Planning Commission approves apartment project near 36th & Bryant

The Planning Commission approved a proposal for 41 apartments on the site of the former Southwest Senior Center at 3612 Bryant Ave. S. Rendering by Collage Architects

Update from the East Harriet Farmstead Neighborhood Association: The city’s Zoning & Planning Committee will hear an appeal of the Planning Commission decision on May 17. The committee’s recommendation will then go before the full City Council for a vote. 

Planning commissioners approved plans April 23 to build 41 apartments at the Southwest Senior Center site near 36th & Bryant, calling it the type of development the city should encourage.

Owners Jeff Hall, Sean Sweeney and Alex Gese proposed a new four-story building (rising 50-57 feet, depending on the grade) with 20 spaces underground. Hall said they’re seeing demand for microunits and walkability.

“We love the neighborhood, and we’re excited to be investing in it,” Hall said.

The developer dropped a petition for a closer southern setback for balconies at the request of the city and the neighboring homeowner.

Rendering by Collage Architecture
Rendering by Collage Architecture

Several nearby neighbors speaking at the Planning Commission meeting said they don’t object to redevelopment of the senior center, but they do object to the proposed scale of the project, along with its impacts on privacy, shadowing and safety in the alley.

“I think every foot of it makes a difference to somebody’s quality of life,” one resident said.

Michael Pillsbury said he favors density, but the proposal is twice as tall as it ought to be and should include commercial space.

Richard Stuerman said the project is “bursting at the seams,” and said commissioners should think about the scale of the project, which he said would increase the number of mailboxes on the block from 80 to more than 120.

Collage Architects President Pete Keely said the fourth floor is set back from the building edge, and the first three floors would rise 35 feet, comparable to the scale of buildings across the street. A slope that dips in the northwest portion of the site makes the building rise 57 feet at the corner, he said.

Some meeting attendees spoke in support of the proposal.

Lonnie McQuirter, owner of the 36 Lyn Refuel Station, praised developer Gese’s other ventures, which include Nighthawks and Five Watt Coffee.

One Longfellow resident who previously rented in the neighborhood said he started biking and busing to work when his car broke down. He never went back to commuting by car, and said he used the savings for a down payment on a house.

“The opportunity to live in that transit-rich neighborhood is what allowed me to become a homeowner,” said the resident, who identified himself as Ethan. “…I would ask that you make variances that allow the developer to make this property as affordable as you can.”

Some residents suggested that the city should receive more in exchange for granting variances, such as affordable units.

“If you put up a 41-unit building, there really needs to be some diversity there. I want our neighborhood to look like our city,” said resident David Wheeler.

Keely said units would not fall under the definition of affordable housing, but the smaller unit sizes would make them more affordable.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the plans, with the exception of balconies that would have been about eight feet from the home to the south.

Planning Commissioner Jono Cowgill explained his vote by saying a shorter two- or three-story building would be more expensive for renters.

“The more difficult we make it to have more units, the more difficult it’s going to make it for there to be affordability in our community,” he said.

Commissioner Nick Magrino said he likes seeing similar projects with less than 50 units and about half as many parking spaces.

“I hope this is something the city continues to find ways to encourage,” he said.

The developer will present details of the project at a meeting Wednesday, May 2 from 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. at Walker Methodist Health Center in room 119A at 3737 Bryant Ave. S.