With the support of the Summit Hill Association, Saint Albans LLC’s plan for a five-story, mixed-use development on the northwest corner of Grand Avenue and Saint Albans Street will be reviewed by the Saint Paul Planning Commission’s Zoning Committee on July 1. The SHA’s approval on June 17 capped a neighborhood review process that began in March. However, the high-profile debate over density, redevelopment and the future of Grand Avenue continues.

The Kenefick family, longtime owners of the property at 695 Grand Ave., is working with Reuter Walton on plans to demolish the one-story building on the site and replace it with a new structure that would house four businesses on the ground floor and 79 apartments above. The market-rate apartments would range in size from alcoves to two bedrooms plus den. The existing Emmett’s and Saji-Ya restaurants would move into the new building. Dixies on Grand would not.

Dixie's site
The stepped-back facade of the proposed five-story development at 695 Grand Ave.

The SHA debated the pros and cons of the development for more than three hours on June 17, discussing everything from building height and massing to managing the loading and unloading of trucks on the site.

Supporters of the project say the building will help revitalize the Grand Avenue business district, which they contend has been flagging in recent years with the loss of many shops. Opponents contend that the project will greatly increase traffic and parking demand in an area that is already congested, and that it will alter the character of the neighborhood. A petition opposing the project with 279 signatures was submitted to the SHA.

SHA board member Samantha Loesch, who lives near the proposed development, cited concerns about increased traffic and parking demand and the effect the development could have on the neighborhood’s character. “I’m concerned that (the five-story structure) will dwarf everything else on the block,” she said.

“This is an example of the change that is coming,” said SHA board member Mark Lindley. “We can manage change or change can manage us.”

“But we live in a metro area,” countered SHA board member Trevor Burns. “We need density to grow and thrive.”

 

house ad

 

One issue that repeatedly came up was what would happen if this particular development does not go forward. “A lot of people don’t like this building,” said SHA board member Katie Bergstrom. “The question is, what else could go there?”

Zoning variances recommended by SHA.

Saint Albans LLC’s request for rezoning the property from business to mixed-use Traditional Neighborhoods 3 was recommended for approval by the SHA. The request for a conditional use permit to allow a building height of up to 59 feet 10 inches also won the SHA’s support.

The SHA also recommended the approval of several setback variances. One would place the ground floor of the building 18 feet from Grand, or 10 feet more than what is required, to allow for more restaurant patio space. A second setback variance would accommodate the building’s stepped-back, C-shaped design and make room for a terrace on the second level of the building.

However, the project will need an exemption from the East Grand Avenue Zoning Overlay District, which limits building heights to three stories on that stretch of Grand east of Ayd Mill Road. The SHA voted 9-4-1 to recommend that the developers not be allowed to opt out of the zoning overlay district. The SHA is currently studying the zoning overlay district and plans to submit a recommendation to the city by June 1, 2022, according to SHA board president Peter Rhoades.

The zoning overlay district was adopted in 2006 to limit the height and massing of new buildings on the eastern end of Grand, limiting their height to three stories and their square footage to 25,000. Those restrictions were seen as a way to discourage national chain stores from moving onto Grand. Neighborhood surveys have indicated continued support for keeping the zoning district in place.

Neighbors helped shape a better plan.

Ari Parritz of Reuter Walton and Bob Loken of ESG Architects said the months of neighborhood discussion have informed and improved the project’s design. Loken said the development would bring positive change to the neighborhood. “Grand is a vibrant retail corridor that has experienced some real challenges,” he said. “Redevelopment could help turn that around.”

Since the plan for 695 Grand was first proposed, vehicle exits and a loading zone have been eliminated in the alley behind the building, setbacks have been altered, architectural details and articulation have been added, and space has been made for a fourth commercial tenant on the first floor.

The plan now calls for 68 underground parking spaces for residents. The ground floor would have commercial spaces ranging from 1,084  to 2,501 square feet. A fitness room would be located on the ground floor beside the residents’ entrance on Saint Albans. About 30 parking spaces would be provided for business patrons.

Local sentiment is still mixed.

Neighborhood sentiment continues to be mixed. Some local residents are still calling for a smaller development on the scale of the Oxford Hill building on the southwest corner of Grand and Oxford Street. “If it were one story shorter, I’d be on board,” said James McDonald.

SHA board member Sonja Mason said the developers could bring mixed use to Grand  with a three-story structure. However, Parritz said the numbers simply do not work with a smaller development.

According to Dan Marshall, owner of Mischief Toy Store at 818 Grand Ave., the addition of 79 apartments will help local businesses. “This is very much needed and will help solve our housing crisis,” he said.

Neighbor Ellen Brown said she appreciated the efforts to bring new vitality to Grand. “And let’s not overlook the need for greater property tax opportunities for the city,” she said.

“This is an example of the change that is coming,” said SHA board member Mark Lindley. “We can manage change or change can manage us.”

— Jane McClure

COMMENTS TERMS OF SERVICE

The Villager welcomes comments from readers. Please include your full name and the neighborhood in which you live. Be respectful of others and stay on topic. We reserve the right to remove any comment we deem to be profane, rude, insulting or hateful. Comments will be reviewed before being published.

Leave a Reply