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Dinkytown McDonald's redevelopment plan continues to die slow death

A proposal to redevelop the Minneapolis site into mixed-use apartment buildings has sputtered and stalled when it comes to city approval.

A proposal to redevelop the Minneapolis site into mixed-use apartment buildings has sputtered and stalled when it comes to city approval. Reddit, City of Minneapolis

The saga that is the Dinkytown McDonald's continues.

You’re probably familiar with the weird, sunken, '70s-era burger joint by the University of Minnesota. For months, a developer has been sparring with city government and residents about turning the site into a mixed-use apartment building.

Initial plans called for it to be 16 or even 25 stories tall, which would have made it easily the tallest building in the area. After some pushback, the developer, CA Ventures, scaled down to 10 stories, which would still require a conditional use permit. They also offered to make 8 percent of the units (25 or so) “affordable” for folks making 60 percent of the area median income.

But by December, the plan had run into another problem: bulk. The building was essentially shaped like a “giant doughnut” with a courtyard in the middle. Its mass to footprint ratio (also known as FAR) was more than double the area’s current limit. City staff recommended turning the plan down, and the Planning Commission agreed.

When CA Ventures came before the city’s Zoning and Planning Committee to appeal on Thursday, hat in hand, it was with a very different-looking building. Instead of a giant doughnut, we had sort of a “backward S,” with two courtyards cutting into the structure and lower-tiered roofs to make it blend in more with the surrounding buildings.

The FAR, however, was exactly the same.

Which meant City Council Member Lisa Goodman had a few questions. This was, after all, “the same box,” as she put it.

“You’ve already had the staff and the planning commission say the FAR is inappropriate… and you’re telling me if you don’t get it approved, there is no project?” she said. “That’s a pretty easy decision for me. It may not be for anyone else.”

City Council President Lisa Bender admitted she had “similar questions, perhaps intended to be phrased differently.” (Goodman was pretty blunt.) She added that on the street level, the new building design definitely had a different feel, but there’d have to be some pretty “compelling reasons” to overlook an FAR that’s already been turned down.

CA Ventures’ spokespeople made a case for why the city should let them go forward, promising the new building would be sustainable, with upgraded bus shelters and new amenities like bike racks and paths and public art. They’d be removing a pesky drive-thru that’s been a thorn in the city’s side for years. Moreover, they explained that if they reduced the FAR as requested, the building would no longer be economically viable for them, and they’d have to go elsewhere.

The committee still turned down the appeal. That means the project can’t be resubmitted for one whole year, unless it’s “substantially different”—i.e. a major reduction in the floor area. It’ll still go forward to the City Council for a final decision as is.

The Dinkytown McDonald's redevelopment has been the subject of heated public debate and a tricky municipal one. Some residents argued about the inappropriateness of the building’s size for the neighborhood—not its bulk, so much, but its height. They argue it put the building out of character with the rest of Dinkytown and would tarnish the district’s “unique, nostalgia-related brand.”

Neighborhood resident Cordelia Pierson, bolstered by several supporters from the public, also attempted to appeal the developer’s added maximum height permit on Thursday, constraining them to six stories or fewer. The committee turned her down, too.

Meanwhile, other speculators argued that the city was going through a rampant housing crisis, and a tower of more and denser housing was exactly what Minneapolis’ 2040 plan calls for.

Those who just really love the McDonald’s itself needn’t worry. Early on, developers offered to return the restaurant to the building’s commercial space after construction was finished.