When a developer pitched 40 floors of condos in the heart of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, the wheels were greased for a generous height variance.
This brought dismay to the city's Heritage Preservation Commission, which called the building's height and scale inappropriate and incompatible with architecture in the area.
When a different developer asked to build a 158-foot office and parking building in the North Loop among the panorama of old brick buildings no taller than 105 feet, city staff said yes.
Last week, the Minneapolis City Council told them no.
Where a parking lot now sits at 419 Washington Avenue North, developers CPM Cos. and Swervo Development envisioned a red brick and arched glass, 10-story building. It would house offices on the top floors, with five floors of parking beneath. Ten-thousand-square feet of retail space would occupy the street level, with three more floors of parking below.
The Minneapolis Department of Community Planning and Economic Development acknowledged in its report that the project actually constituted "at least a 13-story building," according to current zoning. But no worries. The department — and the Heritage Preservation Commission, which is charged with making sure "new construction in historic districts to be compatible with the historic fabric" — both approved the development.
North Loop resident Jerrit Bromley challenged the the decision.
"The building will obstruct condo skyline views and will block street views of the city from the North Loop all over," read his appeal. "Residents are upset that the city wants to ruin street/condo views for additional parking and resulting in lower resale value."
By siding with Bromley, the city council vote essentially says that 158 feet high is too high in the North Loop.
Francesco Parisi of the citizens' group Neighbors for North Loop Livability believes pressure from residents compelled officials to act. He argues the old Warehouse District is the last sector in the city with enough historical architecture to retain its old school vibe.
"This is the last area in the Midwest where history is well preserved," he says. "And the new buildings should be respectful of what is around."
Dean Dovolis, 419's architect, believed it was. Yes, it measured 18 feet more than zoning allows. But it was bringing eight floors of parking to an area that needs it, according to Dovolis.
"Its height wasn't a concern for us," he says. "We think we have a beautiful building and it works."
Height was also the argument against Alatus' tower at the corner of Central Avenue and 2nd Street SE. While a few historical buildings exist in the district, there's also a nine-story parking ramp, Winslow House's 12 stories of condos, and a pair of 30-story towers nearby.
The heritage commission said no to the Alatus' project. Yet the city council sided with the developer when Alatus appealed the veto.
Dovolis says he intends to present a tweaked plan sometime in the coming weeks.
"I get how this works," he says. "It's what happens when everybody is allowed to decide. [But] we'll figure something out and massage this thing through."
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