L&H Station Development is moving through the city of Minneapolis approval process with its mixed-use project that could redefine the lightrail stop and intersection at Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue. 

Aerial shot of the existing site as submitted by L&H Station DevelopmentOverall Master Plan for Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue, submitted by L&H Station Development

Hennepin County and its private-sector partner, L&H, provided a lengthy presentation Thursday, Dec. 4, to the Planning Commission Committee of the Whole, which responded favorably but raised several concerns that the development team can address before submitting its formal application in January. 

The county agreed in September to purchase the 6.5-acre parcel from the Minneapolis School District and build a new $54.5-million human service center on the site. The Star Tribune reported:

J. Michael Noonan, manager of the county’s real estate division, said he expects the county to recoup through land sales the $9 million cost of acquiring the parcels. The remainder will be used to build a $30 million service center and $16 million in mostly underground parking.

Because the county will be the landowner, it has enlisted L&H, a joint venture between Roseville-based Launch Properties and Minneapolis-based BKV Group, to provide the expertise lacking within the government entity.

L&H has been trying for four years to get the project off the ground. The plan is to do it in four phases over the next 10 years. The county is only seeking approval for the first phase -- which they hope to break ground on in April -- but the city is taking the long view by considering the master plan in its entirety now.

If the current plans proceed with minimal changes, phase one would include a 100,000-square-foot office building that would be occupied entirely by the county, 8,000 square feet of retail space, a 6-story, 125-unit apartment building and small transit plaza to connect the Blue Line lightrail stop with the ground-level retail.

The final product would include 565 residential units, the 100,000-square-foot county office, 840 off-street parking stalls -- and the kicker: a public plaza and marketplace to house the farmers market and other community events. 

While the development team has been meeting with the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization regularly, some urban designers hope to seem some changes in the plans. In a letter to Commissioner Peter McLaughlin in November, a citizen group cited concerns. Specifically, they noted that the west boundary of the development feeling too much like a "back door" entrance, that the market plaza may be isolated in the current configuration of thoroughfares, and also raised issue with the green-roofed parking garage not being at street level for the public to enjoy.

"When you look at the principles of what we are talking about, I think the overall site plan would require some pretty dramatic changes still," said Sam Newberg, a local urban design blogger and resident of Standish, the neighborhood just to the south. "We find that the surburban model that the county is coming in with hasn't been adjusted enough for the urban fabric."

Senior City Planner Becca Farrar voiced some hesitations in her memo to the Committee that was published before Tuesday's presentation, but she and other members agreed several of these had been addressed with the newly tweaked plans. 

The Committee asked the architects and Noonan, who is the county representative, to build in assurances that the public can clearly tell they have access to the walkways being proposed through the private property portions, to ensure that the public plaza has a visual connection with Lake Street foot traffic and to work closely with the city in selecting simpler building materials.

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