New apartments and townhouses would overlook the Texa-Tonka Shopping Center under a proposed St. Louis Park development.
On the northeast corner of Texas Avenue and Minnetonka Boulevard, Paster Development has plans to build 95 apartments in a three or four-story building and 11 walk-up townhouse units in a pair of two-story buildings on the northern half of the site, according to a city staff report. The rentals would range in size from studios to two-bedroom units.
The site is currently home to a vacant commercial building and a parking lot. The vacant parking lot was built in the 1950s for overflow parking at the Texa-Tonka Shopping Center.
“The parking lot has been unused for several decades and has fallen into disrepair,” the staff report says.
The commercial building on the southern part of the site “has also been vacant or underutilized for many years,” it adds.
Environmental remediation will be necessary because the part of the site near Minnetonka Boulevard previously housed a gas station and because multiple dry cleaners have operated in the area, according to the staff report.
Paster Development plans to seek tax-increment financing, in which the taxes go to paying for qualifying costs, like site acquisition and cleanup, for a period before taxing entities keep the new taxes generated by the higher property value.
If the request is granted, the city would require the developer to make 20% of the units affordable to households making up to half of the area median income. For a family of four, that works out to an income of $50,000 per year. Rents for such units are capped at $937 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,124 for a two-bedroom unit.
The city studied the idea of apartments on the corner and townhouses on the northern section of the site last year. A majority of residents who completed surveys supported the idea, according to city staff.
Paster Development had originally proposed 140 apartments in a six-story building but scaled back after discussions with neighbors, according to the report.
During a Jan. 27 study session on the topic, Councilmember Rachel Harris said she appreciated the developer’s commitment to providing a walk-up design for the townhouses. She suggested the city council negotiate enough tax-increment financing to move more parking underground.
On the topic of parking, Councilmember Anne Mavity noted the city has considered reductions in the amount of required parking for developments near future light rail stations. While Planner Jennifer Monson noted the project would not be near a station, Mavity pointed to a nearby commuter bike trail and bus service.
Monson replied that the city staff could consider reductions in required parking. However, Monson said, “Ultimately, I think we have to make sure that the ... parking that’s provided works for the developers and the people living there.”
Harris suggested that the developer provide transit cards as an incentive for residents to use buses while Mavity suggested the use of shared car services.
“Are there ways that we can support that instead of paying $25,000-$30,000 per parking stall underground?” Mavity asked.
Sheldon Berg, architect at DJR Architecture, said that 80-90% of renters have cars.
“You have to find somewhere for it on the site,” Berg said.
Mayor Jake Spano said he is broadly supportive of the plan but focused on the brown and tan coloring for the buildings shown in renderings.
“I’ve seen this color palette and basic design around town in St. Louis Park and other cities,” he observed before asking whether the design reflects market demand or cost.
“We’re using more classic materials along the edges, at the base, fronting the street,” Berg said.
Mike Sturdivant, director of real estate development for Paster Properties, added that the design amounts to an early schematic.
Spano said, “I have advocated for more creativity, a little more visual freedom.”
To laughter, he joked, “It would be great if people could say, ‘Oh, I live at the intersection – you know the one; it’s got kind of the orange flames on the side,’ or whatever.”
More seriously, he said he believes the intersection of Minnetonka and Texas will become known for the project.
“To be really deliberate and thoughtful about how you articulate that vision of the neighborhood is important to me,” Spano said.
Sturdivant said the developer has engaged a local mural artist.
“We will have a very substantial mural we hope will create that sense of place and history,” he said.
During the planning process last year, many people in the neighborhood said they like the idea of a mid-century modern look using classic materials like brick and glass, Monson said.
“What they have is kind of a start, but the plan really goes into a little more detail on how those different elements help to make the project more pedestrian-friendly and create a better sense of place,” she said.