Ramsey County District Court Judge John Guthmann has dismissed a lawsuit filed against the city of Saint Paul for not following its master plan for the Highland Bridge development in Highland Park. Local residents James Winterer, Kathryn McGuire, Catherine Hunt, Howard Miller, Bruce Faribault and Bruce Hoppe filed the lawsuit last October in an attempt to force the city to follow its own zoning rules.

The plaintiffs, who are all members of the group Neighbors for a Livable Saint Paul, contend that city officials have used zoning variances as a “rubber stamp” for Highland Bridge developers who stray from the master plan for the 122-acre site of Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant.

The plaintiffs challenged Ryan Companies' use of private balconies and rooftop gardens to meet the open space requirements for the six-story development at 2170 Ford Pkwy.

 

The plaintiffs also cited a mixed-use building at 2170 Ford Pkwy. where city zoning staff allowed master developer Ryan Companies to include private balconies and rooftop gardens in meeting the open space requirement for the project. The plaintiffs contend that that interpretation of the master plan will result in buildings filling up entire blocks of Highland Bridge with little public open space.

“The city appears to be using bureaucratic maneuvers to prevent anyone from challenging them as they change the rules to inflate and alter the scope of the Ford site development outside of the original codified plan,” the plaintiffs said in a joint statement following Guthmann’s ruling.

The plaintiffs also cited a mixed-use building at 2170 Ford Pkwy. where city zoning staff allowed master developer Ryan Companies to include private balconies and rooftop gardens in meeting the open space requirement for the project. The plaintiffs contend that that interpretation of the master plan will result in buildings filling up entire blocks of Highland Bridge with little public open space.

“The city appears to be using bureaucratic maneuvers to prevent anyone from challenging them as they change the rules to inflate and alter the scope of the Ford site development outside of the original codified plan,” the plaintiffs said in a joint statement following Guthmann’s ruling.

The city “is knowingly violating its own laws that city officials themselves enacted and then deliberately using an appeals process to obfuscate,” the plaintiffs stated. “Although the building at issue (2170 Ford Pkwy.) is already half-built, we are contemplating…a possible appeal to ensure that our municipal leaders are acting in the best interest of citizens. In our view, the Saint Paul variance request process is just a big rubber stamp by the city, supporting whatever developers want.”

Guthmann in his ruling said he did not believe the plaintiffs had legal standing to even bring the case. He contended that if they had issues with the city’s interpretation of the open space requirement, they could have filed an appeal with the Saint Paul Board of Zoning Appeals and City Council. Another factor considered by the judge was whether the plaintiffs were able to show that they will suffer harm or be in imminent danger because of the actions taken by the city. He found that was not the case.

The city maintained in court that its variance process is legal and that developers are entitled to apply for variances.

“The vision for the Highland Bridge site was developed through more than a decade of engagement with our community,” said City Attorney Lyndsey Olson. “With the dismissal of this case, our work continues to leverage this enormous opportunity for the benefit of our entire city.”

— Jane McClure

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