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Do downtown renters need parking spaces?

Randy PetersenMay 26, 2019

Rochester’s parking requirements are again being challenged by proposed new development.

“The idea here is to actually attract people that may not need a vehicle,” said Logan Tjossem of Widseth Smith Notting, who is representing Christine and Michael Lindsey in plans to create 15 rental units on 14th Avenue Southwest near the Saint Marys Hospital campus.

The project, known as Cottage Grove, calls for demolishing three rental homes that they own at 413, 417 and 421 14th Ave. SW, across the street from Saint Marys Hospital, which would clear the way for construction of two buildings to house the 15 two-story apartments.

The plan calls for six units to face 14th Avenue, while the remaining 900-square-foot units would open into a shared central courtyard, which would lead into a parking lot intended for visitors, rather than tenants.

Tjossem noted the planned housing south of the 13-story Berkman apartment complex is within a mile of 15 restaurants, two supermarkets, an elementary school and two public parks, as well as within a quarter mile of four bus stops.

Christine Lindsey, a Mayo High School graduate who now lives in Texas, said she believes the location is ideal for a specific niche market among renters.

“We are comfortable with the fact that there is a market for people who would like to not own a car and still live in Rochester,” she said.

This week, some members of Rochester’s Planning and Zoning Commission questioned whether more effort should be made to add parking to the site.

As they reviewed a preliminary plan, it was noted 23 parking spaces would typically be required with a similar development, but only eight spaces are proposed.

Commissioner Jeremiah Harbach opposed the preliminary plan because it fails to meet parking expectations as defined by city policy and the developers didn’t appear willing to address the requirement.

“It simply doesn’t meet it, and has no intention of meeting it,” he said.

However, Commissioner Kraig Durst said the preliminary plan is an opportunity for the developer to hear from the commission and move forward in addressing concerns, whether it’s making changes or working to better justify what’s proposed.

“I’m not willing to slam the door on this,” he said, noting city policies have been designed to promote a walkable community and reduce reliance on vehicles.

Commissioner Tyler Despins and a majority of the commissioners agreed, providing enough support to move the issue to the Rochester City Council with a recommendation to approve the preliminary plan.

“I’d put it back to the developer to go to the drawing board and actually put some ink to paper and come up with a creative solution,” Despins said.

In opposing the recommendation at this point, Commission Chairman Tom Hill said the potential need for added parking remains at odds with another requirement for the project adjacent to single-family homes.

Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department staff indicated a bigger landscaped buffer is needed to meet city requirements, and Hill said adding that would create a smaller parking lot if the proposed buildings remain in place.

“It can’t happen without a major renovation,” he said of increasing the green space between the parking lot and adjacent properties.

Tjossem acknowledged more work is needed but said the preliminary plan was created to measure whether a project will work within the space and find support within the city’s development process.

“There’s a significant amount of investment that’s involved in creating and coming up with the level of detail that you need at the final-plan stage,” he said.

Mark Engel, current planning supervisor of the Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department, agreed that the preliminary plan is an early look at the proposal.

“There’s nothing that’s going to be able to be built with this,” he said. “They must come back with a final development plan.”

With a commission recommendation, the next step is a public hearing and review of the preliminary plan at the June 17 Rochester City Council meeting.

In other business, the Planning and Zoning Commission:

• Voted to recommend the Rochester City Council approve the final plan for a six-story hotel proposed for the northwest corner of the intersection of Sixth Avenue Southwest and Second Street, with specific conditions.

• Recommended approval of a preliminary plat for 31 residential lots on 28 acres north and east of Fieldstone Road Southwest, west of Woodstone Drive and south of Hagen Lane.

• Approved recommendation of approval of proposed regulations for parking off of alleys in residential zoning districts.

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