Apartments rising in Burnsville?

Multistory buildings proposed near I-35E

Multistory buildings with hundreds of luxury apartments units are proposed for a prominent piece of long-vacant land in Burnsville.

The project east of Interstate 35E and Grand Avenue and north of Southcross Drive is described as a signature development that would set the standard for high-density housing in Burnsville.

“We think we can come up with something really special here,” Tom Healey, president of developer Healey Ramme Co., told the City Council at a July 11 work session. “And we’d like to think that we’re going to set a standard for Burnsville for the future.”

The council was shown examples of sleek buildings that can be found in Uptown Minneapolis or Edina but nowhere in Burnsville. Healey said high-density rentals are the wave of the future, now surrounding retail areas such as Edina’s Southdale.

“I cannot imagine that that won’t happen over at the Burnsville Center,” Healey said.

“There’s a demand,” he said. “The community is changing its approach to where it’s going to live. It’s not as much oriented toward home ownership as it used to be.”

Council members gave the go-ahead for further planning. The 31-acre property is zoned for business-retail-office, and the project would require a comprehensive plan amendment to allow high-density housing.

For decades, officials have envisioned uses such as a corporate headquarters or medical building on the property. Development is challenging because of its steep slope, dropping 85 to 90 feet from the north to the south, and because of an underground utility corridor. Healey Ramme said in a letter it has owned the property for “a quarter of a century.”

The property slopes down to Twin Lakes, a feature prized by the developers.

The project is “very exciting,” promising the “amenity-rich” rental housing Burnsville is looking for, Council Member Dan Kealey said.

For years the council wouldn’t entertain new apartment projects, saying Burnsville already has enough rental housing. The thaw came this year with a newly seated council majority eager to get in on a high-end apartment boom driven by changing lifestyle choices.

In April the council approved a 172-unit project with ground-floor retail in the Heart of the City, but it’s stalled by litigation brought by the owner of the Nicollet Plaza retail center over an alleged parking shortage.

Healey Ramme is considering two plans. One would have 358 apartments in two buildings, ranging from 30 to 80 feet tall, along with 36 owner-occupied townhomes.

The other would have 446 apartments in two buildings, 30 to 70 feet tall, with 60 owner-occupied townhomes.

The apartment buildings would be as high as six or eight stories, according to city staff report. The slope of the property would soften the appearance of height, Healey said.

In both plans, units would be clustered on the property’s west side to preserve open space on the east nearest the lake. The townhomes are proposed along the south and east, near existing single-family homes.

“The clustering of the development will also provide for views of the lake for future residents of the apartments and townhomes,” the report said.

The city is recommending a noise study because the property is close to the freeway as well as a traffic study.

The project is “denser than anything we’ve had here in Burnsville,” Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said. Neighbors may balk at the density and traffic, she suggested.

Two consultants steeped in local knowledge are advising the developer: Craig Ebeling, a former Burnsville city manager and city engineer, and John Shardlow, the city’s longtime former planning consultant.