One of the fiercest and most prolonged development fights to accompany Minneapolis’ housing boom neared an end Thursday with initial approval of a luxury condominium project in the Linden Hills neighborhood.
A well-organized group of neighbors have fought hard against different iterations of the project for years, arguing its height would fundamentally change the southwest Minneapolis neighborhood. But guided by the city’s zoning code and an established plan for the neighborhood, a City Council committee unanimously denied an attempt to stop the four-story development on a site of a shuttered Famous Dave’s restaurant.
Opponents, who bussed people to City Hall to testify, argued that the city already denied an earlier version of the project in 2012.
“The 56-foot height dwarfs our one-story home, potentially blocks light to our garden [and] sets a precedent for other building in this quaint little livable neighborhood,” said homeowner David Myers.
The vocal opposition highlights the tension developers have faced in some corners of the city as they attempt to build five- and six-story buildings, though some communities have been more accepting. It poses complex and politically vexing challenges for city leaders, who hope to increase the city’s population near commercial centers and transit lines.
The Linden Crossing project has changed substantially since developer Mark Dwyer’s initial five-story proposal, which helped spur a moratorium on large-scale development in the neighborhood and the creation of a long-term plan for the area. The number of units has been halved from 40 to 20, the square footage has been reduced by 43 percent and the height has been cut by 3 feet — with the top floor now substantially pulled back from the edge of the building to create a more compact feel. It also features about 6,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.
“What we’re creating here is an experience that feels like three stories and will be a great addition to the neighborhood,” Dwyer told the committee.
The changes have also meant making the units more expensive, however. Dwyer said units in the original plan would have cost between $400,000 and $450,000. Now he expects the units will be between $650,000 and $1.4 million. “As a city, when we give away density … we have to create a higher-end product,” Dwyer said.
Much of the neighborhood criticism has centered on the height of the building.
“This particular corner has small buildings, low buildings,,” said resident Nicki Stenzler. “This is the heart of Linden Hills.”
But Bruce Allen, one of few supporters to testify, saw the potential to attract businesses to the neighborhood. “This building would bring more middle-class people to that intersection, which would draw other businesses that would allow us to get out of our cars, such as a grocery store,” Allen said.
Mayor Betsy Hodges weighed in on the issue on her Facebook page, supporting the outcome of the protracted deliberations.
“The new Linden Crossing proposal will help us grow our city as we plan for the needs of the future,” wrote the mayor, who used to live in the area.
Residents at Thursday’s meeting wore signs reading “C1 ≠ C2,” a reference to two commercial zoning classifications. Some argued that allowing a 56-foot building in the area is akin to allowing denser zoning.
“For me, it’s effectively rezoning that node by the back door,” said Christopher Maddox, a project opponent.
But city staff noted that the permit needed for the project, which allows for greater heights if certain conditions are met, is similar to those granted at half the projects built outside of downtown in the past five years.
Before granting the extra height, city staff must weigh whether the building will be detrimental to the public health or welfare, harmful to nearby properties or overly burdensome on utilities and roads.
“You have to have a strong basis to deny,” said the city’s planning manager Jason Wittenberg.
Council member Lisa Bender, chair of the zoning and planning committee, said the final project fits well with the plan for the neighborhood. She said she sympathizes with neighbors who feel like the final neighborhood plan does not conform to their wishes and concerns. “What we have to look at is the zoning code and guided by the small area plan,” she said.