Prolific local housing developer Kelly Doran has his sights set on a dormant retail space in St. Anthony Village. Already heavily involved in projects in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, Doran Companies is proposing a two-building, nearly 500-unit apartment development on the former Walmart site at 3800 Silver Lake Road. On April 29, the St. Anthony Village City Council and the city’s Planning Commission met to consider the proposal.
At an initial joint workshop meeting, called by Mayor Jerry Faust “the first of its kind,” the two groups listened to a presentation by Doran on the scope of the project proposal. Faust added that it was a public meeting but not a public hearing, and that questions would be taken only from Council members and Planning Commission staff. “Tonight’s meeting kicks off the plan review development process. We’re looking for feedback… and there’ll be no vote.” he said.
The mayor outlined several stages in the process: the environmental assessment worksheet (EAW), which is required by state law because of the project size, comes first. Based on the worksheet, the City Council will decide whether an environmental impact statement is needed.
Because tax-increment financing has been requested by the developer, an application process will run parallel with the land use applications. The developer also seeks an amendment to the planned unit development (PUD) approvals that were granted to the site in 2004.
The next step would be a preliminary development plan, part of a formal application that would include more detailed engineering, civil data, and site planning. At this point, public hearings would be scheduled before the Planning Commission.
If the application is approved, there will likely be a document incorporating any additional conditions that need to be met. This would include a second public hearing, after which the Commission would or would not recommend approval by the City Council.
About the 13-acre site, Faust said, “Five years ago this month, the project became vacant, and this is the first time we’ve had a proposal. We will not make haste, but we will not dilly-dally. We will handle this in an expeditious manner.”
Doran said his firm is a “vertically-integrated development company with offices in Bloomington and Denver. We have 32 architects, and we own, lease, and manage everything we build. We currently have 2,000 apartment units under construction with another 1,500 planned. We are the second-largest builder in Minnesota.”
Doran called some of the prospective tenants of the project “lifestyle renters,” whom he described as older, empty-nesters, people who don’t want to own anymore. He said a typical building of this concept might have 35 percent lifestyle renters and 35 percent young and/or newlywed millennials.
About the property itself, Doran said, “We have a purchase agreement with IRB Properties for the parcel. We actually sold this property back in 2012, so we’re buying it back. The owners approached us two years ago, after a long period of trying to lease the building.”
Doran replied to a question from a City Council member about the condition of the site, saying, “To the best of my recollection, there was some remediation done in the building and some soil correction, which was taken care of. We’re still gathering that info, but I don’t expect anything surprising.” Doran said there would likely be some utility relocations, and suggested that he would seek a variance downward from the city’s parking-ratio requirements. He said the courtyard between the two buildings would be connected to city walks and trails adjacent to it. One of the Planning Commission staff members remarked that after this development, Silver Lake Road would probably carry the same traffic load as when the Walmart was open, only at different hours.
Doran said that, pending approval, he hoped to tear down the Wal-Mart building this year (estimating the cost at $1 million or more) and open the first of the proposed buildings in summer 2021. The second building would be completed two years later. He added, “This is the first time in my career, Mr. Mayor, that I’m actually going to tear down a building that I’ve built. Maybe it just means I’m getting old.”
At the meeting’s closing, Faust remarked, “I like the architecture, and I like the way people can walk over to the retail areas. I hope it will revitalize the stores there with foot traffic.”