The North Loop is at a crossroads.
Back when it was called the Warehouse District, people didn't give much thought to real estate in the northwest neighborhood sandwiched between downtown and the Mississippi River, which once served as the city's shipping hub.
Then developers started building pricey apartments. The influx of residents fueled a newfound interest in what else was being built.
Case in point: United Properties' proposed 10-story, 159-foot mixed-use building along Washington Avenue. In place of what now is an unsightly slab for parking, the Pohlad-owned development company wants to erect a brick structure featuring office space, apartments, and a parking garage.
All the other historic buildings in the area range between four and six stories, and North Loop resident D.J. Heinle concedes United's would stand out. However, Heinle, an architect by day who has served on the North Loop Neighborhood Association's Planning and Zoning Committee for 11 years, doesn't see this as a problem.
"The building's architectural detailing, as it's been proposed from an aesthetics standpoint, is well done," he says. "It's brick like the others nearby. It fits in well. I think what some people aren't excited about is its height, having 10 stories when other buildings are closer to six. I think there's a fear that as the North Loop enters into a new phase in its development history it will be the beginning of a tunnel effect with larger buildings along Washington Avenue."
That's precisely the issue for many of the North Loop's 5,000 or so residents. So much so there's a movement afoot to get the developer to clip the height by two stories.
"Everybody wants to see development of the parking lot," says Francesco Parisi of Neighbors for North Loop Livability. "The main concern of the neighborhood is the height. The historic preservation guidelines require new buildings to be compatible in height and scale with historic buildings. This one would not."
Parisi is referring to the 2010 Minneapolis Warehouse Historic District Design Guidelines. The group believes United's development flies in the face of the parameters that aim to preserve the area's unique architectural vibe.
"That way it would be more in line with the other six- and seven-story buildings along Washington Avenue," Parisi says. "Right now, what they're proposing is almost 50 percent higher than what's already there. The existing buildings are between 90 and 100 feet tall."
United presented its proposal to the city last month. In opposition, North Loop Livability launched an online petition. As of Sunday, it's garnered exactly 500 signatures.
"All we are asking is for them to respect the historic fabric of the neighborhood," says Parisi.
D.J. Heinle gets that, but he also sees United's project as a sign of the times. Soaring land values mandate larger buildings to make the math work. When the association's planning committee convenes on November 23, Heinle expects the differing visions for the North Loop -- with the United development as the microcosm -- to be front and center.
"I anticipate the meeting to be the most contentious we've had since I've been on the committee," Heinle says.
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