Edina-based Orion Investments is looking to build a five-story medical office building and a grocery store along France Avenue at a site with a history of project proposals.
The development team presented its site redevelopment sketch plan to the Edina City Council April 19. The site, located at 7200 and 7250 France Ave., currently houses office buildings and a parking ramp in poor condition, all of which would be removed if the project goes forward.
“It’s extremely still early in the process,” Drew Stafford, director of acquisitions and investments for Orion, told the Sun Current. “Overall, we received … a lot of positive feedback, just on really taking the chance and having a great opportunity to improve the site that’s seen better days.”
Stafford, also an Edina resident, pointed to feedback from the council, the Planning Commission and neighbors, some of which was critical, he said. That’s “the point of sketch plan. … (For) us to try to take those thoughts, those ideas and that feedback and try to make something special out of it,” he said.
The medical office building, planned for the southeast portion of the site, would encompass a total of 130,000 square feet. A one-story building housing a “National Grocer” is planned for the northeast portion of the site, totaling 40,000-45,000 square feet, the development team’s project overview shows.
A specific grocer has not yet been determined, though the development team has been in talks with multiple stores, Stafford said.
Two levels of underground parking would also be developed, encompassing over 600 parking stalls, the overview says. Plans also include 132 surface parking stalls and green spaces, including stormwater plazas.
History of site
The site has seen much interest from developers, prompting several proposals over a series of years. Around 2014, Boisclair Corporation proposed a mixed-use building on the 7200 France Ave. parcel with 160 units of housing and 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, according to a report from the Sun Current at that time.
In 2017, DJR Architecture proposed a mixed-use development called Crossroads at both the 7200 and 7250 France Ave. parcels. Two years later, DJR successfully received rezoning approval for a planned unit development for the entire site – encompassing both parcels – allowing the development of two six-story buildings with a total of 299 units of housing, 30,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space and 10 owner-occupied townhomes.
The planned unit development, or PUD, zoning was granted in 2019 largely because the plan had 20% affordable units, mixed uses and public space in the form of a woonerf-style street through the site for pedestrians and vehicles, among other benefits the staff report cites. A woonerf, translated from Dutch, is a “living street” and generally refers to a pedestrian-focused thoroughfare.
The report also mentions that the approved plan did “a very nice job” of following the Southdale Design Experience Guidelines by dividing the block into smaller parcels, providing public realm space and creating woonerfs through the site.
The plan as approved with the PUD did not move forward because, as the city’s community development director, Cary Teague, was informed, the site sits low, prompting stormwater management to become a significant expense, Teague told the council. The cost of construction materials also played a role, he said.
Nate Enger, a partner with ESG Architecture and Design, which is working on the development, also acknowledged that stormwater management was difficult at this site. The stormwater pond on site will help mitigate those impacts and will be enlarged and deepened, Ted Carlson, Orion’s founder and chief investment officer, added.
Previous zoning would have allowed 113,000 square feet of office or medical office uses but not freestanding retail use, the staff report said.
But because a PUD was approved for the site, the new proposal must be considered against that, not the previous zoning. For the project to move forward as proposed, the council would need to approve a rezoning of the site to revise the existing planned unit development district, the staff report said.
The site’s land use is guided by the city’s 2018 update to the Comprehensive Plan, which designates it for office-residential uses. This designation includes secondary uses like limited retail and service uses – not including “big box” retail. The term “big box” was not defined within the plan, but generally refers to large single-use buildings encompassing more than 50,000 square feet, the staff report said.
The current sketch plan did not include any north-south pedestrian connections, but did provide a display for a future woonerf. This type of connection is suggested in the Southdale Design Experience Guidelines, the staff report mentioned. The report suggested developing such a pedestrian connection within the plan’s proposed exterior parking areas.
City Councilmembers provided feedback on the sketch plan at their meeting April 19.
Councilmember Ron Anderson told the development team he appreciated the thought they put into the site and thanked them for “proactively” reaching out to the neighborhood. Reflecting on a review by Mic Johnson, the city’s architectural advisor with the Architectural Field Office, Anderson said the development team should consider flipping the locations of each building and potentially stack office space above the grocery store. With this configuration, a woonerf-style street is then possible, he noted.
“This is and can be a huge demand site, and is conducive to biking and it is conducive to walking,” Anderson said. “You’re on to something here that could be extremely attractive.”
Leveraging a woonerf-style street to improve the pedestrian feel is a “neat idea,” Councilmember James Pierce said, referencing Anderson’s comments. Councilmember Carolyn Jackson also said she would like to see more pedestrian connectivity on the site.
Councilmember Kevin Staunton said he didn’t support a one-story grocery store at the site, noting that “big box” retail is inconsistent with city plans. Carlson responded that the current sketch plan proposal is intended to be a “blend of current and future market demands,” including the grocery use.
Mayor Jim Hovland said he was not “off-put” by the one-story grocery store but rather “intrigued.”
“I’m eager to see more downstream,” Hovland told the development team.
Stafford said the development team plans to process the feedback and continue outreach before coming back for formal submission. The team hopes to move forward on the project by the end of the year, he said.
– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent