The developer for a proposed high-end rental building on the site of Tryg’s restaurant, Trammell Crow, is wrestling with extremely challenging site geometry. Unfortunately, zoning, regulatory and economic parameters limit their architect’s range of options. Like other projects, they’re in a box and, interestingly, this gives us boxes — the cookie-cutter 5 or 6-story, 1/2-block to full block-long, timber frame things popping up everywhere. In the recent Southwest Journal story, referring to the 1/2-block-long, 11-story proposal as a “tower” was a misnomer; towers are actually taller than they are wide. I was quoted in the article as indicating “airy height” is preferable to “girthy width”. Disappointingly, the developer’s current design concept is far more girthy than it is airy.
On the Tryg’s property, three conflicting public-policy “lines” overlap. Part of it is in the “shoreland overlay district” with a lower height limit than the prevailing residential/commercial zoning for the remainder. The site is also within the officially-designated transit improvement area surrounding the forthcoming West Lake station. Given the city’s goal of increasing its population to 500,000, and focusing that growth around transit station investments, arithmetic and geometry point to increased building height. Achieving this in an aesthetically pleasing way, which enhances our community’s quality of life, and keeps housing affordable for more people ought to be possible. Instead of the piecemeal, project-by-project variance process we’ve grown accustomed to, it’d be far better to holistically address the complex land-use and transportation issues we face. We should use developer interest, LRT station design/engineering, and the Park Board’s plans for improvements at Lake Calhoun as drivers.
A comprehensive examination must focus attention on making capital investments to improve Excelsior Blvd and Lake Street, particularly where they meet and then cross the Parkway (with the highest traffic volume of any Hennepin County road, averaging 40,000 vehicles per day). To improve the experience for pedestrians, bicyclists as well as drivers, our community also needs greater north-south connectivity on city streets, sidewalks and paths. To learn more about these problems and stimulate thinking about potential solutions, I invite readers to the website of the recently founded nonprofit, Public Works for Public Good (www.pwpg.org). Each tab contains a short video that summarizes work done to date, in conjunction with neighborhood boards, homeowners associations, businesses and other stakeholders.
Public Works for Public Good