A developer is proposing a 404-unit residential project in Edina’s Pentagon Park.
The project, led by two Minneapolis-based companies, Solhem Companies and BKV Group, proposes to construct a five- to six-story apartment building at the site of two existing office buildings. The project, which would be located immediately south of Fred Richards Park, is being proposed for the site of two previously failed development plans.
But, after the development team presented sketch plans to the city of Edina’s Planning Commission on Jan. 27 and City Council on Feb. 2, the response to the most recent proposal was generally positive.
“It’s a really cool opportunity to build something in a pretty much urban location that’s adjacent to a park,” Curt Gunsbury, owner of Solhem Companies, told the Sun Current. “Edina is a pretty amazing place. It’s super diverse. It’s very dynamic economically. And there’s clearly a need for housing.”
The site, located at 4660 77th St. W., is part of the Pentagon Park office development. Solhem Companies had operated entirely in Minneapolis prior to this proposal. “We just decided that it’s time to try our craft in the area surrounding Minneapolis as well. So we’re really reaching out and kind of embracing the ‘burbs for the first time, which is really fun. And it’s been great to work with the city so far,” Gunsbury said.
With Fred Richards Park immediately north of the site, the development team is proposing a pedestrian connection between the park and 77th Street West. City staff recommended that a final development plan should include this feature prominently, with consideration of connections on both the east and west sides of the building, according to city documents.
The building is proposed to take on a “U” shape, with the open part facing toward Fred Richards Park. The height of the building will gradually decrease as it leads up to the park.
“If you’re a resident there, you’re going to feel like you’re living in the park, which is really unique. I think that’s the coolest part about the site,” Gunsbury said.
Plans also include a pool, sport courts and a dog run. In addition, a bridge would be built over the creek that separates the building from the park. The development team has indicated they plan to follow the Greater Southdale Design Guidelines.
Gunsbury told the Planning Commission and City Council that the units planned for the complex are smaller than usual apartments, making them more affordable. This would place the price as affordable to those who make 80% of the area median income, or AMI, he said. The development plans to also follow the city’s affordable housing policy. The rule states that at least 10% of units in all new multi-family rental developments should be affordable to renters who make 50% of the AMI, or 20% of units should be affordable to renters who make 60% of the AMI.
The land was zoned in 2008 for mixed use after a development plan was sought at the time. The original intent was for it to be used to introduce multi-family residential housing into the district, according to city documents.
After that proposal didn’t come to fruition, the site received a second proposal for a planned unit development, or PUD, rezoning in 2014 and 2017. This proposal was denied due to a variety of factors, including lack of integrated stormwater management services, pedestrian-friendly 77th Street West connections and multi-modal connections.
Solhem Companies is again pursuing a PUD rezoning for the site in order to justify flexibility on its increased density and lower number of parking spaces than currently required.
The project’s floor area ratio, which is often used to calculate one aspect of density, is 1.5%, which is above city standard by half a percentage point. The development team is also proposing 533 parking spaces, with 20 of those being surface spaces. The city would normally require 700 spaces for this project.
Gunsbury noted several aspects of the site that present challenges, including the soils, its positioning near the Nine Mile Creek and its longtime history as a spot for industrial and office buildings. But despite this, Gunsbury said the site “also gives us the freedom to do really cool, beautiful, interesting stuff.”
Comments by city officials
Members of both the Planning Commission and City Council expressed favorable views on the direction of the early plans at meetings over the past month, with some concern about incorporating more pedestrian-friendly aspects and addressing a large building presence along 77th Street West.
Planning Commissioner JoAnn Olsen took issue with what she viewed as the building’s monolithic presence along the street. Commission Chair Ian Nemerov mirrored this concern. Gunsbury responded that the building is elevated and that the development team is planning on utilizing transparent street facade materials, such as glass, to reduce the building’s presence in relation to the street.
City Councilmember James Pierce said the integration of the park is a great feature of the project, especially since the building’s height steps down as the complex reaches closer to the park. The U-shape of the building is “exemplary,” said City Councilmember Ron Anderson.
The development team is burying the parking underground, which Planning Commissioner Sheila Berube said she applauds. Pierce added that he thought this below-grade parking goal is “noble,” but expressed concern about its close proximity to a rising water table in Edina.
Commissioner James Bennett said the feel of this new proposal is better than previous site proposals, thanks to its focus on the park connection.
“I’m really excited and everything you said is ... leading us down the right path,” Bennett said. “Really show us the creativity.”
City Councilmember Kevin Staunton said pricing the units as affordable at 80% AMI would “really help fill a need.” He said there should be affordable housing options along a continuum in Edina.
Staunton noted the significance of this proposal as it could “set the tone” for what happens down 77th Street West.
“You’re off to quite a thoughtful start,” said Mayor Jim Hovland. “I’m eager to see where you go from here with respect to further building design and the interaction with the park and the street.”
The development team plans to take the comments from the Planning Commission and City Council to come up with an updated design that will come before the city at a future date, Gunsbury said.
– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent