E-shaped apartment approved at 35th & Hennepin

The South Uptown neighborhood association is appealing the approval of this apartment building along Hennepin Avenue. Submitted image

An E-shaped luxury apartment building with 74 units and 92 underground parking spaces has been approved by the Planning Commission in South Uptown just north of Lakewood Cemetery.

The half-block-long project from Lander Group and ESG Architecture will include 1,400 square feet of new commercial space. Two houses, a commercial building and a mixed-use building filled by Ophelia’s Salon and five one-bedroom apartment units will be demolished. 

The new apartment building, at 3501–3525 Hennepin Ave., has a stepped design that ranges from three to five stories in height. Its northern tip will reach into the parking lot behind the nearly century-old, 10,800-square-foot commercial building owned by Lander at the southeast corner of 35th & Hennepin. 

Plans call for six units to be affordable to families making 60% of the area median income. Project architect Bob Loken told a city study group in December that the building would be marketed toward local residents downsizing from single-family homes — “people of means who drive cars.” Planning Commissioner Kim Caprini, who voted against the project, said the lack of more affordable housing is “kind of stunning to me.”

The massing of the building is the largest sticking point for neighborhood residents. A steep grade differential angling down from Hennepin Avenue means the five-story apartment will appear as six stories to those living behind the building in single-family homes along Girard Avenue. 

“We have concerns for the monolithic, intrusive wall that will impede into our neighborhood,” South Uptown president Max Ellis told the Planning Commission. “It places the tallest part of the structure toward the back of the lot rather than along Hennepin, where it would be more appropriate.”

Loken said the building was designed “to enrich pedestrian space along Hennepin Avenue with courtyards,” and Planning Commission President Sam Rockwell said homes along Girard would still have sufficient solar access according to shadow studies. “There is bus-rapid transit [the E Line] coming to this corner,” Rockwell said. “It’s one of the most walkable neighborhoods in the city, so I think encouraging density … is very important.” 

The building’s site encompasses six city lots zoned for both commercial and residential uses. The Planning Commission voted 7-1 on June 16 to rezone the six lots, to grant a conditional use permit allowing an increase in height from four stories to five and to approve several variances reducing setbacks on all four sides of the project. 

On June 17, community members attending a South Uptown neighborhood association meeting decided to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision. They voted 8-5 (via Zoom chat) to spend $450 from the organization’s unrestricted fund to file the appeal. South Uptown coordinator Scott Engel said that since the City Council is pro-density and pro-development, “I don’t know if our chances are great.”

The Lander Group aims to start construction in spring 2021.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that money being spent by the South Uptown neighborhood association to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision would come from the organization’s city-funded budget. The $450 that will be used to appeal the project comes money the neighborhood association has fundraised.