The march of new Walgreens stores in Minneapolis has hit a roadblock in Uptown.

The Illinois-based pharmacy chain has been building stores near old locations across the metro area in recent years. Leases are expiring after more than 20 years and the company is transitioning to larger buildings featuring drive-through pharmacies.

But a proposal to build a single-story Walgreens at 27th Street and Hennepin Avenue — near the heart of Uptown — has drawn the ire of the city’s planning commission and local neighborhood association. Critics say the suburban style of the building is out of place with the area’s urban, walkable character.

“Don’t you want to appeal to the people who’ve chosen to live in the city, who love where they live, who want it to be a walkable pedestrian place? Isn’t that good for your business?” Council Member Lisa Bender asked the project’s designers at a recent hearing.

The proposed Walgreens is one reason the city is now considering further restrictions on drive-through establishments, as well as expanded zoning districts that encourage walkable design.

The planning commission sent the project’s designers back to the drawing board, asking them to return with an improved proposal April 11.

“No one expects a six-story building back,” Bender said. “But we do expect a building that is more in keeping with an urban design.”

The project is being proposed by the owners of the Roat Osha restaurant, which would be torn down to make way for the store. Neither they, nor Walgreens, responded to requests for comment.

Marcie Weslock with Elan Design Lab, which is working on the project, told the planning commission that many plans were examined for the site, including a mixed-use, multistory building. “At the end of the day, it ended up not being viable with Walgreens and the property owner,” Weslock said.

Andrew Degerstrom, president of the East Isles Residents Association, told the commission the project has “received nearly immediate and universal opposition from residents in the neighborhood.” Some are concerned about the closing of Roat Osha and traffic from the drive-through, he said, while others object to the low density of the building.

Above: A rendering of the proposed Walgreens, as seen heading south on Hennepin Avenue (Walgreens).

The proposed Walgreens is one reason the city is now considering further restrictions on drive-through establishments, as well as expanded zoning districts that encourage walkable design.

The planning commission sent the project’s designers back to the drawing board, asking them to return with an improved proposal April 11.

“No one expects a six-story building back,” Bender said. “But we do expect a building that is more in keeping with an urban design.”

The project is being proposed by the owners of the Roat Osha restaurant, which would be torn down to make way for the store. Neither they, nor Walgreens, responded to requests for comment.

Marcie Weslock with Elan Design Lab, which is working on the project, told the planning commission that many plans were examined for the site, including a mixed-use, multistory building. “At the end of the day, it ended up not being viable with Walgreens and the property owner,” Weslock said.

Andrew Degerstrom, president of the East Isles Residents Association, told the commission the project has “received nearly immediate and universal opposition from residents in the neighborhood.” Some are concerned about the closing of Roat Osha and traffic from the drive-through, he said, while others object to the low density of the building.

Semper Development, a developer of many Twin Cities-area Walgreens, is consulting on the project. President Howard Bergerud said while Walgreens has participated in more dense developments, such as a recent proposal featuring apartments in Edina, the size of the Hennepin site was tricky.

“On that small parcel, trying to get underground parking to service it, it was just a very small parcel trying to make it work,” Bergerud said in February.

City planning manager Jason Wittenberg said a development with up to 50 apartments or less on the site would have no parking requirement beyond what’s required for the pharmacy.

The proposed Uptown Walgreens is just blocks away from an existing store, which would close if the new store is built. It would be the sixth such move in Minneapolis in recent years, following similar relocations on Central Avenue, E. Lake Street, W. Broadway Avenue, Lyndale Avenue and Nicollet Mall.

During the hearing, planning commissioner Sam Rockwell listed off Walgreens across the country with more innovative designs, including "the coolest Walgreens ever" in Honolulu (pictured below).

Above: Walgreens in Honolulu (AHL Design)

 

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732

Twitter: @StribRoper