One of three towers proposed for northeast Minneapolis has cleared a key hurdle, bringing it a step closer to groundbreaking.

Lennar Multifamily Communities wants to build an 20-story tower and a low-rise apartment building with a combined 253 rental apartments, more than 17,000 square feet of retail space and a 4,900 square-foot restaurant on the former site of Superior Plating in northeast Minneapolis.

At the final meeting of the Superior Plating Task Group on Wednesday night, an overflow crowd applauded Lennar's revised design. "I think this is really an extraordinary design," City Council Member Jacob Frey said. "This is pretty stunning on the whole."

The task force voted in favor of the project, which will be reviewed next by the Nicollet Island-East Bank Neighborhood Association.

Lennar would like to begin construction this fall and finish a year later. The company has submitted plans for bids, but still doesn't own the site and hasn't got city approval.

Peter Chmielewski, Lennar's senior development manager, said the company extended a purchase agreement and is now working toward a Feb. 6 "notice to proceed" deadline before a closing will be scheduled.

Neighborhood support doesn't guarantee approval from the City Council or its subcommittees, but it's a critical step.

Two other sizable residential towers are planned on nearby blocks. One will being developed by Schafer Richardson, a Minneapolis firm, will be an apartment tower on the Hennepin Avenue block where the Nye's Polonaise Room is located. And a 40-story tower has been proposed by Alatus LLC, also of Minneapolis, on the Central Avenue site of Washburn-McReavy Funeral Home.

The two-block site is at the corner of 1st and University Avenues just a few blocks from the Mississippi River.

Last year, Lennar said it hoped to build two 17-story towers on the site. Its latest proposal is for just one tower, however. And at the meeting Wednesday, Chmielewski said the company would like to proceed with plans to develop the second block, but is focused solely Phase 1.

Renderings by Elness Swenson Graham Architects show a glass, metal and concrete tower with a swooping shape that will create curved cantilevered balconies that face downtown and the Mississippi River.

The tower is situated toward the back interior corner of the one-block site. A row of townhouses will line University Avenue and shops and a restaurant will be positioned along 1st Avenue. ESG architect, Aaron Roseth, said the tower will be set back from the sidewalk at least 25 feet to create a "public/private area" that will include trees, grass and outdoor seating.

A "woonerf," or pedestrian-friendly drive, will cut between the two blocks along what was originally the 4th Street right of way. That will enable cars to reach parking and people to access a green space.

Chicago-based Lennar Multifamily is a division of a national homebuilder that, until recently, focused on single-family homes. It has several single-family home developments in the metro area. The company is also working on an apartment project near Southdale Center in Edina.

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376