Planning Commission approves Calhoun Towers applications

The Calhoun Towers project will include four new buildings with 744 new apartment units adjacent to the future Southwest Light Rail station in the West Calhoun neighborhood. Rendering courtesy ESG for Bader Development

The City Planning Commission on July 16 approved plans for the largest residential development proposed in Minneapolis in years.

The 10-member commission approved 10 land-use applications for Calhoun Towers in the West Calhoun neighborhood, all by either an 8–1 or 9–0 vote. The City Council will take up one of the applications, which would rezone part of the property, in August.

Bader Development is planning to build four new apartment buildings with 744 units on the site, which is adjacent to the Calhoun Commons shopping center and the Midtown Greenway. The site is also steps away from a future Southwest Light Rail station.

The project will include two 26-story towers with 24 floors of habitable space, six- and seven-story apartment buildings and the retention of the 22-story, 113-unit tower already on the site.

The project faced opposition from about a dozen West Calhoun residents before the vote on the 16th, with residents voicing concerns about traffic, parking and density during a public hearing. But planning commissioners noted the extensive review the project has undergone and said the increased density is within the scope of the city’s land-use plans.

“This project overall … I think is consistent with the policies of our current comprehensive plan,” President Matt Brown said before the commission’s final vote.

Bader purchased the existing Calhoun Towers building and the 4.4-acre site on which it sits in December 2016. The company is working with the city, the Metropolitan Council and the county to acquire the 0.93 acres north of the existing site.

The company is planning to build the four new buildings in phases, starting with the 26-story tower on the west side of the site. Construction of the six-story building will begin next, followed by the second 26-story building and the seven-story building. Bader says it plans to wrap up all construction in 2026.

Other plans for the site include a new transit plaza adjacent to the future light-rail station. Plans also call for 50,000 square feet of landscaped green space and a parking garage connected to the three towers with amenity space atop it. All told, the project will include 857 housing units and 856 parking spots.

The project will also include an affordable housing component. Bader is planning to reserve nearly 20 percent of the units in the new buildings for renters whose incomes are at or below 60 percent of the area median ($94,300 in 2018 for a family of four). That includes 25 units in the six-floor building and all of the units in the seven-floor building, which will be closest to the greenway and light-rail station.

The company says that exact affordability restrictions will be subject to the availability of financing commitments, according to the city staff report.

Robb Bader, principal and president of Bader Development, said at the July 16 meeting that his company incorporated most of the feedback the commissioners had provided at previous meetings. Some of those changes included an emphasis on “verticality” in the 26-story towers, more material contrast between the taller and shorter buildings and adding primary entrances to the 26-story towers along 31st Street.
Bader said the company has met several times with the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council and residents of the existing Calhoun Towers building and has worked hard to incorporate their feedback into the project plans.

Still, some West Calhoun residents have reservations about the project.

The neighborhood organization’s chair, Allan Campbell, said during the public hearing that the its biggest concern with the project is the uncertainty over construction of the light-rail line. The $2 billion line still needs to secure nearly $930 million in federal funding, though the Met Council says it anticipates that the funding will be provided.

Campbell also said he felt the Calhoun Towers project included too many units for the site and that Bader’s traffic study is problematic because it doesn’t address the possibility of light rail not being built.

Bader’s traffic study, conducted by an outside consulting group, looked at traffic conditions for the area in 2021 and 2026. Two buildings are expected to be complete by 2021 and all four by 2025.

The study found that the completion of two buildings wouldn’t cause a significant additional delay at any intersection, except for the Lake Street and Dean Parkway intersection during morning rush hour. It says the light rail’s opening in 2023 should decrease the number of trips generated from the project.

City data also shows that traffic on Excelsior Boulevard and Lake Street decreased in West Calhoun between 2004 and 2015.

West Calhoun board member Richard Logan said he was “stunned” to hear about the reduction in traffic. He said he’s organized systematic observations of traffic going back a long time and that “it just doesn’t jive.” He also noted there have been multiple fatal pedestrian crashes in the neighborhood since 2005.

Other residents said there was a lack of parking in the neighborhood and noted that traffic on Excelsior Boulevard backs up during rush hour.

Commissioner Amy Sweasy said she understands the concerns of the residents, noting other recent projects, such as Sons of Norway, that have generated opposition. But she said the project has been through many review and design changes and that it has a lot of parking.

Brown, the commission president, said the policy adheres to the density ranges suggested for transit station areas and community corridors, in which the site falls. He said the zoning change to high-density is appropriate and that the project meets the requirements, despite the large size of the site and high number of units proposed.

“Overall, that density is about what the (comprehensive) plan calls for,” he said.