1945 Rome
A view from the street (above) and from the alley of the lot at 1945 Rome Ave. after the removal of the original rambler.

The Saint Paul Planning Commission resolved a long and complicated fight over the construction of two new homes in Highland Park on August 6 by unanimously rejecting an appeal of a lot split at 1945 Rome Ave. The commission also set several conditions to mitigate the new homes’ potential impact on neighbors. Its decision is final unless it is appealed to the City Council.

Developer 1945 Rome LLC and builder Providence Homes must comply with city regulations for residential developments on steep slopes. The two new homes must be set back at least seven feet from neighboring lots, and be at least two stories high to minimize their footprints. All grading and new construction on the lots also must be designed to protect neighboring property from water drainage.

Disputes over lot splits are extremely rare in Saint Paul, but more than 20 neighbors signed a petition opposing this one. The Highland District Council did not take a position.

The Rome Avenue lot is unique for its size, slope and history. The property was platted as two 40-foot lots and zoned for single-family use. A brick and stucco rambler was built on the property more than 50 years ago, but it was recently demolished. The owner wants to split the property to accommodate two houses.

   

Rome Avenue neighbors Kirk and Rebecca Pennings and Scott and Taylor Ames filed the appeal. The lot split won preliminary city approval in November 2019, but Kirk Pennings said the neighbors were advised by city staff to not appeal the decision until after the house had been removed and sewer and water services disconnected.

The applicant had until November 21 of last year to do that. Because they were not done by then, Pennings said neighbors assumed the lot split was not going forward.

However, on March 22 of this year the water and sewer services were disconnected. The house was demolished not long after that and a tree on the property line was removed over neighbors’ objections.

 

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“Two houses cannot fit on this lot,” Pennings said. The original house sat in the middle of the two lots and had retaining walls due to drainage issues.

The neighbors objected even more to how the site was graded and said there were discrepancies between the site and the plans filed with the city. Pennings said the result, if not corrected, will create a “trough-shaped yard.” He asked that a licensed engineer provide a grading plan before the project goes forward.

“Two houses cannot fit on this lot,” Pennings said. The original house sat in the middle of the two lots and had retaining walls due to drainage issues.

Developers David Wickiser and Shawn Devine are working with Providence Homes on the project. They said the grounds for appeal were without merit. According to Wickiser, the developers are now going through a site plan review that should address any potential issues.

The appeal was based on three grounds. One was the property’s slope and potential for flooding. The city zoning code does not allow the creation of lots where the building pad for the principal structure has a slope steeper than 18 percent. City planner Marilyn Rosendahl said the appellants incorrectly calculated a 23.8 percent slope across the original 80-foot parcel, not just the separate building pads, which meets the slope requirements.

The second ground for appeal was that building two homes with a more impervious surface would increase the risk of flooding, and that the developer’s proposal did not address how soil would be supported with a retaining wall. Rosendahl said those issues will be addressed as part of site plan review.

The third ground for appeal noted neighborhood opposition, the construction of two new homes on a busy street, and questions about the developers’ capabilities. Rosendahl said that Rome Avenue can accommodate the development and that the other issues were not grounds for rejecting a lot split.

— Jane McClure

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