The southeast corner of 70th Street and France Avenue is the latest target of redevelopment plans in Edina, but those plans will likely have to change before the site can be transformed.
Developers presented a preliminary proposal for the 6-acre parcel to the Edina Planning Commission June 26, outlining a vision for apartments, retail space and a new bank building. However, during a non-binding review of the early plans, the planning commission was largely unreceptive to the proposal.
“This is a really critical and important corner, and it’s kind of underwhelming what we see,” Planning Commissioner Joann Olsen told the development team, consisting of U.S. Bank, Ryan Companies and RSP Architects.
The developers want to construct two apartment buildings – one consisting of 120 market-rate units, another with 80 affordable units – and 11,000 square feet of retail space. Additionally, a new 5,500-square-foot U.S. Bank branch would replace the 66,000-square-foot building that currently stands on the site.
Due to the type of zoning changes requested by the developer, the city has substantial leeway in determining what can be built on the property, Olsen noted. “We have a lot of discretion with this one,” she said.
Edina Planning Director Cary Teague summarized how the proposal doesn’t meet the city’s design guidelines for the area.
“We’re looking for more public space and more green space – that public realm,” Teague said.
“I would like to see more, ‘wow,’” Planning Commissioner James Bennett said, noting the prominence of the location as a “catalyst type of site.”
Planning Commissioner Louis Miranda called the site a key piece of property for the area, “but when I look at this, I see something that is very old-style suburban,” Miranda said.
He criticized the proposal’s one-story retail buildings that he said would leave “France Avenue feeling very much like a highway.”
Planning commissioners, however, also noted the proposal’s improvement over the bank building and large expanse of parking that currently occupies the site. “It’s so much better than it was, and it’s moving in the right direction,” Planning Commissioner Sheila Berube said. She added, though, that the plans were still lacking, requesting “more of everything, except parking.”
The proposal includes surface parking for the retail and bank space and mostly underground parking for the apartments.
Planning Commissioner Susan Lee was among the planning commissioners who would prefer to see the site’s components arranged in a more integrated fashion. “I just think that you’re lacking something that ties this whole thing together,” Lee said.
The U.S. Bank building targeted for redevelopment has stood on the site since 1977.
“We no longer need the size of the facility to support our customers,” U.S. Bank representative Kevin Meyer explained.
Meyer characterized the proposal as “the right thing to do to support the continued evolution and future vision of the community of Edina.”
The project would take an office park environment and transform it into a “mixed-use total lifestyle center,” said Carl Runck of Ryan Companies.
But planning commissioners asked for a project that more enthusiastically embraces aspects of the public realm, with more pedestrian connections and green space.
“What the project looks like to me is one big development with some sidewalks running through it,” Planning Commissioner Ian Nemerov said. Runck noted the project includes about one acre of such public realm space.
He also mentioned plans for future pedestrian connections, including compatibility with the Edina Promenade that runs through the area. “We also have this site set up with the east-west connection to connect to the (Edina Promenade), as well as the north-south connection to Hazelton Road,” Runck said.
Those plans were not enough to overcome the planning commission’s prevailing sentiment of dissatisfaction, but Nemerov encouraged the development team to take another shot at the site with revised plans.
Regarding U.S. Bank, he said, “It’s great to have a company like that in Edina.”
He also complimented the entire development team. “This is a great group of people working on this site,” Nemerov said. “ … I’m sure you guys can come up with something really nice.”
– Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent