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Neighborhood group skeptically eyeballs Lake Calhoun apartment design

Courtesy of Trammell Crow
Trammell Crow favors a structure that rises 11 stories and leaves room for a park at the rear; but they would need a zoning variance to build it.

In her exuberant inaugural address Monday, Minneapolis’ brand-new mayor vowed to make the city grow, and she wasn’t at all shy about it. She envisioned a city “where 500,000 people — no 500,001 and more people — live and thrive in Minneapolis, with the greatest density along transit corridors.”   

If goings on at a recent meeting of the Land Use and Development Committee of the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association (CIDNA) are any indication, however, Mayor Betsy Hodges may have as much difficulty getting there as Christian, the hero of “Pilgrim’s Progress” faced on his trek to the Celestial City. Neighborhood groups like CIDNA have no formal power, but they can stop any project cold if they disapprove. And while Calhoun-area residents who showed up at the meeting said that density is fine — they get the mayor’s goal — many weren’t exactly thrilled about getting it literally in their backyard.    

At issue is a proposal by Trammell Crow, the Dallas-based real-estate development giant, to build a 177-unit apartment tower with 236 parking spots. In fact, the structure would rise only 11 stories, making it more a block than a tower, but by Minneapolis standards, it’s high. It would sit on a long, narrow lot now occupied by Tryg’s restaurant on Lake Street, about a block-and-a-half from Lake Calhoun.

On the surface at least, the development, which its backers hope will attract young professionals and other up-market renters, would align nicely with Hodges’ aims. Not only would it add people, but they would be upper-middle-class taxpaying people who could help bulk up the city’s coffers. The Truelson family (of Porky’s fame), which owns the land, would operate a new, downsized Tryg’s at the front of the building.

And, talk about a transit corridor! Stops for the proposed Southwest LRT and a city streetcar system would lie only a few blocks distant, and the Midtown Greenway curves around the north end of the property. As if all that weren’t enough to argue for the lot’s development, Trammell Crow, in exchange for exceeding the 56-foot height limit imposed by the zoning code, promises to create a European-style park and plaza in the rear of the lot and negotiate direct access to the Greenway for residents.

Not an easy sell

But CIDNA is not exactly an easy sell. Previously the group rejected a proposal from Michael Landers, who had garnered awards for 21st Avenue Lofts and West River Commons, to put up a residential building next to the Calhoun Beach Club until he modified the plan so many times that the economics no longer made sense, particularly as the recession took hold in 2008. Four years later, CIDNA zapped three different schemes from Ted Bigos, an owner of apartment communities, to put a residential building in the same spot.

The group says that it’s not against growth or density — moderate density, anyway. “We don’t oppose everything,” says Robert Corrick, a former banker and chair of CIDNA’s land use committee. Doing that would lose the group its credibility, he adds. But CIDNA insists that any new development must respect “the sensitive and complex context of the surrounding parks, lakes, Greenway, and residential properties.”

The question is: How much respect?

About 50 people, some members of CIDNA and others residents of nearby condos like the Loop Calhoun and Calhoun Isles, braved below-zero temperatures to tell the Trammell Crow team that they were not being respectful or sensitive enough. Corrick allocated developers a half hour to unveil their plans, but the audience pelted them with so many concerns and questions that the time limit soon went by the boards.

Among the problems residents foresaw: increased traffic. (“I would like to hear you acknowledge that you are exacerbating the issue,” one woman sternly told Grady Hamilton, a Trammell Crow principal and spokesman for the project, as though she were a school teacher commanding a second-grader to confess that he had indeed pulled Betty Lou’s braids.)

CIDNA asked for a rendering of a six-story building
Courtesy of Trammell Crow
CIDNA asked for a rendering of a six-story building that would achieve the same density. It eliminates the park and would also require a variance.

Blocking of their views and diminishment of their light and air also came in for bitter complaint. As for the park, “it wouldn’t be a consolation for the loss of the sky,” said a woman from Calhoun Isles. Forty of the Loop apartments, complained one person, would lose their views — although if they are looking west, I’m not sure what they see beyond a neighboring shopping center and its surface parking lot. Another person remarked that she thought the proposal for a park was patronizing since the neighborhood already had plenty of parkland.

Hamilton offered solutions, studies and alternatives to try to appease the group. “We are working hard to work with you,” he said, reminding me a bit of an adult kid trying to please parents who will never ever love him.

Traffic talk

In a preemptive move, the team had hired Mike Spack, a traffic engineer, to study the impact the building would have on the high-volume street, which carries 40,000 cars a day. Spack said that 200-some additional cars, which came and went at different times during the day, would not have a noticeable effect on traffic. Making the exit from the building a right-turn only would improve matters. And, then, of course, after the LRT and the streetcar came on line, traffic would diminish dramatically.

He didn’t manage to mollify many people. A couple of folks asserted that because he was in the pay of the developer, his report wasn’t objective. A woman suggested that developers wait until the LRT and the streetcars were in operation before going ahead with the building. She seemed to think that the Truelsons would be happy to wait six years or so to sell their property.

In a bid to lower the building’s height, possibly saving some neighbors their sky views, Corrick had asked the developers to show what a six-story structure would look like instead of the 11-story tower. “This is our ode to you, Bob,” said Hamilton, and at his command, one of the architect’s staffers manipulated software that showed a reconfigured building.

To keep the same number of apartments, the structure would have to fill the entire lot. There would be no room for the park, and, said Hamilton, a building with a lower height would not have the classy look that would attract high-income renters.

The rendering was bare bones but I think that even if architects draped it in hyacinth garlands and put golden Buddhas at each corner, it would still be butt-ugly. In response to all this, a woman suggested that maybe the Truelsons should think about their “architectural legacy” and simply build something smaller. Smaller, however, might mean not financially feasible.   

Some suggestions

A few in the audience weren’t ready to dismiss Trammell Crow’s project out of hand. Jeffrey Petrola suggested the building go higher. A taller structure would allow for the same number of apartments but be less bulky and less likely to block views. “It might produce an airy density, not a blocky density,” he argued.

Jane Kennedy, a Loop resident, said that from the start, “We knew this land would be developed, and I rued the day it would happen.” But, she added, that she thought the 11-story version with the park would be acceptable and would enhance the value of her property.

Russ Palma, another Loop resident, said the building would be an improvement on the “ugly pile of dirt and leaves” now sitting behind Tryg’s restaurant.

Technically, Trammell Crow does not need CIDNA’s endorsement to move forward. It must, however, win the Planning Commission’s approval to put up a project taller than the maximum limit of 56 feet  (35 feet for a small part of the property in the Shore Overlay District).

The commission has occasionally overruled the preferences of neighborhood associations. In 2009, for example, it allowed construction of a residential mixed-use project kitty-corner from the Lake Calhoun Boathouse over the objections of three protesting associations.

The current matter goes to the city council’s Planning and Zoning Committee and on to the full council. Generally, if a neighborhood association vetoes a project, the council member from that area votes it down — and his or her fellow council members follow suit.

John Kim, a member of CIDNA’s land use committee, asked Corrick whether any development went forth without the group’s approval. Corrick couldn’t name one.

Correction: An earlier version of this article included drawings of a previous proposal for the area, not the current design.

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Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Ian Futterer on 01/10/2014 - 11:01 am.

    “We don’t oppose everything,”

    Then why does it seem like every single building someone wants to build gets opposed? I’d say that you DO oppose everything! Saying that you would accept a 3 story building the size of a SFH doesn’t count as compromise…

  2. Submitted by Kevin Watterson on 01/10/2014 - 11:27 am.

    “the loss of the sky”That

    “the loss of the sky”

    That was my favourite part.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/10/2014 - 11:46 am.

    One tires of Ms. Harris’s knee-jerk opposition to neighbors actually having a say in what gets developed right next door to them. Her snide articles are only interesting for a search–unsurprisingly fruitless in this one–for instances where she credits a resident or a neighborhood group with solid reasoning in challenging a proposal.

    One is aware, though, of the disastrous development, in this same Minneapolis area, of a complex that necessitated basement and sub-basement parking (for the density need to “make the project economically feasible” or double-digit profitable). That building was approved for temporary pumping out of the sub-basement’s water from the water table it was built beneath, but several years later, it’s still dumping its many thousands of gallons of water into Lake Calhoun, rather than the Lagoon where ice melted last year because of it. A royal mess.

    Sometimes our enthusiasm for any and all development, no matter who or what, brings real negatives that maybe only nearby residents can perceive.

    • Submitted by Anthony Robinson on 01/11/2014 - 02:25 pm.

      Kudos to You….

      Finally…someone who gets it.

      If Ms. Harris had her way, there would be a luxury development thrown up on every vacant tract of land in Minneapolis, with no input from residents or neighborhood groups whatsoever. All in the name of getting to that magical number of 500,000.

      Let’s just build it, right?!?! Who cares about the impact or what the residents of the neighborhood want, right? I mean…what do they know, right?

  4. Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 01/10/2014 - 04:28 pm.

    Just Re-Zone It

    I know rezoning is much more of a hassle than the variance process but with the constant (and in my opinion damaging) NIMBYism in this city maybe it’s just time to rezone entire parts of the city for higher density and building heights. Make some new type of overlay district if you have to, but please make it easier to actually build dense urban developments in parts of town that can actually support them. It seems like for every new building approved three it four others are given the kiss of death by NIMBY neighbors.

    Speaking of which I’m not at all convinced there’s enough accountability on the part of the neighborhood groups to the actual residents they supposedly speak for. When I lived in NIEBNA I tried to find out how and where to attend meetings but could never actually find information. The published meeting dates in the paper listed the locations as TBA, only they were never actually announced anywhere I could find.

    It seems to me like most of these associations are run by property owners who have a sort of good old boy’s club. They have no interest in the views of renters even if you care about the neighborhood and have lived there for years. Until I’m convinced these organizations aren’t being exclusionary I don’t think they deserve any say in the planning process because representing themselves as speaking for the area is a lie.

  5. Submitted by Anthony Robinson on 01/11/2014 - 01:33 pm.

    I’m Guessing This Harris Lady Doesn’t Live in the Neighborhood

    Wow. That’s really all I can say…wow. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this piece was written by some windbag from Fox News Channel. Frankly, half the jokers commenting on this piece OBVIOUSLY don’t live in the area, so therefore have no @#$% idea what they’re talking about. I’m sure if some developer proposed dropping in a 12 story apartment complex in THEIR backyard, they would lose their minds!!!

    I’ve NEVER had such malicious, uninformed maligning of neighborhood associations.

    And really…?!?! Adding one nondescript, overpriced, overhyped, undersized “luxury” apartment development is going to get us to 500,000 population???

    Here’s an idea to all you out there moaning about how CIDNA is just stonewalling is just obstructing growth of our fair city – ESPECIALLY you Ms. Harris – why don’t we build a 200 unit apartment complex in each of your neighborhoods and see how accomodating YOU are!?! I’m gonna guess not very!!!

    Cedar-Isles is NOT Uptown, nor do we the residents want it to be!!!

    Go find your density someplace else, like YOUR own backyard!!!

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 01/13/2014 - 08:16 am.

      I’d love a 12 story building in my back yard, except my neighborhood doesn’t have empty or under developed lots nearby. But even so I’d be OK with tearing down some smaller buildings that are vacant or under utilized to put something like this up.

      Here’s a hint: if you hate density move to the suburbs. Don’t try to turn the city into a low density sprawl. For a neighborhood within a couple miles of downtown I find it hilarious that you expect to live in low density housing where nothing bigger than a single family house is ever built. You are the poster child of a NIMBY. You got your piece and now nobody else can have one.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 01/14/2014 - 02:55 pm.

      Apartment Buildings

      Actually, we’ve had about five or six 200+ unit apartment complexes built in our neighborhood and I like it just fine.

      In fact I love it!

      CIDNA has been a stick in the mud for far too long on far too many issues that directly impact the health of our city. Having your voice heard is fine but when wealthy neighborhoods get special treatment, people tend to, you know, have something to say about it.

  6. Submitted by Janne Flisrand on 01/11/2014 - 03:58 pm.

    I’m concerned about water quality

    The taller version with the park land offers opportunity to mitigate the stormwater runnoff from the site — rather than dumping it all right into the lakes. Taller with more permiable space is better if water quality matters, and it does to me.

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 01/13/2014 - 01:01 pm.

      Density itself reduces stormwater impact

      For a given area (subwatershed), density substantially reduces the stormwater water quality impact per dwelling. Indeed, in some cities ordinances allow for stormwater management requirements to be met in part by increasing density. Further, stormwater infrastructure (conveyance and treatment) is much cheaper per dwelling. One more reason to favor compact urban development over lower-density suburban/exurban growth.

  7. Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/11/2014 - 08:50 pm.

    Hmm

    I wonder when I’ll get to read the article about all the fabulous new affordable housing going up to bring the city toward the mayor’s goal…. oh wait, that’s right, never mind. When does the name change from “City of Lakes” to “City of Luxury” happen?

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 01/13/2014 - 08:21 am.

      As irritating as I find it that only luxury housing seems to get built, there is at least the silver lining that if people who can afford that housing move into new developments then the more affordable units they probably currently occupy open up. Having more apartment stock does help keep prices down across the board. Plus today’s luxury buildings are tomorrow’s middle income housing.

      That said I do wish investors would open up to smaller but safer returns on more affordable new developments. But it’s not going to happen as long as there’s some other market they can still get the luxury return in.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/13/2014 - 11:38 am.

        “Probably” and “wish”

        Are not words I would be comfortable with in addressing the need for affordable housing. I once lived in the city proper, I found it electic and fun. More importantly, I could afford it. My mortgage in the burbs is fully half of the rate I see on some of these places. Their construction brings gentrification, and with it the sorts of folks who find that appealing. Rents are not going down, and if the ambitious plan set forth is reached (500k), they aren’t coming down anytime soon. Nowhere do I see a plan for housing anyone but the upwardly mobile 20-30 something without children. That’s all fine and good but what is the plan for when they inevitably need something different? I laugh the same laugh as when I watch building after building of senior living establishments go up in the burbs for a population that while peaking now, will be dwindling in just a few short decades. I guess long range planning isn’t anyone’s forte these days.

        • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 01/13/2014 - 06:31 pm.

          To be fair most real estate investors aren’t worried about a building’s use a few decades from now. They get their return and move on. At least senior living compounds can be converted into normal apartments fairly easily.

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/14/2014 - 06:02 am.

            Indeed they can

            Provided there is demand of course. This is exactly the problem with structuring development around a single demographic. While it could be argued that the type of development currently springing up around Mpls is what is in demand, I might add that the experience of the last decade shows how fleeting that demand can be. Would not a more broad based approach that addresssss all income levels and all stages of life not lead to a more stable and less economically segregated city in the future. If so, why is no one pursuing policy or incentive to that effect? Don’t worry I know the answer, that doesn’t make it any less discouraging.

        • Submitted by David Greene on 01/14/2014 - 02:58 pm.

          Housing

          You do know there are good, solid houses in Minneapolis to be had for $30k, don’t you? There are lots of cheap places to rent too, some relatively near to the newer luxury units.

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/15/2014 - 10:22 am.

            Please see

            The companion piece (in spirit, if not actuality) regarding the dearth of affordable housing options in Minneapolis. As to your 30k “solid” home, I can get you a great deal on a bridge out New York way too.

            • Submitted by David Greene on 01/15/2014 - 01:07 pm.

              Homes

              So you dispute my claim about the cost of housing? I know for a fact that good $30k houses are available in Minneapolis. A friend of mine lives right next door to one.

              A lot of students live in my neighborhood, which includes almost all of the new luxury apartments. Somehow I don’t think most students could afford $1500 or more rent (and $1500 is LOW compared to what these luxury units cost). My point is that people of moderate means are living in the area right now. Adding more housing isn’t going to somehow push them out.

              • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/15/2014 - 08:59 pm.

                hmm

                Actually yes they can, as they are most likely splitting the cost with roommates ( not to mention 1500 is pretty low for anything outside of barely liveable slumlord dump). Not to mention a fair portion are recieving help with payments in the form of financial aid. Kind of hard to shoehorn in a couple of families of four, living on poverty wages. Btw, yes I do not believe that there is a 30k home in Mpls for sale that is not in need of major structural repair. That does not qualify as “good” or even liveable, in anyone’s book.

                • Submitted by David Greene on 01/16/2014 - 12:19 pm.

                  Apartments

                  In my experience, $1500 is about average for a relatively older building in the North Loop. There are apartments to be had in Whittier and the Wedge for *much* less than that.

                  Granted, these aren’t huge apartments but we are also getting midrange projects like the Buzza Lofts ($870-$1,115) that are right smack dab in the middle of the action.. I can’t find the link right now but there is a project I believe in CARAG that proposes six townhome-style 3-4 bedroom apartments that are pretty affordable.

                  If you look at the history of Minneapolis, you’ll see that our housing stock used to hold a lot more density than we have now. It was not unusual to have mid-size families living in small apartments and singles or small families renting rooms from homeowners. Some of that was pushed out by stricter zoning and some by preferences changing but that fact is that Minneapolis used to hold over half a million people with much less housing than we have now.

                  The Bell museum had a great exhibit a couple years ago showing how our housing preferences have changed over the decades and led to bigger, less-used housing. It’s obscene, really. We need to embrace density and that doesn’t just mean building new apartment buildings. We have to use what we already have more efficiently.

                  As for the $30k house, I don’t know the details of its condition (I don’t own it after all), but my friend has been in their visiting her neighbor and she says it looks quite good. It might be a foreclosure sale which would lower the price a bit and it’s in a neighborhood generally not favored by white suburbanites but the neighborhood is as safe as any in Uptown (check the crime maps) and it’s a *lot* cheaper. If you want good, cheap housing in Minneapolis, you can find it if you change your perspective a bit.

                  I’m no free-market idealogue but it generally is true that building more housing isn’t going to cause the average cost of housing to rise.

  8. Submitted by Jon Lord on 01/13/2014 - 07:32 am.

    The new building is up dramatically along the Greenway Corridor and in and around the Uptown area if anyone has noticed? Those new apartments alone will increase traffic rather dramatically I would think. Just offhand there are around a dozen new apartment complexes going up or have gone up in the last few years. Uptown, including the surrounding areas, are becoming just a much bigger 50th and France. That has and will continue to drive up rents in the surrounding area. Unless, and until, it’s found that most of those apartments will go unfilled. And just where is the new transit corridor going up? The streetcars?

    • Submitted by David Greene on 01/14/2014 - 03:00 pm.

      Midtown Rail

      The Midtown Corridor rail line will be an incredible transit service.

      As for the new buildings, I live less than a block away and haven’t noticed a significant uptick in traffic. A lot of people bike to Mozaic, for example. People can walk everywhere in the area, they don’t need to drive.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/13/2014 - 09:24 am.

    That 11 story rendering is way off scale

    I have admit I’ve always been puzzled by Marlys’s kind of obsession with this little track of land in MPLS. At any rate that rendering of the 11 story version is way way way off scale. That building to the left is the current Calhoun shopping mall. That’s a single story strip mall, maybe 20 feet tall. The rendering makes it five stories (40 -50 feet) high compared to the tower. This has the effect of dramatically understating the height of the proposed tower compared to the surrounding buildings. The proposed building looks about half as tall it will actually be.

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 01/13/2014 - 11:13 am.

      It does look like they messed up the z-axis placement of the shopping center but keep in mind retail floor heights are generally bigger than residential ones. I imagine the building itself is properly scaled but the surrounding ones aren’t perfect since they don’t have exact measurements.

    • Submitted by Mitch Hallan on 01/13/2014 - 12:29 pm.

      The rendering is correct

      The building to the left, which is the east side if this image, are the Loop Calhoun condos at 5 stories tall. The strip mall is on the right in this image, to the west.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/13/2014 - 01:28 pm.

        Ah, I see

        So this is looking it from the north, towards lake Calhoun, from the Greenway perspective. I stand corrected.

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