Uptown neighbors hate plan, but a city panel OKs it

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 6, 2009 - 10:13 PM

Over objections by four citizens groups, who say a proposed apartment building near Lake Calhoun violates height restrictions, a zoning committee sent it to the full council.

A development proposal for what some call the west gateway to Uptown won a significant victory at Minneapolis City Hall on Thursday after extensive debate over whether it follows or flouts development guidelines for the area.

An appeal against the project -- that some called unprecedented because it was joined by four adjacent neighborhood groups, plus individual opponents -- fell short in the City Council's Zoning and Planning Committee. The panel lopsidedly upheld Planning Commission approval on more than a dozen variances or other approvals sought by developer CPM.

CPM plans a 65-unit apartment building and a smaller mostly office and retail building at the northeast corner of Lake Street and Knox Avenue S.

That corner has symbolic importance to those who favor growth controls in Uptown because it lies across the street from the 13-story Edgewater condos adjacent to Lake Calhoun, which are controversial for their height.

CPM is seeking a conditional use permit that would allow the apartment building to be 56 feet tall in a shoreland area where the height limit normally would be 35 feet.

Opponents of that and higher density for the proposal argue that such a height runs afoul of the land-use plan for the area adopted in 2008 by the City Council after nearly two years of deliberations by community residents and businesses. The East Calhoun, Lowry Hill East (Wedge), East Isles and Calhoun Area neighborhood groups brought the appeal, and spoke against the proposal.

They called the development proposal a major test for the area's master plan, which was prompted by several earlier disputed proposals for the area, and was intended to provide predictability for area residents and businesses. Some said approval of the project will undermine resident confidence in the value of city planning. Planning Commission approval of the project earlier prompted the resignation of commissioner Lara Norkus-Crampton, who was East Calhoun's representative to the plan's steering committee.

"I have lost faith that the city is willing to actually implement its own policies to promote density in a balanced way that respects what is good about the Uptown area," she said.

Opponents focused on height guidelines that urge that Uptown development scale down in height as it nears Calhoun. But others, including Council Member Ralph Remington, who fostered the planning process, argued that the development proposal meets numerous other guidelines in the plan, including the last-minute addition of a wider sidewalk along the lake.

"It's a blow to us. We see the Uptown small area plan differently," said Nancy Ward, president of the East Calhoun Community Organization. "I didn't realize how different these perspectives were."

Supporters of the project also argued that it is smaller than other housing towers that were built along Knox before the area's guidelines were developed. But opponents said that planning for the area emphasized development that is in scale with shorter housing that predominates in the lake area of Uptown.

CPM said that assuming that the full council ratifies the committee action on Aug. 14, it plans to begin construction next spring. It argued that the smaller size of units in the building -- which amount to a density of 150 units per acre -- makes studio and one-bedroom apartments with a lake view more affordable.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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