Bowing to pressure from its neighbor to the east, the Edina Planning Commission has denied a preliminary plan to build a six-story apartment and retail building across the street from small houses in Richfield.
Edina is eager to redevelop the former Wickes furniture store site at 6725 York Av. S., which occupies prime real estate across the street from Southdale Center. But the development’s back side along Xerxes Avenue, the border between Edina and Richfield, has been problematic.
Richfield officials and residents said the apartment building would sometimes cast a shadow on the Cape Cods and ramblers across the street.
“It’s a moral imperative that people … do not have a wall in front of them in those houses, and that they can see the sky and that they can see the sun,” Richfield Mayor Debbie Goettel told the commission at its meeting this week.
Chairman Kevin Staunton was among the Planning Commission majority that approved changing Edina’s comprehensive plan to allow six-story buildings on the site, a change from the previous limit of four stories. But he also was part of the 5-1 majority that denied the preliminary development plan.
Staunton told developer Lennar Multi-Family Communities that he was struggling with a plan that had the six-story side of the building looming over Xerxes while the side that faces Southdale would be fronted by a parking lot for a first-floor restaurant and retail.
“It feels like there is room to move the entire structure toward York,” Staunton said. “That’s the big stumbling block.”
Lennar had already changed its proposal after previous questions from both the commission and the council. It cut the number of apartment units from 273 to 242, moved a loading dock and driveway off Xerxes, staggered floors on the Richfield side so the building moved back as it grew higher, and added green space and pedestrian connections. Ground-floor apartments on the Xerxes side would have porches that faced the street.
But under Edina’s setback rules, the proposed project is 18 feet too close to the Richfield homes. Lennar officials told the commission that the project site was extremely expensive and that the building needed to be of a certain size to make the development worthwhile.
“We’ve taken over a year to find a way to make this a feasible project,” Lennar development manager Peter Chmielewski told the commission. “We think it is basically as far back [from Xerxes] as it can possibly go while still maintaining the viability of the project.”
The city of Richfield sent a letter to Edina planning officials saying the building was too tall, too close to houses, would cast shadows on some lots between 1 and 3 p.m., and clashed architecturally with the neighborhood.
It ended by asking that Edina treat Richfield residents as it would its own residents.
“If we had our druthers, we’d like to see a project really no higher than four stories,” Richfield City Manager Steve Devich said in an interview. “Richfield is just asking Edina to be cognizant of the fact that we have single-family homes across the street. … It’s a lot different if you have I-494 or a river between cities, but this border runs right down the middle of Xerxes Avenue.”
Chmielewski told the commission that the parking lot along York was necessary for the retail component of the development. Apartment residents will have underground parking.
Commission members told Lennar its latest proposal was better than the last but needed a few more tweaks.
“I’m just having a little bit of heartburn over the Xerxes side,” said member Michael Platteter. “I think another try needs to be taken on that height issue.”
Lennar is scheduled to take its case to the City Council on May 6.