A proposal to build more than 80 affordable apartments on the western edge of Edina is drawing scrutiny and opposition from a neighborhood unaccustomed to either apartments or affordable housing.
Minneapolis developer Solhem Cos. is proposing a five-story apartment building on Lincoln Drive, next to Hwy. 169. Two years ago, Solhem had proposed a larger, market-rate building on the same site. Infrastructure costs proved prohibitive, so the company went back to the drawing board and is now pursuing an affordable housing development because grants could help pay for some of that infrastructure.
An initial meeting about the project between the developer and neighbors on May 19 quickly became confrontational, said resident Colleen Feige.
"The developers didn't get much time to talk because the audience was generally pretty opposed to the idea," she said. "This will be a hard sell in western Edina."
Then last week, almost 50 people crowded into a usually sleepy meeting of the city planning commission to hear Solhem present a "sketch plan" – an early-stage discussion meant to gauge commissioners' concerns and give developers an opportunity to make adjustments before drawing up full designs.
The Lincoln Drive project is still in its earliest phases, and it's not certain that Solhem will even submit a full proposal for approval. Construction would not begin until summer or fall of 2024 at the earliest.
Solhem Vice President Amol Dixit and CEO Curt Gunsbury presented some details about the proposal at the planning commission meeting. The 89-unit building would include 15 three-bedroom and 8 four-bedroom apartments along with a mix of one- and two-bedroom and studio apartments. The five-story building would have two levels of underground parking, and would be equipped for rooftop solar panels. Rents would be affordable to households making less than 60% of the area median income meaning just over $70,000 for a family of four or just over $49,000 for a single person.
Gunsbury said the project financing would not add up without money available for affordable housing construction, due to the cost of upgrading sewers that serve what is now a one-story office building.
Connecting to Edina's sewer system could add $13 million to the project cost, he said. Alternatively, digging under Hwy. 169 and connecting to Minnetonka could cost less than $1 million. Minnetonka is open to that idea, he said, but building market-rate apartments or a smaller building still wouldn't be financially feasible.
The project would move Edina somewhat closer to its goal of building between 992 and 1,804 units of affordable housing by 2030. So far this decade, just 342 units have been approved and only 108 have been built — just over 10% of the least-ambitious goal.
Most of those approved units have been in the Southdale area, nearer Richfield.
Community Development Director Cary Teague said he has received emails from residents who are worried about traffic, opposed to density in the spread-out neighborhood dominated by larger houses, and unsure about affordable housing. He said there was similar opposition a few years ago when another apartment building was built in western Edina.
Dixit said the proposed development is aimed at "people who work in Edina but can't afford to live in Edina," and if built would provide more options for potential renters with moderate incomes so that they would not be confined to one neighborhood.
Solhem plans to keep trying to engage with neighbors to understand their worries and try to address them, Dixit said.
"We intend on being as transparent as possible," he said.