West Calhoun apartment approved with plenty of parking

A proposal has been approved to tear down a duplex and two single-family homes along West 31st Street near the St. Louis Park border to make way for an apartment building with 49 units and nearly as many parking spaces.

But with 45 parking spaces proposed on two levels, the city has said the building is “quite a bit overparked,” according to Pete Keely, founder of Collage Architects.

“I was given a very quick flat note that they want to be a rideshare city and not a car city,” Leanna Stefaniak, general counsel for St. Paul-based At Home Apartments, told the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council on July 2.

Even so, city staff recommended the building for approval and on July 22 the Planning Commission approved the project on consent agenda without comment.

Members of the neighborhood association laughed off reservations about the building’s nearly 1-to-1 parking-to-unit ratio. “The younger professional demographic is a little more likely to have a car and need a car,” Board member Richard Logan said. 

The six-story building will rise at 3818-26 W. 31st St. in an apartment-heavy corner of the city wedged between West Lake Street and the Cedar Lake Trail. “Bus service and future light rail access are excellent,” the developer’s project description reads. 

Plans call for a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom units. Most of the units will be between 650 and 950 square feet and monthly rents in the building will be set around $2 per square foot.

Stefaniak said amenities have been kept to a minimum to hold down rents. Residents will have access to a small patio and rooftop deck and be able to use the pool and sauna at Lakewood Isles — another At Home Apartments property a block to the east. About half the units will have balconies. “It’s trying to offer new construction and amenities at the lower side of market-rate,” Keely said.

The duplex and two houses marked for demolition are now vacant, but rents ranged from $975–$1,295 per month. “I don’t want to say they were an eyesore, but they were tired properties,” Stefaniak said.

The site is currently zoned to allow six-story buildings. Under the 2040 plan, still to be approved by the Metropolitan Council, it would be zoned Transit 10, allowing buildings up to 10 stories high. 

The site has a 15-foot grade differential, which means that the building will appear as six stories high from the rear alley on its north side, where an entrance will lead to the lower level of parking. The building will appear to be five stories from West 31st Street. An entrance from that side will lead to an upper level of parking. The building will have a total of 27 bike stalls.

The Planning Commission approved a site plan review and three variances, including a set back from 16 feet to six feet on the side of the building facing a dead-end stretch of France Avenue that is currently without sidewalks.

Keely said city staff told him they had tentative plans to build a pedestrian connection over the Cedar Lake Trail near France Avenue. A number of options for bridging the trail were analyzed by city staff in a 2016 West Lake Multimodal Study, but city spokesperson Sarah McKenzie said the public works department currently has no plans for a pedestrian connection in the area and a bridge is not likely to be explored further until after the Green Line LRT extension opens.

Members of the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council said they appreciated the addition more apartments at the location but asked that care be taken to minimize the number of mature trees cut down. 

“I’m concerned about the loss of green space and greenery,” Board member Victoria Hoshal said.

"West Calhoun apartment approved with plenty of parking"; By ZAC FARBER; Southwest Journal; July 23, 2019