Members of the Robbinsdale Planning Commission on Sept. 19 made a set of recommendations for denial on a proposed 158-unit apartment complex on Lower Twin Lake.
The proposal for the lakeshore property on 4600 Lake Road, currently an office building, includes the construction of a four-story high-density apartment building.
A team of representatives for the developer, 4 West Capital Development, and a host of residents spoke during the public hearing, which was continued from the Sept. 5 commission meeting. Overall, the topic was discussed for approximately three and a half hours.
The developer was requesting a series of variances and conditional use permits: the first would allow a four-story apartment building, which was one floor and several feet taller than allowed in the property zone; the second would allow filling an area of floodplain; the third would allow construction of an additional 31 units from the alloted 127 due to the features provided in the complex (based on a longstanding city-created criteria); the fourth would reduce required parking from required 1.5 space per unit to one space per bedroom, which would be 188 spaces compared to required 237 spaces.
Of these requests, only the floodplain fill was recommended for approval by the planning commission.
A fifth request was for an additional four units on top of “bonus” properties calculated by the city criteria, but some of the language of this request was confused with the developer’s initial, miscalculated plan for 168 units. To meet the current request and some concerns, the developer had scaled down the building to 158 units, and pushed the location of the building back several feet from the shoreline, which preserved a handful of large, mature trees.
Those who attended the meeting expressed concerns about how residents would access the complex, how many parking spaces were needed and whether the complex fit the character of the area.
Though the property is close to Highway 100, the development would only be accessed by Lilac Drive. The road is 22 feet wide, with homes on one side and a sound barrier for Highway 100 on the other side.
Parking is allowed on one side of the road, reducing the travel lane to 13 feet, not wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other when a parked car is present. The current standard distance for a single travel lane is 11 feet but can be constrained to about 9 feet. Lilac Drive falls 5 feet short of that minimum.
Separate traffic studies were conducted by the city and the developer, which yielded projections that daily traffic would at least triple in volume.
Ed Terhaar, a Wenck employee hired by the developer to conduct a traffic analysis on Lilac Drive, concluded that the street could handle future traffic. His data projected one car would travel the street westbound every 1 minute and 11 seconds, and one eastbound every 1 minute and 43 seconds. He said he observed very few instances of street parking per day (one to three vehicles), which city officials confirmed.
Additionally, Terhaar compared the situation to similarly-sized York and Xerxes avenues near Victory Memorial Parkway and McCauley Trail in Edina.
Residents said they felt that a tripling in traffic couldn’t be minimized, and the streets that Terharr compared had several alternative roadways to relieve traffic whereas Lilac did not have alternative routes.
Robbinsdale City Planner Rick Pearson said improvements to the road could be made, but that the developer has argued that the improvements weren’t needed. The city did not recommend removing parking, which had a traffic-calming effect on drivers who were already likely to speed on the road. The length of the driveways on the residential side of the road is short and any widening of the road also isn’t recommended. However, the city’s engineering department was in talks with MnDOT to acquire additional right-of-way space to widen the road.
Another point of contention was the proximity to transit. Other high-density projects with similar allowances are near current or planned mass transit routes. However, the proposal was not near transit.
The planning commissioners said they had difficulty approving the variances due to the proposal’s lack of consistency with the neighborhood.
The developer argued that their proposal was in line with city goals, as its current comprehensive plan explicitly identified the site’s potential for high-density housing. They maintained the project wasn’t much taller than the current three-story building and would be adequately screened by mature trees and additional trees, shrubs, and perennials.
Finally, they countered the claim that the “neighborhood feel” wouldn’t be harmed by the proposal, as a high-density apartment complex is adjacent to the site and of the 143 residential units in the area, only 13 were owner-occupied.
Chair David Ulbrich said in his visits to the site and surrounding area, the atmosphere was palpably different than Robbinsdale’s other high-density housing sites, such as those along West Broadway. He called the additional unit request “absolute greed.”
Commissioner Melissa Markfort agreed that if completed, “the character of that area is definitely going to change.”
Though in agreement with his fellow commissioners, Commissioner Judd Harper commended some aspects of the project.
“I think it’ll be greater than any other property around the lake,” Harper said. “The bottom line is just the density issue.”
The city council will review the recommendations at the Oct. 15 regular meeting.