A Minneapolis developer wants to build a 16-story apartment tower on a controversial Dinkytown site.

Twin Cities-based CPM shared preliminary plans this week with members of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association land use committee for a $60 million tower that would include two levels of parking and retail on the first floor.

The project, which could rise to 17 stories, would be built on three parcels on 4th Street SE. that are now a surface parking lot and two buildings with the restaurants Mesa Pizza, Camdi and Chatime Bubble Tea Café.

Even before commissioning detailed renderings, CPM wanted to show members of the land-use committee conceptual renderings to give them a sense of size and to elicit feedback.

The proposal comes at a particularly sensitive time for the neighborhood, which until recently has managed to avoid much of the high-density, high-rise development that's happening elsewhere in the city.

Keeping developers at bay hasn't been easy. Two years ago, Bloomington-based Doran Cos. gave up on an attempt to build a hotel on the same site after opponents raised concerns that too many of the city's low-rise, early 1900s buildings were being replaced with buildings that were too bold.

That proposal came on the heels of hundreds of new apartments aimed at students, including a 140-unit student housing complex built by Minnetonka-based Opus Group just a block away at 428 13th Av. SE. In the adjacent Stadium Village area, several low-rise storefronts at the southeast corner of Washington Avenue SE. and Harvard Street have been shuttered. That's where Tom Lund and Mark Bell of Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors are about to start construction on a 27-story residential, retail and office tower they hope will give hospital workers and other professionals a housing option that is in short supply in the area.

Dinkytown has become ground zero for a development dilemma that's playing out across the city as developers, neighborhood groups and city planners confront challenging decisions brought about by deepening demand for housing, office and retail space.

Just a few blocks upriver from the U campus, a developer recently scaled back plans for a luxury apartment tower that would have replaced Nye's Polonaise Room after foes said that it would have a damaging impact on the neighborhood and the buildings around it.

Just after that project was redrawn, another developer rolled out plans for a 42-story condominium tower that would replace the Washburn-McReavy funeral home at the foot of the 3rd Avenue Bridge in the heart of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District. That project cleared a critical hurdle on Friday when the Minneapolis City Council upheld a planning committee's decision to deny a neighborhood group's attempt to stop it.

To be more proactive in its efforts to help guide developers and residents on future developments in such areas, Minneapolis established three new historic districts in part because of their ties to the streetcar lines that once traversed across the city. One of those districts was established in Dinkytown, where several buildings were deemed significant to the streetcar era.

Council Member Jacob Frey, who was an advocate of limiting the designation to the streetcar era of 1899 to 1929, said that he's generally supportive of such development in certain areas. But he said he's withholding judgment on the CPM proposal until more details are available.

"There will need to be substantial engagement to determine the design and how it jibes with the rest of the district, we're not there yet," Frey said. "I believe strongly that the concepts of historic preservation and growth are not mutually exclusive; while it's critical to retain our history, we can also create our own history in 2016."

Hung Russell, co-chair of the Marcy-Holmes land use committee, said that he and other members of the committee are also withholding judgment about the CPM project until they see more detailed renderings.

Height isn't as much of an issue as how the development relates to the street and to the historic buildings in the area, he said. And a key factor for Russell is how much of the facade they will be able to incorporate the building.

"I object to any proposal that would remove the existing buildings and leave the skin as a facade for a new building," he said. "I thought it would make a mockery of the notion of historic preservation."

Russell said the timing of the proposal is a challenge because the neighborhood group is finalizing the design guidelines that will govern future development in the historic district.

Timing will almost certainly be an issue for the developer, as well. With thousands of apartments already under construction and on the drawing board in the area, there's growing concern that too many apartments will hit the market at the same time.

Mary Bujold of Maxfield Research said that, with enrollment numbers at the University not rising substantially, she's "puzzled" that so many new projects are still being proposed.

CPM co-founder Daniel Oberpriller said that the company has had the site under contract for some time and hopes to start construction in April. And he's optimistic there's still an untapped market for rentals that would appeal to upperclassman and others who don't want to share the four- and five-bedroom apartments that dominated the most recent construction boom in the area.

To help differentiate it from the other apartments, he's planning to make the building as energy efficient and sustainable as possible, and he hopes that adding a few hundred new residents to the area will help support more retail and restaurants.

"Dinkytown is a little sleepy at this point," Oberpriller said. "This is a special area and it deserves a special project."

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376