Lexington-James apartments
A rendering of the five-story, 114-unit apartment building now being proposed for the southeast corner of Lexington Parkway and James Avenue. Six houses on James would be removed to make way for the new building, which would have 82 parking spaces on two levels.

Plans for a five-story apartment building at the southeast corner of Lexington Parkway and James Avenue will return to the Saint Paul Planning Commission with requests for a revised conditional use permit for building height and new setback variances on all four sides.

The Macalester-Groveland Community Council Housing and Land Use Committee voted 12-2-5 on December 1 to recommend approval of the revised plans. No public hearing date before the Planning Commission Zoning Committee had been set yet.

“We’re at a place where we’re ready to move ahead,” said Chet Funk, part of a development team that recently added Minneapolis-based developer Yellow Tree as a partner. The original development team hoped to have started construction by now, but material costs and other delays pushed that back to early 2022.

Six single-family homes are to be removed to make way for the building. The plans now include 114 apartment units instead of 91, 82 parking stalls on two levels instead of 88, and room for 114 bikes instead of 93. The building would be 83,064 square feet instead of 71,457, with its front door on Lexington. The fifth story would be further stepped back on the James side, and balconies would be added facing Lexington and the alley to the south.

   

The proposed building height is now 69 feet 10 inches instead of 65 feet 8 inches. The site’s residential multifamily zoning allows a height of up to 50 feet. If at least half of the parking provided is structured, the building can be up to 75 feet tall with a conditional use permit.

“We’re at a place where we’re ready to move ahead,” said Chet Funk, part of a development team that recently added Minneapolis-based developer Yellow Tree as a partner. The original development team hoped to have started construction by now, but material costs and other delays pushed that back to early 2022.

Instead of the required 25 feet, a setback of 13 feet 9 inches is requested on the west side facing Lexington to accommodate the balconies. And instead of the minimum setback of 18 feet 11 inches, 4 feet 5 is requested on the south side facing the alley to accommodate the balconies, 10 feet on the north side facing James and zero feet on the east side facing an I-35E frontage road.

 

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Most Housing and Land Use Committee members liked the changes, especially one that increased the number of affordable units from nine to 11. Some asked for deeper affordability. The plans call for the apartments to be offered at 60 percent of the Twin Cities area median income (AMI).That works out to around $44,100 for an individual and $62,940 for a family of four.

Committee members who objected to the changed plans cited concerns with traffic, spillover parking and how the project would fit into the surrounding neighborhoods. Some abstained, saying they did not have enough time to thoroughly consider the redesign.

The six properties were rezoned last year from single-family to residential multifamily (RM) use. The rezoning was approved as the city made changes to RM zoning to encourage more density and provide more affordable housing. One change allows more density in exchange for a developer requiring at least 10 percent of new dwelling units be affordable at 60 percent of the AMI. The affordability requirement must be in place for at least 15 years. 

Funk and architect Eli Zmira said they did everything they could to maintain density and stay within the previous building constraints. The site’s irregular size and steep slope have posed challenges.

— Jane McClure

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