A City Hall development panel was somewhat taken aback Thursday by a plan to build 759 parking stalls at a new residential project in the heart of downtown, an area where city plans generally discourage additional parking.

Developer Jim Stanton is proposing to build a 20-story condominium building on the corner of Hennepin and Washington Avenues, within walking distance of most major transit lines. The building would feature 360 condominiums and ground-level retail on what is now an empty lot.

Parking policy – particularly in transit-oriented areas – is of increasing concern for city leaders who hope to dramatically grow the city’s population without adding more cars on the street.

Unlike developments in the rest of Minneapolis, new residential buildings downtown have no minimum parking requirements. In fact, there is a maximum allowed parking of 1.6 stalls per unit. Stanton needs a variance to construct his 759 stalls (the bulk of them underground), almost all of which would serve residents of the building.

Stanton and his development team presented the plan to the city planning commission’s committee of the whole Thursday night. The parking proposal faced resistance from commissioners, who said they would prefer more of the stalls were available to the public and the neighborhood.

“In the future, if more families become single-car households or preferably they have bikes and rarely use a car, is there a plan in place for the parking, [for] some of it to become public?” asked commissioner Alissa Luepke Pier.

Stanton said probably not, since he sells the parking stalls along with the units. Luepke Pier suggested selling the units with one stall and making the other one optional. “I mean that’s a lot of parking.”

Council Member Lisa Bender, who chairs the council’s zoning and planning committee, said there are several policy reasons parking is capped downtown. “One policy argument for not allowing the additional parking in this place is because you’re taking space away from what could be units downtown,” Bender said.

But Stanton said his experience building downtown – he has constructed more than 700 units there – has taught him parking is crucial to selling the condos.  

Some residents at his other properties, Bridgewater Lofts and Stonebridge Lofts, purchased only one parking spot, he said. “Now they try to sell their place and they’re coming to me: ‘Do you have any extra spots? Please, we’ll pay you $20,000 a spot if we can get a spot. We can’t sell our unit because we only have one parking spot.’ So that’s the dilemma I face.

“These people are buying and most of them are … empty nesters and professionals. And when they’ve got couples you’ll find one works on this side of town, and one works on another. I’m not against your mass transit. In fact, it’s great that you’ve got it. Hopefully some of the people use it.”

He added: “There’s a grievous concern about whether we could sell and I don’t want to be sitting there with empty units. They cost me money. Significant money.”

Bender countered that he will still sell the units if he lowers the amount of parking, though probably for less money.

“There are policy reasons that we’ve set a parking maximum downtown,” she said. “So parking is driving the architecture of a lot of these buildings. And it is also driving the price of housing. And it’s driving the amount of housing we get in buildings.”

The planning commission committee of the whole does not vote on projects. The next stop for Stanton’s project is the full planning commission, then on to the council’s zoning and planning committee.