Citing “universal” displeasure with a suburban-style Walgreens proposed at 27th & Hennepin, the city Planning Commission has delayed a vote on the project until mid-April.
Walgreens would replace the Roat Osha restaurant and computer repair building on the corner, leaving the First Tech building at 2640 Hennepin Ave. intact. The Walgreens would have a drive-thru on the west side of the building, with an entrance on Hennepin and another curb cut on 27th. Thirty-two surface parking spaces would stand on the north and west sides of the building.
“Why are you building a building that the neighborhood doesn’t want here?” asked Council Member Lisa Bender.
She said the design is forcing city officials to expand regulation of local architecture. Walgreens has better design examples in other states, she said, with wind power and geothermal energy.
“Obviously we need to change our laws, but barring that, in the interim, I guess I don’t understand why we’re getting such a suburban-style store in this very urban neighborhood,” Bender said. “Don’t you want to appeal to people who have chosen to live in the city, who love where they live, who want it to be a walkable, pedestrian place? Isn’t that good for your business?”
In response, Marcie Weslock of Elan Design Lab said the project has gone through many iterations, at one time encompassing all of the Green Mill property and featuring a multi-use, multi-story building. That concept did not prove to be viable for the property owner and Walgreens, she said.
She said they are still discussing revisions that aim for a more urban design, perhaps using St. Paul’s Highland Park store as a model. She said Walgreens would use signage to restrict right turns onto 27th.
East Isles Residents Association President Andrew Degerstrom said some neighbors are disappointed Roat Osha is closing, some are concerned about traffic exiting toward the residential area via 27th Street, and many are concerned about the design.
“Most importantly, residents are upset about the striking lack of density of this project,” he said.
He said the Uptown Small Area Plan, which is meant to guide future development, calls for a two-four story project with a mix of uses.
Senior Planner Kimberly Holien said city policies recommend two-story heights along commercial corridors like Hennepin Avenue. But she said there is no ordinance requiring a two-story building, and there is nothing that prohibits the drive-thru.
“Of course this is a very visible corner and a prominent site. We do have language that’s been introduced by council that is going to look at how we regulate drive-thrus in the future and potentially extending the Pedestrian Oriented Overlay District, but for now, this is allowed,” Holien said.
Planning Manager Jason Wittenberg said some elements of small area plans are aspirational and others are quasi-mandatory, and it’s up to the city to decide which aspects are made into regulation. He said a study of an expanded pedestrian-oriented district in the area could include minimum floor area ratio requirements and a minimum number of stories. Pedestrian-oriented districts are designed to encourage pedestrian-scale neighborhood character and promote street life and activity.
Commissioner Scott Vreeland said he would like to have more conversations about drive-thru regulations. He said he can see the benefits for sick people and those with limited mobility.
East Isles Zoning Committee chair Dave Bryan said residents have met with Walgreens representatives to discuss the design. He said residents recommend more brick on the tower with a cornice cap, in a more traditional style.
Planning Commissioners unanimously voted to delay a vote on the project until April 11.