Going against recommendations from city staffers, the Planning Commission approved a six-story, 146-unit apartment building at 26th & Blaisdell in Whittier.
The July 9 vote was split on the development, which is being built by Yellow Tree and the Goldstein Law firm and designed by DJR Architecture.
The building will be a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom units on the top five floors, with walk-up units along 26th Street and Blaisdell Avenue. The building will have a shared lobby and a 600-sqaure-foot office space. A green roof is planned for the second level, and resident amenity decks are planned for the fifth and sixth floors.
The 92 parking stalls in the building will be accessed via an alley off 26th Street. There will also be 103 bike parking stalls.
City planner Lindsay Silas called the project a “significant deviation” from what staff would recommend approving on the street and would be more suitable a block to the east along Nicollet Avenue.
Currently, the zoning in the site allows for a four-story building and the 2040 plan, still under review by the Metropolitan Council, would put the area in Corridor 3, which allows for three-story buildings.
“This is one of the rare spots in the 2040 plan that has proposed lesser density than what the current zoning would allow,” Silas said.
The main contention point was height; the project required a conditional use permit to go from four to six stories. The vote to increase the height was 5–4, with commission president Sam Rockwell breaking the tie. Ultimately all seven variances were approved for the project, though the maximum floor area ratio was amended to increase step backs on the higher floors, which may slightly decrease the number of units in the building, Yellow Tree officials said after the meeting.
“There’s a lot of work that went into the 2040 plan to talk about where the needed density goes in the city and it’s in a lot of places, but it’s not right here,” said commissioner Jeremy Schroeder, who is also Ward 11’s
City Council member.
Three area residents spoke against the building, arguing it would double the block’s population and voicing concerns over parking and the height of the structure.
“There’s just so many things about this building that don’t make sense,” said one woman who lives near the intersection.
Six people, mostly from the Whittier Alliance, spoke in favor of the project, primarily citing the need for more affordable housing.
According to city documents, the building will have 105,603 square feet of gross floor area, just under the threshold to trigger the city’s interim inclusionary housing policy and require that 10% of units be affordable to people earning 60% of the area median income (AMI), which translates to a monthly rent of $1,415 for a family of four.
Yellow Tree CEO Robb Lubenow said despite being market-rate, the majority of the units in the building would be affordable without subsidies to people making 70% AMI, which means rents of up to $1,650.
The Whittier Alliance was significantly involved in the project and several members asked that planners approve the project in recognition of the “extensive community engagement process” the group conducted for the project.
The developers agreed to partner with the neighborhood organization for the project, including a program where tenants can receive a partial rent rebate by volunteering at nonprofit groups within Whittier managed by the Whittier Alliance.
“It gives us something we can do now on rent control when we have so few other tools available to us,” Whittier Alliance executive director Kaley Brown said.
There will be a shared-use public space on 26th Street with a bike repair station; some days it would be reserved for residents but other days it would be a community space.
The Whittier Alliance plans to rent out the 600-square-foot office space, a move Brown said will help them manage both the rent rebate program and community space.