Creating a high-quality, transit-oriented development project is not easy. Communities have a partner in the Metropolitan Council’s Livable Communities (LCA) staff, who help communities and developers move their projects from concept to success.
For the second year, LCA staff invited applicants for LCA Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) grant funding to Council-facilitated workshops in late May. Prior to the workshop, a panel of skilled architects, landscape architects, and planners reviewed the proposed projects and made recommendations to strengthen their design, walkability, and accessibility to transit.
The panel met face-to-face with developers at the workshops.
Feedback from design professionals adds ‘huge value,’ developer says
“Having design professionals who work with the development community every day is a huge value to the process,” said Steve Minn, vice president and principal of Lupe Development Partners. “These people lent instant credibility to the critique that was offered and in 20 to 30 minutes, they cut right to the point – to maximize what feedback we needed.”
Minneapolis has received a previous LCA grant, for Mill City Quarter, a joint venture of Lupe Development, Wall Companies and Ecumen. The senior campus/housing project in the Mill District will include 110 units of independent senior living, 40 units of memory care with on-site supportive services, and 150 units of affordable housing. The focus of discussion at the workshop was the site’s “woonerf,” a shared street where pedestrians and cyclists have priority over motorists. The proposed woonerf is designed to connect the development to the Mississippi River and has the support of the Minneapolis Park Board to become part of their trail system.
“The panel offered a variety of insights and tips that helped us focus on which best management practices would yield the best results, and challenged us to think more critically about some of our operational assumptions,” said Minn. “It was an exciting exercise.”
Nonprofit developer Aeon submitted a project proposal to redevelop the former Habitat for Humanity headquarters, near the Prospect Park Station of the METRO Green Line, into affordable housing.
“From the workshop, we are focusing even more on bringing activity toward 4th Street by repositioning the future management office, resident community room, and fitness room so that there is greater interaction with the street,” said James Lehnhoff, director of housing development for Aeon. “While the project is already quite compact and an efficient use of the property, we are more deeply exploring opportunities to add density to the site.”
Workshop process leads to better public investments
Applicants aren’t required to use any of the suggestions in their final grant application, but they often do, according to Adam Maleitzke, senior planner for the Council.
Maleitzke said that previous to the two-stage application process adopted last year, final applications would come in and it would be too late for communities to make any changes.
“We’d say things like ‘if only they moved a road 30 feet to the west’ or ‘if they had connected it with this trail.’” Now communities hear those things before the final deadline, which last year resulted in “several projects that were much improved” Maleitzke said.
The reviews benefit the communities, and the region gets more return on its investment,” he said. “It makes for a better use of taxpayer dollars.”
New technical handbook aids in project design
In addition to the workshops, staff prepared the Handbook for Transit-Oriented Development Grants (28 pages, pdf) which outlines the expectations for TOD grant applicants. It gives an in-depth review of the metrics and qualitative analysis used in three evaluation categories that are directly related to transit-oriented development.
“We reviewed the handbook in advance, made critical notes on how we comply, and created a list of questions on how we could improve,” said Minn. “It made our brief meeting with the workshop consultants very efficient.”
“The six TOD design principles in the handbook already align with Aeon’s expectations for design excellence at all of our projects; however, the handbook provided additional context and greater understanding of the Metropolitan Council’s expectations,” Lehnhoff said. “And the more technical aspects of the handbook, including such items as calculating intersection density, streetscape guidelines, and the checklist helped ensure that we were on the right track for good design and TOD program expectations.”
“The handbook set the stage for a productive conversation at the workshop,” he added.
This year, the Council has $5 million available for TOD grants in the Livable Communities Demonstration Account and $3 million in the Tax Base Revitalization Account. The final application deadline is June 30.