The luxury apartments proposed for Southdale Center’s parking lot are moving ahead.

After a long discussion and hearing several residents’ comments during a public hearing on the project, the Edina City Council approved a site plan, a conditional use permit, two variances and the re-plat of the Southdale Center site.

The council approved several conditions to the project, including a direct connection be created via a sidewalk between the new three-building apartment complex and Southdale and the berms around the buildings be no higher than six feet to reduce the “bunker effect” at the buildings.

A 10-story, six-story and four-story building, with a total of 232 units, are planned for the southeast corner of the Southdale parking lot at York Avenue and West 69th Street and would sit across from the Westin and Galleria.

The buildings will also have a courtyard in the middle with barbeque grills, picnic tables, a bocce court, patios and a pool on the upper level.

The complex is being proposed by Stuart Development Company and Simon Property Group and is tentatively named 1 Southdale Place.

The project will also add more than 100 shade trees to the Southdale parking lot, which adds green space and fresh air to the city, said David Motzenbecker, landscape architect with the BKV Group.

The proposed buildings will add vitality to the city and create a strong residential area together with the Westin.

Motzenbecker said of the project, “We really think we’re pulling an iconic building into an iconic landscape.”

Councilmember Ann Swenson said the proposed plan still looks like an island.

“What is it going to look like in 20 years or 30 years? Iconic is a great word, but I don’t know what it’s going to look like,” she said.

Gene Persha of Edina said during the public hearing that a small area plan should have been completed to consider the impact the proposed project will have on the area. He said he was disappointed in the Planning Commission’s approval of the project.

“Southdale not only continues to look like more of a fortress than a shopping center, it continues to look like a series of add-ons, parking ramps and disjointed parking areas. This is far from iconic,” he said.

After pointing out factors that should be considered, he said, “Have we lost sight of the historical nature of Southdale, both in function and intent?”

Several sidewalks are also planned to be constructed around the buildings, as well as connecting the buildings to the proposed Transit Station on the northeast side of the mall and to existing sidewalks.

Tom La Salle, who lives at the Westin, said Westin residents like the sidewalks proposed around the building because it will give them a place to walk where they’re sheltered from the roads.

Discussion between the council members centered on whether a sidewalk should be required going directly from the apartment complex to the mall. In order to do so, either a driving lane would have to be narrowed or a line of existing trees would have to be taken out. The council decided that the sidewalk should be created so that no existing trees need to be taken out.

It was noted several times during the meeting that people coming from the Westin and Galleria would also use a sidewalk between the complex and the mall.

Swenson and Councilmember Josh Sprague were OK with the tree removal while Mayor Jim Hovland and Councilmember Mary Brindle were opposed to the removal.

Councilmember Joni Bennett pointed out that there’s been an assumption that the future apartment residents are going to choose the mall as their primary destination.

Swenson pointed out that the developers aren’t paying a park dedication fee required by new projects and they should pay for a sidewalk in lieu of the fee.

Sprague pointed out that the proposed apartment complex will add trees to the area.

“They’re adding a lot of trees. Trees have to come down for construction sometimes and that’s an example,” he said.

Brindle took issue with that, saying the trees in Southdale’s parking lot that would have to come out to make way for the sidewalk aren’t part of the proposed construction.

Swenson and Sprague’s argued that people would be more safe using a sidewalk to walk through the parking lot instead of walking down the drive aisles.

“So you’d rather have beautiful trees and pedestrians walking down different drive aisles with people backing up and people with strollers?” Swenson asked the council. “I don’t get it, guys, I love trees too, but I don’t get where you would tell people…” Brindle cut her off by saying that people are going walk where they want to walk in the parking lot.

Southdale Manager Laurie Van Dalen pointed out that the amount of people who will be walking from the apartments to the mall is a small fraction of the people who will be driving to get to the mall.

She said she understood the point of view of the council, “but every day people get out of their cars and they walk down those drive lanes and no one has talked about that.”

Council members were also concerned about the height of the berms around the building, which were proposed to be up to eight feet. Sprague likened them to a “bunker effect” for the building. Bennett pointed out that it could cause safety concerns. Motzenbecker pointed out that the eight-foot high berm was meant to screen the building from traffic.

Traffic on West 69th Street was also discussed. After Swenson asked if the street could be changed to a two-lane road with roundabouts, Chuck Rickart of WSB and Associates said there’s less traffic on 69th than there is on 70th Street, which has that type of layout.

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