Planning Commission approves apartments for Edina Cleaners site

Area residents view plans for the Edina Cleaners site. Photo by Brian Lambert

While the battle cry was, “No more Red Cows!” the response from the Edina Planning Commission was more along the lines of, “Of course not, maybe, we think.”

A 5-3 vote at the commission’s Aug. 29 meeting gave the long-gestating, much reimagined redevelopment of the Edina Cleaners site on the southwest corner of Sunnyside & France most, but not all, of the approval it needed for a City Council decision on Oct. 2.

The latest iteration of the apartment project, led by developer Ted Carlson of Carlson Commercial, has been reduced first from 62 units to 52 and now to 45 units with a 26 percent reduction in total size. In response to the small area plan developed by neighborhood residents, a debate that focused on both the height of main building (once 62 feet, now 48 feet) and the increased density it will bring to immediate area, Carlson and partner Nino Pedrelli are now aiming for fewer but more affluent tenants.

Pedrelli said their intention is to provide two affordable units and “buy in” to two others, meaning pay approximately $270,000 into the fund the city requires of developers who choose not to meet the 10 percent affordable quota. The Planning Commission voted down a motion to require Carlson meet the quota — four units — leaving that too for the council to decide in October.

But in recent weeks the debate has turned more on the idea of a 3,700-square-foot restaurant envisioned as the primary ground floor tenant, how truck deliveries would be handled and where patrons would park.

In an email, area resident Laura Plaetzer said, “… unfortunately there is still a garage door on Sunnyside Road for cars to cross a sidewalk and go in and out of. This, in my opinion, should have been removed as it creates a dangerous situation for so many of the people who use Sunnyside to bike and walk. They also want a variance to have a restaurant that they do not have the appropriate number of available parking spaces which seems like a non-starter. We don’t deserve to be the next ‘Red Cow’ neighborhood without any neighborhood parking. Also, daily there will be a large number of restaurant food delivery trucks, linen trucks, bread, meat, fish, alcohol being delivered. … Obviously, this area needs to be developed, but not by sacrificing the way of life existing neighborhoods and the many people who use and enjoy Sunnyside Road.”

Another resident, who asked her name not be used, sent off letters to Edina Council members reminding them of the city’s code requiring one parking space for every three restaurant seats. She argues that Carlson’s current plan, which includes one space for every bedroom for residents, plus 40 for the public and seven on the street in front of the building, “doesn’t come close to meeting parking needs for a popular restaurant, like what we see with Red Cow.” She calculates a 48 percent parking deficit.

The Red Cow restaurant at 50th & Drew in Minneapolis regularly has patrons parking in front of residences both north and south on Drew Avenue South.

Inspecting sketch plans Carlson and Pedrelli put up for an outdoors open house at the Edina Cleaners site prior to the Planning Commission meeting, another resident, Jim Reistad, said, “There just isn’t enough parking. Obviously the solution is some kind of district parking [like the ramps around 50th & France], but that’s not happening anytime soon.”

Edina Community Development Director Cary Teague concurred with the math on one space for every three restaurant seats, plus parking for every employee on a maximum shift. But he said Carlson has the option of applying to the commission for a variance, which he has not done as of yet.

For his part, Carlson said, “No one wants a Red Cow situation.” But he believes his current plan supplies adequate parking for all possible facets of the project. He noted that Red Cow is a 4,500-square-foot restaurant with only 10 parking stalls on its property.

“It’s apples and oranges,” he said.

Assuming the council approves the plan in October, Carlson said demolition could take place sometime this winter with full construction beginning in March 2019. One caveat, also to be addressed by the council, is his desire to seek tax-increment financing (TIF) to bury power lines along the west side of France Avenue and provide other “public enhancements.” The latest design also includes a public pocket park off Sunnyside Road.

He said he’s uncertain of the total cost of that work, but claims the property is currently producing only $50,000 in annual tax revenue to the city, a number that will escalate to $500,000 for the finished complex.

Also, the idea of a restaurant tenant with two 1,800-square-foot spaces for retail is still just that, an idea. Carlson said he’s willing to adjust the size of the restaurant if necessary.

“I believe these problems can be addressed, they all seem very solvable,” said Commissioner Jerry Strauss at the Aug. 29 meeting,

To that, Commissioner Ian Nemerov added his belief in “the value of a popular restaurant.”

Fellow Commissioner Susan Lee expressed her disappointment in the design, which she said lacked “the charm of the neighborhood” and that street parking was “detrimental” to that neighborhood feel.