The West End, a 32-acre mixed-use development in St. Louis Park that is already home to an upscale apartment complex, could get another under a proposal from a Florida developer.
Dolce Living paid $4.85 million to Duke Realty this month for a pair of properties on the north side of the development along Interstate 394, according to records from the Minnesota Department of Revenue.
The properties include a shuttered Chili's restaurant, where the company is proposing to build a six-story, 158-unit building.
There are also plans for a second phase on the neighboring lot, which holds a still-operating Olive Garden restaurant.
Because the parcels are part of the larger West End development, the project's backers are seeking permission from the city to amend the parcels' designation from restaurant to multiple-family residential.
Dolce Living's proposal, shepherded by David Graham of ESG Architects, received the unanimous backing of the city's planning commission this month and is set to appear in front of the City Council on Oct. 7.
However, the plan likely will face skepticism from at least some council members who are concerned about its density and the sustainability of the wave of new apartment building in the city and its implications for St. Louis Park's long-term future.
The 119-unit Flats at West End from the Excelsior Group opened next door earlier this year.
As envisioned by Dolce Living, the new apartments will become an integral piece of the West End's "urban village" mix of shopping, entertainment, office and residential uses.
It is to be centered on a new private street running north-south between the Chili's and Olive Garden sites that will connect it to the rest of the West End and to Wayzata Boulevard.
Graham said the idea is to use the new thoroughfare to create a "continuous, active streetscape" fronting townhouses with individual front doors, porches and front yards. It's the same design concept ESG used with its successful Excelsior and Grand development elsewhere in the city.
"It will be a lot like a street in the Mill District, with individual townhouses at the base, rendered in a contemporary way, but with a traditional sense of a streetscape," he said. "Without that new street, there really is no project, and the city liked that."
Also part of the plan is the creation of a new "pocket park" in the space between the Dolce Living project and the Flats at West End, as well as an area for planters in which residents can set up vegetable gardens.
Some 61 percent of the units would be one bedroom or smaller, with average monthly rents of $1,500 to $1,600.
The possibility of more small, upscale apartments coming to St. Louis Park has raised alarms with some of the city's leaders.
At a July study session, some council members lamented it as a missed opportunity to provide affordable housing in the city, while Council Member Susan Stanger called for a moratorium on further apartment development until the city can study their long-term effects.
"I believe that St. Louis Park is getting overbuilt with too many small apartments," she said in an interview. "It will fundamentally change the character of the community."
While in some ways the influx of small apartments complements life in the city, "they're also a potential problem because they do not have room for families," she said. "If that trend continues, we will have fewer and fewer children in our community, and that will have a very negative effect on the public school system."
Sanger also voiced concerns that the site — along a frontage road at the intersection of two major highways — isn't suitable for any kind of residential project.
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal. He has covered Twin Cities commercial real estate for about a decade.