Three variances and a conditional use permit are being sought for a five-story apartment building proposed for the southeast corner of James Avenue and Lexington Parkway. The building would have 93 apartments above two levels of underground parking.

Summit Hill resident and co-developer Chet Funk and architect Eli Zmira of DJR Architecture presented the latest plans to the Macalester-Groveland Community Council’s Housing and Land Use Committee on November 25. Preliminary plans presented over the summer called for a three- to four-story building with about 60 units.

Six houses at 1074-1096 James Ave. would be torn down or moved to create an approximately 27,000-square-foot site for the new building, which would have 88 underground parking spaces and nine surface spots. The properties were rezoned earlier this year from single-family to RM2 (residential multifamily). The rezoning took place around the same time that citywide changes to RM zoning were being approved. The changes allow more density on properties zoned for multifamily housing and provide incentives for developers to add affordable housing units.

development
A view of the proposed five-story, 93-unit apartment building being proposed for the southeast corner of James Avenue and Lexington Parkway. Six houses on James would be torn down or moved to make way for the development, which would have 88 underground parking spaces on two levels.

The James-Lexington property is on a slope and has an irregular shape, with an exit road from I-35E at its east end. Funk said those physical challenges and the Planning Commission’s request to provide more affordable housing units are driving the requests for the variances and conditional use permit, which will be considered by the commission in the weeks ahead.

“Affordable housing comes with added density or a subsidy of some kind, or some combination of both,” Funk said.

While some committee members and neighbors applauded the developers’ efforts to add housing density and affordable units that are still being determined, others questioned the need for the variances and permit.

The variance that drew the most scrutiny is for the ratio of a building’s total floor area to the land. The maximum floor area ratio in an RM2 district is 2.25, while 2.58 is being sought. Developers can seek a higher ratio with a commitment to provide affordable housing as part of a development.

Minimum 25-foot front- and rear-yard setbacks also are required, while 10 feet are proposed. The height limit in the RM2 district is 50 feet, which would allow five stories. The building’s proposed height is 691/2 feet to the top of a roof deck, which requires a conditional use permit.

“You’re essentially rezoning through the variance process,” Manderscheid said. He added that the developers should have sought denser RM3 zoning in the first place.

Housing and Land Use Committee member Marc Manderscheid said the district council supported the change to RM zoning, but he was disappointed with the development team’s request to build beyond what that allows.

“You’re essentially rezoning through the variance process,” Manderscheid said. He added that the developers should have sought denser RM3 zoning in the first place.

Manderscheid and others said the taller building might be more appropriate on the Randolph Avenue side of the block. Others said they would like to see a proposal to develop the entire block bounded by Lexington, James,
I-35E and Randolph, instead of a piecemeal approach.

“This seems like too much, too soon,” said committee member Gene Johnson.

Some neighbors said the building simply does not fit the area. “It’s a square peg in a round hole,” said neighbor Alex van Oosterom.

The developers previously discussed plans to construct a second apartment building on the northeast corner of Lexington and Randolph. Committee members and neighbors urged Funk and his development team to work with the Kipp family, the owners of those properties.

Funk said talks with the Kipps are ongoing, but there is no agreement to develop the entire block at once.

— Jane McClure

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