A buffet for developers

When I subscribed to the Villager, it was in appreciation of the fact that I could read neighborhood news for the areas I frequent the most. But honestly, the newspaper needs a name change. I suggest the Saint Paul Construction News. All those variance requests—it gets repetitive.

Saint Paul seems like a buffet restaurant for dozens of ambitious construction firms. And the requests get more and more bizarre. That proposal for Saint Clair and Cleveland avenues must have wrinkled some brows when it came in. I drive by that intersection five or 10 times a week. Of all the places I never picked for a soaring apartment building, that was the classic. Is it a feeding frenzy? Am I the only reader shaking his head in disbelief?

Well, I guess with the world frozen by battles against the coronavirus, maybe zoning variances are what is actually active. Some Saint Paul historian should write a chapter called “The Variance Spasm.”

James Mork
Cooper, Minneapolis

For innovation in health care

Like millions of Americans, I have been vaccinated. As a caregiver working in an assisted-living facility, I have seen first-hand the effect COVID-19 has had on our state’s senior population. It was incredibly important that assisted-living facility residents and staff were prioritized in vaccine allocation, and I commend the work of our lawmakers in making it happen.

Now, as vaccines continue to roll out and health care remains at the forefront of our minds, I encourage Congress to work toward better health care options and outcomes for every patient. They should be supporting the research and development of new medical treatments and cures.

Innovative policies led to the development of three COVID-19 vaccines in a year’s time. That is frankly incredible, and it is saving so many lives. We also need to support the efforts to develop other crucial treatments.

I hope Congress will reject any policy that inhibits biopharmaceutical companies from producing life-saving medications for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and the many other incurable and untreatable conditions our seniors face. We need as much help as possible.

Morgan Cardosi
Como, Minneapolis

It’s the orchard, not the apples

The good-and-bad-apples analogy prevalent in our law enforcement discourse is woefully inadequate to describe the immense work required to root out systemic racism. Public safety is more of an orchard, one required by society to produce healthy trees that grow nutritious apples which benefit us all. Throughout the orchard there are healthy trees producing mainly good apples and unhealthy trees producing more bad apples than good.

Good and bad apples, healthy and unhealthy trees, they are spread throughout the orchard. But bad apples or trees, and the pain and death they cause, are not the problem. They are the consequence. The problem is a chronic blight, metastasized throughout the orchard, affecting every tree and apple, the healthy and the rotten. This blight is systemic, and the fruit of the entire orchard is tainted as a result.

We must redefine what it is we need from public safety and law enforcement and renew our trust in it by calling out and curing the blight of systemic racism, not the badness of individuals or departments.

This is hard. And messy. And painful. But it is the only path to justice.

Chris Howie
Highland Park

Representing Islam in art

The article in the March 31 Villager about the Interfaith Prayer Wall that is being exhibited in April in a gallery at the University of Saint Thomas was of great interest. It certainly demonstrates connection over division.

In the article the creator of the prayer wall, Aimee Orkin, identifies the “architectural forms” chosen by her to represent each of the three major monotheistic religions: the Western Wall in Jerusalem to represent Judaism; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also in Jerusalem, to represent Christianity; and an Iranian prayer niche to represent Islam.

All three of these forms are architectural, but the form that she chose to represent Islam is puzzling. Wouldn’t the obvious Islamic analogue to the Jewish and Christian representations be either the Islamic Dome of the Rock or the Islamic Al-Aqsa Mosque, both situated on the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem?

Liza Burr
Macalester-Groveland

Aimee Orkin responds: Thank you for your interest in the Interfaith Prayer Wall created by the Interfaith Artists Circle. As I researched Islamic prayer walls of significance, I was told the mihrab, or prayer niche, is the focal point in the interior of a mosque, located in the qibbla wall that faces Mecca. The image I used from Iran was the most beautiful, compelling prayer niche I found. The prayer niche spoke to me and fit best in the design. I hope I did not offend you in any way. My hope was to be inclusive and welcoming.

Grand project is out of scale

I understand the need for redevelopment and housing on Grand Avenue. However, the out-of-scale five-story proposal for the Dixie’s site at 695 Grand Ave. is not the answer, even with the revisions unveiled at the April 8 presentation (Villager, April 14). While parking and delivery access points have been moved to better accommodate neighbors, this does not address the real issue: The structure is too massive for the space, and the streets around it will not easily accommodate the traffic it will generate.

The vehicle needs for the residents of 79 apartment units, the patrons of three restaurants, and the delivery, garbage and recycling trucks for the restaurants and residents will create a level of traffic that is unimaginable to those who live in the area. Given the space and location, this project is trying to do way too much. How can it possibly fit with the city Planning Commission’s vision of a future with fewer cars?

The multifamily buildings in the area represent a scale of development that has withstood the test of time and is appropriate to the neighborhood. Grand Avenue is not zoned for this type of project. The current East Grand Avenue Zoning Overlay District must be respected and maintained. We need thoughtful development that is at scale and appropriate to the neighborhood—development that will improve livability, not do the opposite.

Brenda Besser
Summit Hill

Retain Grand’s historic charm

The redevelopment of 695 Grand Ave. needs to be a win for the new and the old. I take great pride in living at Grand Avenue and Saint Albans Street. While I look forward to sharing my joys with new neighbors at 695 Grand, I have serious concerns about the immensity, density and design of this project.

Our immediate neighborhood, and the greater Summit Hill area, have much to offer to ensure the success of the proposed development, but we want assurance that our neighborhood will also be enhanced. The new residential tenants deserve to know they have made the right decision to rent at 695 Grand and that the legendary charm, walkability, vibrant livability and historical ambiance of the neighborhood will still be here for them to enjoy. The proposed high-density development simply does not encourage this kind of neighborhood.

Currently, Saint Albans between Summit and Grand avenues is all condominiums, nearly all owner-occupied. I was astounded, in doing a little math, to discover that my building of six condos has over 150 years of combined continuous residency, from five to 47 years, respectively. That says a lot about the neighborhood; it has kept its energy and vivacity. Few feel the need to move on, up or over.

I am all in favor of Grand continuing to grow while preserving its historical charm and leaving a legacy for the next generations to enjoy. Those who established the East Grand Avenue Zoning Overlay District were prescient. These guidelines need to be followed “to provide design standards and building height, size and footprint limits, and to reduce the shortage of parking in the east Grand Avenue area.”

M.L. Kucera
Summit Hill

A turn for the worse on Grand

Grand Avenue is on the cusp of changes that will define it and the neighborhoods that surround it. The Reuter Walton-Kenefick project on the Dixie’s site at 695 Grand is the first of probably many, and will set a precedent for future development along the avenue. The project has raised issues that need careful consideration. It challenges maximum building height and square-footage limits as defined in the East Grand Avenue Zoning Overlay District. It would tower over Grand Avenue and dominate it in an unfriendly, unneighborly way.

The project would nearly double the density in an area that is already one of the most dense along Grand Avenue. It’s possible that this large project could trigger a change to the zoning on Grand, to one that supports future buildings of this type, which means that traffic issues on an already too busy Grand Avenue, and the narrow residential streets that support it, will increase. That doesn’t make for a walkable avenue.

The historical significance of the Summit Hill neighborhood is a value not just for its inhabitants, but for all of Saint Paul. The building design for 695 Grand is a plan pulled out of a drawer, a cookie-cutter design increasingly seen in every area of the Twin Cities and meant to realize the highest economic return.

Grand Avenue offers exciting opportunities for new businesses and housing projects. Does this project provide the legacy we want to promote for our neighborhood?

Linda Makinen
Summit Hill

We can do better at 695 Grand

The so-called refinements to the essentially unchanged design for the proposed redevelopment or the Dixie’s site at 695 Grand Ave. were nothing more than window dressing. Minor changes such as adding a balcony or moving the entrance to the parking garage do not begin to address the many and legitimate concerns expressed by neighbors.

The design of the building is formulaic architecture, a generic plan meant to maximize everything in all directions: height, mass and lot coverage. Frank Lloyd Wright once wrote, “ A building should appear to grow easily from its site and be shaped to harmonize with its surroundings.” This building seeks to dominate, dwarf and diminish its neighbors. It is designed to maximize unit numbers. It flouts the setbacks, breaches the height limits and does not address the unique context that is present on the site and on this area of east Grand Avenue.

The scale of the building is maxed out. It dumps cars right onto the sidewalks. With no buffer, there will no doubt be a loud speaker announcing the exiting of every car. The design pushes the highest mass to the north, casting the maximum shadow on its neighbors. Unfortunately, the architects did little to mitigate the height. The design could have recognized the eight feet of grade change on the site and stepped the building down with the grade, saving four to six feet in height. They could have used a lower floor-to-floor height to keep the overall height down.

The developers have ignored the context of the site. They are not listening to the people being affected. It sets a horrible precedent for future development on Grand. We can do so much better.

Jonathan Mason
Summit Hill

City Council just isn’t listening

The juxtaposition of the first two pieces in the Viewpoint section of the April 14 Villager were priceless. The first, by Tom Meier, describes the frustration of Edgcumbe Place homeowners with the city of Saint Paul in regard to Phase 2 of the Griggs-Scheffer repaving project. He describes the homeowners’ efforts to work with the city and how the city, instead of being inclusive and transparent as it claims, has been dismissive and opaque.

Many Edgcumbe Road residents have sought to work with city planners to encourage the thoughtful and cooperative redevelopment of our streets. They, too, have seen their input dismissed by city staff. I live on Edgcumbe Road and have been a part of meetings about the proposed project. All of our comments have fallen on deaf ears.

The second Viewpoint piece is a letter from Ann Dolan, a member of several Macalester-Groveland Community Council committees. She states that “every person on the council’s board and committees is clearly dedicated to the betterment of the community…. If all of my neighbors told me they wanted things a certain way, I could not in good conscience vote in opposition to them. Our job is to be the mouthpiece of the people.” Wow. How enlightening is that?

Phase 2 of the Griggs-Scheffer repaving project was on the City Council agenda on April 14. It was introduced by council member Chris Tolbert. He obviously did not hear a thing the neighbors, his constituents, had to say. He did not acknowledge that 21 neighbors had responded to the City Council, and all of them were opposed to the project as proposed. He did not report that no one from the neighborhood who responded favored the project. He asked the council for a vote, and they approved the project, 7-0.

The City Council voted unanimously to approve a project that is significantly more expensive than it needs to be and has elements that no one in the neighborhood wants and for which there is no defined need. Where is the fiduciary responsibility in that? And whatever happened to encouraging public input and listening to it?

C.T. Killian
Highland Park

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