Neighbors appeal permit, variances for seven-story building on West 7th

Irvine Park neighbors are appealing the St. Paul Planning Commission’s decision on May 1 to approve a conditional use permit and variances for an 85-foot-tall mixed-use building at 337 W. Seventh St. The appeal will be taken up by the St. Paul City Council.

This is the second time in less than a year that the Planning Commission has voted on the project. Underlying bedrock forced the developers to revise their plans and adopt a modular form of building construction. The latest proposal is for a seven-story building with 194 apartments above parking and a small commercial space.

The building height is a point of contention for neighbors and the Historic Irvine Park Association. They submitted more than 30 letters in opposition to the Zoning Committee regarding the building’s height in relation to the surrounding neighborhood. Spillover parking in the area is also a concern, compounded by events at the nearby Xcel Energy Center.

An artist’s rendering of the seven-story, 194-unit apartment building planned for 337 W. Seventh St., on the site of Bonfe’s Auto Service Mechanical Center, looking northwest from West Seventh.

Planning commissioner and West End resident Wendy Underwood cast the sole vote against the project on May 1. While saying she believes in adding housing density, she called the project too big for the site. “I’ve been uncomfortable with this project from the start,” she said.

   

Other commissioners disagreed, saying the site’s location near transit lines and downtown make it ideal for people who want to rent there and not own a motor vehicle.

City staff recommended approval of the permit and variances, as did the West Seventh/Fort Road Federation. The conditional use permit allows heights up to 85 feet, while the underlying zoning only allows up to 55 feet. The project also needs parking and floor-area ratio variances.

St. Paul seeks grants for YWCA project, Uni-Fairview apartments

The St. Paul City Council voted on May 6 to apply for grants from the Metropolitan Council and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) for four development projects. They include two new apartment buildings at the northwest corner of Fairview and University avenues and a replacement for the YWCA of St. Paul’s building at Selby and Western avenues.

 

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Minneapolis-based Reuter Walton Development is seeking $111,814 from the Metropolitan Council’s Tax Base Revitalization Account and $654,080 from DEED to assist with site cleanup before it builds two seven-story apartment buildings at 1845 University Ave. The property, which is now occupied by commercial buildings and a parking lot, is owned by Goodwill/Easter Seals of Minnesota. Part of the property was once a gas station.

The 279-unit project would feature a mix of apartment sizes and would be one of the first new affordable housing complexes on University west of Snelling Avenue.

A proposal to redevelop the YWCA of St. Paul’s buildings at 375 Selby Ave. is a candidate for the Metropolitan Council’s Livable Communities Transit-Oriented pre-development grant of $100,000. YWCA officials have been looking at redeveloping its buildings there for the last few years. A new building would include a health and fitness center, offices and spaces for its various social programs. Last year Master Properties was selected as the developer and partner for the YWCA project. Ideas that have been discussed for the property include combining the Y’s current programs with housing, parking and retail.

Another request for funding is from Keystone Community Services, which has locations in Merriam Park, the West End and the North End. Keystone is seeking a pre-development grant of $100,000 from the Metropolitan Council for a site still to be determined.

Plat approved for Merriam Park property used by Catholic order

The redevelopment of the property at 104 N. Mississippi River Blvd. can move ahead with the St. Paul City Council’s approval on May 6 of the plat for Mississippi River Vista. The 2.1-acre property, which for many years housed a Catholic religious order of priests and brothers, is being divided into six lots of single-family housing.

The site was occupied for years by a brick mansion, which over time was renovated and expanded to 18 bedrooms and 19 bathrooms. The 15,500-square-foot house was torn down in 2019. The property had been owned by a trust and occupied by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It was the Oblates’ Midwest provincial house until 1999. Declining numbers of priests and brothers forced the order to move out.

The mansion was purchased for $2.4 million in 2018 by an affiliate of Wayzata-based Streeter & Associates and its Elevation Homes division. The new houses will be fronted by Mississippi River Boulevard, Otis Lane and Otis Way. Sidewalks will be added and some land along Mississippi River Boulevard will be ceded to meet the city’s parkland dedication requirement.

City officials heard from neighbors with concerns about the project, including the number of curb cuts planned along Otis Lane, which has long served as an alley for some homes on Mississippi River Boulevard and Otis Avenue. Neighbors wanted a more centrally located access point for the new homes in the interest of safety.

Neighbors also objected to the loss of mature trees and the addition of sidewalks for the new homes, saying that other properties in the neighborhood do not have sidewalks.

The developers met with neighbors several times and with the Union Park District Council’s Land Use Committee. The district council took no action on the project.

Collaborative creates relief fund for area surrounding Allianz Field

Minnesota United and Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America are partnering to donate $75,000 to the Neighbors United Funding Collaborative (NUFC) to support residents, businesses and organizations in the Midway and Union Park areas during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Union Park District Council (UPDC) and Hamline Midway Coalition are working together on the funding collaborative. More than three dozen small businesses near Allianz Field on Snelling Avenue and I-94 are currently seeking $2,500 grants from the fund. Applications were being accepted through May 11. Visit midwayunited.org/grant-process.

The NUFC was created in 2016 to provide a resource that neighborhoods surrounding Allianz Field can draw from to improve the area. The joint donation by Minnesota United and Allianz Life has quadrupled the fund’s resources.

Allianz Life also is matching up to $50,000 in financial contributions to Keystone Community Services to help provide access to food for those who are living in the area.

PPL purchases part of Ford site to construct affordable housing

The St. Paul City Council is poised to adopt zoning and other changes to the master plan and site plan for Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant in Highland Park following a public hearing on May 6. The hearing occurred just a day after the Ford site’s master developer, Ryan Companies, announced the sale of part of the 122-acre site to Project for Pride in Living (PPL) for the construction of affordable housing.

PPL’s purchase is the first sale of land for affordable housing there. PPL completed the purchase on .78 acres for two phases of affordable housing. Its first building on the site will be 60 units of supportive housing for households earning 30 percent or less of the Twin Cities’ median income. Phase two will consist of 76 units of “workforce” housing. Construction of the first building is anticipated to begin in 2021. 

PPL is partnering with St. Paul-based Emma Norton Services (ENS) to develop the supportive housing and a new headquarters for ENS, a nonprofit organization that provides housing for women and families on their way out of homelessness. 

“This is the most significant redevelopment initiative St. Paul has seen in decades. We look forward to continuing to pursue the goal of creating housing that is affordable and accessible to everyone,” said Paul Williams, CEO
of PPL.

The next step in the process for the affordable housing component of the redevelopment is for PPL and CommonBond to submit an application for public funding to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

St. Paul tries to reduce market for stolen catalytic converters

The St. Paul City Council approved an ordinance on May 6 that makes it a misdemeanor to sell or purchase a catalytic convertor that is not attached to a motor vehicle. Thieves steal and sell the devices for their metal content. A used catalytic converter can bring about $100 at a scrapyard.

Replacing a stolen converter can cost hundreds of dollars and often exceeds the value of an older vehicle. Council president Amy Brendmoen said the spike in those thefts has created a hardship for many families unable to replace vehicles that are the targets of those thieves. Many of the thefts occur in poorer neighborhoods near scrapyards.

The City Council received about half a dozen comments on the ordinance. Most people expressed support, saying they or their neighbors had been victims of catalytic converter theft. However, others said that until there is a statewide crackdown on such sales, thieves can simply sell the devices in another city.

Brendmoen agreed that the long-term solution is statewide regulation, but that the St. Paul ordinance should be seen as an interim step. “We’re killing the market here,” she said.

City officials plan to contact businesses that may be buying the stolen catalytic convertors. In recent months the rate of theft of the devices has skyrocketed. 

News Briefs were compiled by Jane McClure.

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