Calhoun Flats resident who declined to give her name said she drives half of the time, and otherwise relies on biking or Lyft.

“If [we’re going to] Uptown we avoid driving at all costs,” she said.

City land use policy encourages medium- to high-density residential development along commercial corridors like Lake Street. Much of the new development also falls inside the city’s Shoreland Overlay District, which requires meeting certain conditions in order to exceed height restrictions near the water.

The price tag

Aside from transportation issues, some neighborhood passersby recently raised questions about affordability. Bailey Klatt sat reading under a tree near Dean Parkway, and said she wonders if an overheated housing market is creating inflated home prices. New development doesn’t alleviate the demand for housing unless residents can afford to live there, she said.

Mackinnon said she loves living near lakes and grocery stores in a neighborhood where she doesn’t have to drive everywhere. But a move within the neighborhood is increasingly difficult to afford, she said.

“It makes it harder to move because the costs are going up quite a bit,” she said.

Resident Emil Reiling wondered if more construction might help home prices eventually come down.

Photo by Julia Peacock
Photo by Julia Peacock

As new projects open, staff at Calhoun Beach Club said they are beginning to renovate more than 300 apartments in the campus’s newer building. Staff said rents would rise to account for the investment, which includes quartz countertops, walnut flooring, new backsplashes and new appliances.

At The Lakes Residences (the priciest new development), Greystar Senior Director Robby Mailatyar said residents are interested in the relatively large average unit sizes of 1,600 square feet.

“It’s similar space as a house would have,” he said.

He said interest has run the gamut from seasonal residents to permanent residents, individuals that relocate to Minneapolis for jobs, and travelers who want a maintenance-free home while they’re away.

The business perspective

Advertisements for retail space highlight the affluent income level and density of the neighborhood — more than 11,000 people live within a mile of Calhoun Village, according to one listing.

While the owner of Punch Pizza said he hasn’t noticed a remarkable change in business in recent years, Rustica owner Greg Hoyt said he’s seeing more regular customers that appear to live close by. He said it’s notable that Barnes & Noble is still operating while other locations have closed across the country.

“Whatever is going on around here in terms of development is not hurting our business,” Hoyt said. “I believe there is a point at which the returns start to diminish, but I don’t know when that point is. … I don’t think we’ve hit it yet.”

*Corrected title