August 23, 2012 by Sarah M
By Nick Halter
A city committee today voted in favor of a Linden Hills developer’s request to avoid the moratorium on neighborhood development so that he can continue with a proposal to build a 60-unit apartment building on 45th and France Avenue.
Neighbors probably remember the project as the five-level Sunnyside Flats development. It was introduced in March, prior to when the City Council put in place a moratorium on large-scale development in Linden Hills. The city’s Planning Commission denied that project.
The developer, Scott Carlston, withdrew the Commission’s appeal and has changed his proposal slightly. He’s no longer seeking commercial space on the first floor and he’s reduced his height request to four levels instead of five. The new project is called France Avenue Apartments.
The Zoning and Planning Committee supported Carlston’s waiver request on a 4 to 2 vote. Lisa Goodman, Gary Schiff, Kevin Reich and Barb Johnson voted in favor of the developer. Meg Tuthill and Cam Gordon voted against the waiver request. The City Council will vote on Aug. 31.
Carlston, if approved by the waiver, will still need to go through the regular development process, which includes public hearings and votes by the Planning Commission and City Counil.
Carlston, in his request for a waiver, said that because his France Avenue Apartments project is so similar to the Sunnyside Flats project, it should still be considered to have been proposed before the moratorium was put in place.
Several neighbors at today’s meeting spoke against the waiver request, saying that the community needs a breather after the contentious battle over the Linden Corner development proposal, a few blocks away at 43rd and Upton.
“The moratorium gives us all a reprieve from this conflict,” said Larry LaVercombe, the chair of the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council’s zoning committee. “It gives us time to consider what’s wise development for this neighborhood.”
Carlston expressed doubt that the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council would complete its small area plan within a year of the moratorium taking affect on March 30. The moratorium was put in place so that the neighborhood could adopt that small area plan, which is meant to guide development in the area and potentially make zoning changes.
The Linden Hills Neighborhood Council on Aug. 16 voted unanimously to ask for the city to deny the developer’s waiver request, in order to “protect the integrity of the Small Area Planning process and to respect the significant investment and efforts that residents are making to work with the city to complete a Small Area Plan.”
In a letter the neighborhood organization sent to the city, LHiNC says it is making progress on the small area plan and hopes to have a consultant hired by December.
Brian Schaffer, a city of Minneapolis principal planner, said the Linden Hills Small Area Plan is unlikely to be completed by March 30, when the moratorium is set to expire.
City staff, in its report, recommended that the Zoning and Planning Committee grant Carlston the waiver. Schiff, the committee chair, agreed with the staff recommendation.
“I think it’s very crucial that this committee today send a message that we do not use moratoriums to target specific developers,” he said. “We don’t use them to play gotcha with developers who are listening to the Planning Commission, which denied their original request, and are now coming back with a smaller project with no commercial.”
Betsy Hodges, who is not a member of the committee, but represents the neighborhood, spoke out against the waiver, saying that the developer chose to withdraw his appeal, even though he knew the moratorium was in place.
“It was clear to the applicant at the time that withdrawing it means an entirely new application and it’s an entirely new project that would fall under the moratorium,” she said.