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Linden Hills plan advances without strict height limits

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: December 9, 2013 - 5:44 PM

Neighborhood activists seeking strict height limitations on new developments in Linden Hills were overruled by a key City Council committee Monday.

The city's zoning and planning committee stripped references in the Linden Hills small area plan to height measured in feet -- a final vote is expected later this week. That scuttles the desire by some residents to limit new developments along three commercial nodes to three stories.

Instead, developments along those three commercial nodes can be three or four stories, depending on their underlying zoning. But council member Betsy Hodges, who represents the area, successfully advocated for a staff direction that would encourage smaller buildings.

Residents initially drafted a plan that limited all mixed-use development along commercial areas to three stories. That's partly because the plan was spurred last year by two mixed use developments featuring four and five stories.

City staff pushed back, and the restriction was changed to 44 feet at three nodes and 50 feet at another.

The report said 44 feet could accommodate three- or four-story buildings, but city staff said four-story mixed use buildings would likely not be possible within those limitations. The city planning commission, which initially stripped the height language, said it was overly prescriptive and not the appropriate method of limit height.

“Without the 44 foot ­language to guide future development, we’re back to where we started with all parties struggling with each other,” the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council wrote of the planning commission action.

At the request of Hodges, the following staff direction was also passed along with the plan:

"Encourage overall building heights and floor-to-floor heights that reflect the adjacent architectural context and encourage buildings that are shorter than the current Zoning Code maximums for 3 and 4 story buildings (42 feet and 56 feet respectively) in the Linden Hills Small Area Plan."

Outgoing Council Member Meg Tuthill asked why there was a rush to pass the plan, given that seven new council members would arrive in several weeks. She said there should be more "clarification for the community."

Council Member Lisa Goodman, one of six incumbents returning, said this council has more experience with Linden Hills development concerns.

"To be candid, I actually think you'll get the opposite outcome with the new council," Goodman said. "So I actually think we should pass it today with this recommendation by Council Member Hodges that will give the guidance we need. Who knows? The next group of people could say there shouldn't be a height limit. This is a very pro-density group of people."

Pictured: Initial plans for Linden Corner, one of the projects that spurred neighborhood ire, a development moratorium and the small area plan.

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