Developers present Penn Lowry proposals

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Conceptual designs for the potential development on the southeast corner of Penn and Lowry Avenues were presented to community members at Lucy Craft Laney School on Tuesday, October 25. Nearly 60 people were in attendance for presentations by two separate developers, Wellington Management, Inc. and Central Community Housing Trust (CCHT).

Fourth Ward City Council Member Barbara Johnson commented that the design that is picked is important for the “long term vision of Lowry Avenue.” Mayor Rybak held the development to a higher standard in saying that this project was “ground zero for what we want to see happening in Minneapolis.”

Wellington’s proposal featured construction of nearly 27,000 square feet of retail, anchored by a new 16,000 square foot Aldi store. Two smaller buildings would also be constructed that could house five retail tenants. The plan also included the remodel of the 14,000 square foot space that houses the Family Dollar store, which would remain a tenant, adding a separate entrance for office or restaurant use in the space formerly housed by the Penn Best Steak House. Steve Wellington, President of Wellington Management, Inc. saw this site as optimal for development, stating that “suburban expansion has run its course.”

The proposed $6.2 million development would have “a strong need for car access” that would be supported by the construction of parking areas on the block that would accommodate 120 automobiles and potentially necessitate demolition of three homes on Oliver Avenue. If Wellington is unable to voluntarily acquire the single family residences, an alternative placement for the Aldi store will front Lowry Avenue.

Individuals expressed concern about the single story construction for which Wellington responded that his firm uses vertical mixed use development. To go with a horizontal mixed use to increase the density would require underground parking, dramatically increasing the cost of construction. He felt that instead of incurring this expense, that the funds could be used in a later phase by potentially building mutli-storied housing on the northwest corner of the Penn Lowry intersection.

Another concern was raised regarding the loading dock on Oliver Avenue and the impact on nearby residents with trash, noise and commercial traffic on Oliver Avenue. Wellington indicated that with appropriate landscaping, the visual impact would be limited. He also said that he believed that Aldi would work with the community to establish delivery times to minimize any disruption.

The second presentation came from CCHT, offering a denser mixed-use development totaling 143,000 square feet. Three buildings would be constructed, one of which is a two story commercial building at the corner of Penn and Lowry Avenues with 10,000 square feet on each floor. The other two buildings are four storied residential buildings, each with 26 units. One would be sited on Oliver and Lowry and the other mid-block between Lowry and 30th Avenues on Penn Avenue.

The commercial building is expected to be operated on a lease to own option; primarily due to a requirement in the New Market Tax Credit financing that requires leasing the property for seven years. The housing component would include studio, one bedroom, two bedroom, and three bedroom units with rents projected to range from $500 to $900 monthly. Overall, the development will cost $13.8 million and features underground parking for tenants and employees of the commercial building as well as 22 off-street parking spots.

Some community members were concerned about the density of the housing, especially how it would appear next to single family residential. CCHT’s Alan Arthur indicated that 50 units were necessary to make it efficient to have on-site building management and that the building’s size was comparable to Oliver Manor, a four storied residential building that sits directly across the street from the proposed site. If CCHT was selected, he would work with the community to address this concern.

Another area that individuals questioned was the decision to construct rental units. CCHT feels there is a need to add new construction rental units, offering rents that are affordable to working families. Using East Village in south Minneapolis as an example, Arthur said that CCHT added 180 units of rental housing, reducing crime in the Elliot Park neighborhood and increasing occupancy in surrounding rental housing.

The purpose of the meeting was to receive feedback from the community, not to make a decision. Both plans will advance to a project review team comprised of two members each from the Cleveland, Folwell and Jordan neighborhoods and two members from area business owners. They will meet to rank the two projects, after which the Jordan neighborhood will provide their recommendation to the City. The plans will then be considered by the Planning and Zoning Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. The final decision will sit with the City Council with a vote expected January 2006.