St. Louis Park City Council members critiqued a development plan near the Southwest Light Rail Transit line’s Wooddale Station but anticipated they will enter into a contract with the companies that made the proposal.

Saturday Properties and Anderson Companies, both based in St. Louis Park, discussed a plan for two six-story buildings with the council in a Dec. 14 study session. The companies $84 million plan includes 86 residential units in a mixed-use building on city property north of West 36th Street and east of Wooddale Avenue. Another mixed-use building with 197 units would be built on land owned by Standal Properties to the east. A one-story commercial building and parking lot would be removed. The developers plan to work with the businesses in the existing building to find sites for them in the new project or nearby.

The project would include commercial space as well as a public plaza next to the light rail station that could be used for gatherings and social events.

The city would enter into a preliminary development agreement to work cooperatively toward a more formal redevelopment proposal, according to Economic Development Coordinator Greg Hunt. The companies have offered $3 million to buy city land, although that agreement would come later.

In particular, Hunt highlighted the plan to include the land owned by Standal Properties in the development.

“The adjacent property really is kind of a game-changer here,” Hunt said. “It really opens up the site to a much more flexible, open, comfortable feeling.”

He also said staff believes the plans for retail and traffic will work.

Councilmember Margaret Rog stressed that she hopes the buildings will include affordable apartments for families.

In response, Saturday Properties Director of Development Mark Laverty said 21% of the units would be two bedrooms or larger. Twenty percent of all units would be considered affordable, with the affordable units consisting of a mix of sizes.

Rog expressed concern about the potential for overflow parking in the Sorenson Neighborhood. Senior Planner Jennifer Monson said she personally liked the proposal because it included enough parking to meet the city’s code.

“I realize this is at a light rail station, but we’re not quite there to be able to have everyone live without a car,” Monson said.

However, Councilmember Tim Brausen opined, “If there’s ever going to be a location where we can get by with a little less than the one vehicle per bedroom parking, it seems to be right next to a light rail station.”

He said he would prefer less parking, with the money saved going toward more affordable units.

Overall, Brausen praised the project.

“I love the public space,” he said. “I love the feel and look of it.”

Mayor Jake Spano, who noted that he has a background in architecture, took a decidedly different view of the look.

“This building just feels really heavy to me visually,” Spano said, “What I’m seeing doesn’t necessarily stand out from any of the other projects that we’ve seen.”

He questioned whether anyone who does not live or work in the development would know that a light rail line and bike trail are located on the other side when passing by on the street. He also considered the reaction a train rider would have.

“I will be very mindful of seeing something that is bold and creative because this building is a destination,” said Spano, who added that he would pay attention to the materials used, the color palette, the “use of light as a visual form,” art and the “physical lightness of the structure.”

“When someone gets off the light rail here, this is the first thing that they’re going to see,” Spano said. “It’s important to me and this council that the folks who come to our community and the folks who live in our community who want to enter this space see the sorts of things that reflect their aesthetic, their willingness to take risks and their creativity. And this community is willing to take risks, and they are very creative, and they are willing to take chances.”

Saturday Properties owner Brent Rogers responded, “I think we very much agree with you on really having this building be architecturally defining.”

David Stahl, an architect with the Cuningham Group who is working on the proposal, added, “This is all music to our ears. To push design further isn’t something that we generally shy away from.”

Councilmember Larry Kraft asked about the biggest risks to the project becoming a reality. Rogers acknowledged the developers will need financial assistance from the city and grants from other entities as well as a construction loan.

“We’re at the very beginning of a process, but this team has a track record of getting complicated and hairy projects put together and we’re very confident we can get this one,” Rogers said.

With the caveat of topics like affordability levels, traffic and other issues for further discussion, Spano said to staff, “What I’m hearing is we as a group are comfortable with you all moving forward with this team.”

Anderson Companies President and CEO Greg Anderson said, “There’s a big collaborative effort moving forward. It’s just the beginning, and it’s the first time we’ve had a chance to collaborate with all of you and hear you, so it’ll be fun.”

After city staff and the development team negotiate the preliminary redevelopment contract, Hunt said, “Then we’ll start working together.”

Spano joked that he hoped the developers “know what you’re getting into.”

The mayor said, “I just don’t think I can understate the importance of this project to us and how great the expectations are placed upon you all to be able to deliver on it. It won’t be easy, but we’re looking forward to it.”

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