Building blocks of the Highland Bridge development continue to fall into place, with projects by Presbyterian Homes & Services, Project for Pride in Living (PPL) and Emma Norton Services now on the drawing boards. The Highland District Council’s Community Development Committee reviewed all three projects on October 20.

The committee voted 6-3 to recommend variances that are being sought for the Presbyterian Homes project. That recommendation will go to the full district council on November 5. Presbyterian Homes will likely come back to the committee in November with an update before going to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.

At this point it is unclear if any variances would be needed for the PPL and Emma Norton buildings.

The need for project-by-project variances at Highland Bridge irked some committee members. They noted the years it took to develop a master plan for the 122-acre site of Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant and establish block-by-block requirements for building heights, setbacks and design.

“I’m a little bit unhappy,” said committee chair Tim Morehead. He criticized Highland Bridge master developer Ryan Companies for bringing in projects that need variances to city zoning regulations.

The Presbyterian Homes project is the third one to seek variances at Highland Bridge. Variances were granted for a five-story mixed-use building of market-rate apartments above a new Lunds & Byerlys store, and for a five-story apartment building for low-income seniors planned by CommonBond Communities.

Some committee members said they wanted more time to review the variances for the Presbyterian Homes project, while others said the variances are not a significant change from the master plan. “What they’re asking for is minimal,” said committee member Anne Langford.

 

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Presbyterian Homes plans to construct a pair of 65-foot-tall buildings on the two blocks bounded by a planned civic plaza and Hillcrest, Woodlawn and Bohland avenues. The nonprofit housing and service provider was formed in 1955 and now provides an array of housing options for more than 27,000 older adults in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

A mix of 300 independent, assisted-living and memory care units are planned for the Highland Bridge site. A total of 265 parking spaces would be provided, mostly beneath the two buildings. Each building would have an outdoor plaza. Dining rooms, a pool, gathering spaces and most other amenities would be in the western building. The buildings would be connected by a skyway over an extended Mount Curve Boulevard, which would bisect the development. A small retail space would face the civic plaza.

“I’m a little bit unhappy,” said committee chair Tim Morehead. He criticized Highland Bridge master developer Ryan Companies for bringing in projects that need variances to city zoning regulations.

Maureen Michalski, Ryan’s vice president for development, said the Presbyterian Homes project meets most zoning and design criteria for Highland Bridge. Setback variances are needed for some building balconies and for the skyway. The exact dimension of variances is likely to be decided after city staff review the plans in November.

Another variance is for the height of the western building, which is in the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area where the maximum is 48 feet.

Another height variance is needed for a 104-foot-tower on the east building. The tower is an architectural element and requires a 39-foot variance.

PPL and Emma Norton Services are working together on a two-building development with shared underground parking on a Mount Curve block south of Ford Parkway. It would be located by a proposed park.

The five-story, brick-and-stucco PPL building would provide 75 housing units in a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments. Chris Wilson, PPL senior director of real estate development, said the intent is to create affordable workforce housing. Rents would range from $734-$1,396 per month. Eventually, PPL plans to build 364 affordable units at Highland Bridge.

The building for Emma Norton Services would replace offices and transitional housing for women on Robert Street near the state Capitol. Nonprofit offices would be on the first floor, with 60 units of studio and one-bedroom units on the upper four floors. The building’s exterior would consist of dark-colored panels to complement the neighboring PPL building.

Tonya Brownlow, executive director of Emma Norton Services, said the nonprofit is more than a century old. Started as a housing provider for young working women, it now houses women in transition in Saint Paul and families at Emma’s Place in Maplewood. The organization offers an array of services, including case management, youth programming, and housing navigation and assistance.

—Jane McClure

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