Three single-family homes and a duplex would be replaced with two new buildings

Developer John Schwartzman said he is willing to work with neighbors on his plans for replacing three single-family homes and a duplex with two new apartment buildings on Marshall Avenue at Finn Street.

By Jane McClure

Three single-family homes and a duplex on the northeast corner of Marshall Avenue and Finn Street would be replaced by two new apartment buildings under a plan that was reviewed on April 20 by the Land Use Committee of the Union Park District Council (UPDC).

The project proposed by developer Jon Schwartzman was met with a decidedly mixed reaction from the committee members and neighbors who attended the meeting. They asked for more time to consider the matter, and Schwartzman agreed to come back to the committee on May 18. (Visit unionparkdc.org for how to access that meeting.)

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City staff have been reviewing Schwartzman’s site plan since March. The project needs no zoning changes or variances, so the recommendation of the UPDC is not needed.

The dwellings slated for demolition are at 2115, 2111, 2103 and 2097 Marshall. The four properties, which cumulatively encompass more than 46,500 square feet, are zoned for lower-density multifamily residential.

Last summer Schwartzman completed the construction of a five-story, 16-unit apartment building at Marshall Avenue and Moore Street. That building, which has been marketed to college students, can house up to 64 residents. Schwartzman said he is now hearing from young adults who want a different rental option. He described his latest project as appealing to young professionals.

The developer said he hopes to work with neighbors on the project at Marshall and Finn, given his experience with the building at Marshall and Moore. “I got pummeled the last time I was here,” Schwartzman said. Some neighbors unsuccessfully sued the city over that project.

The Marshall-Moore development coincided with an effort to get historic designation for a six-block stretch of Marshall Avenue along with a major rezoning study for Marshall in both the Merriam Park and Snelling-Hamline neighborhoods. Much of the two-mile stretch of Marshall from the Mississippi River to Hamline Avenue has been rezoned for higher-density redevelopment, while the historic study is still pending before the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission.

The first building Schwartzman plans to construct at Marshall and Finn would have 10 three-bedroom loft-style apartments. With a height of 40 feet, it would include three levels of housing above one level of parking. The second building at the rear of the property would have 20 apartments in a mix of one-, two-, three- and four bedroom units. It too would have a height of 40 feet. The buildings would share 45 enclosed parking stalls and six surface stalls for their residents.

 

Schwartzman described the first building, dubbed the Marshall Lofts, as “cool looking. We want to create something more contemporary.” Exterior materials for both buildings would be a combination of metal, composite board and brick.
Some UPDC committee members and neighbors disagreed with Schwartzman’s description of the architecture, saying they would like to see a style that better complements the surrounding neighborhood.

Schwartzman described the first building, dubbed the Marshall Lofts, as “cool looking. We want to create something more contemporary.” Exterior materials for both buildings would be a combination of metal, composite board and brick.

Some UPDC committee members and neighbors disagreed with Schwartzman’s description of the architecture, saying they would like to see a style that better complements the surrounding neighborhood. According to them, Schwartzman’s firm, Fairway Property Management, displays more attractive buildings on its website. 

The Marshall building was described by some at the meeting as “boxy,” “cheap,” “institutional” and lacking in the architectural details that would break up the building’s long facade.

“I like the density,” said UPDC board member Scott Berger, “but my college dorm built in the 1960s was dense. This reminds me of my dorm, built during an architectural age that isn’t highly regarded and hasn’t aged very well.”

The amount of parking was also criticized. Schwartzman said he would like to offer more than one space per apartment. However, some committee members and neighbors said it should not need that much parking, given that Marshall has been designated for a new bus rapid transit line in the future. 

One suggestion was to provide more housing and fewer parking stalls and seek a parking variance. Schwartzman, whose company needed a variance for a recent development on Grand Avenue, was reluctant to apply for another one. “It was a nightmare,” he said.

Others at the meeting pressed for more affordable housing. Schwartzman said he had hoped to offer an affordable unit and that he looked closely at the city’s 4D program, which provides property tax breaks for landlords who maintain a minimum percentage of units at affordable rent levels. “But we couldn’t make the numbers work,” he said.

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