A proposed duplex can be built on an empty lot at 321 W. Irvine Ave., with unanimous support on November 29 from the Saint Paul Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC). Developer Rashad Kennedy has agreed to meet 12 conditions on the project. It is the first dwelling to be built in that part of the Summit-University neighborhood in several years.

HPC approval of the building plans is required because Irvine Avenue is in the Historic Hill District. The street is in a small neighborhood below the Summit Avenue bluff. Building in the area is impacted by the area’s steep slope, water runoff and erosion. Some neighbors have had mudslides onto their properties in the past.

Irvine Avenue
The front view of Rashad Kennedy’s new design for a duplex with attached garages at 321 W. Irvine Ave.

Kennedy’s original plans were reviewed by the HPC in September. Commissioners criticized the design at that time, saying it did not fit with other homes in the area and failed to meet historic guidelines.

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He reworked his plans for the duplex, including changes to the roofline. The building will be 40 feet tall, which is the maximum height for the area, said city heritage preservation supervisor George Gause.

Smooth lap siding and shake shingles are proposed, and a new window design was chosen. A garage would face the front, with two stories of living space above. The building will be built into the slope, and will have a third-story stepback to minimize its massing.

Commissioners praised the new design and Kennedy’s willingness to make changes. “I pretty much redid the whole exterior to meet the guidelines,” he said.

Commissioners praised the new design and Kennedy’s willingness to make changes. “I pretty much redid the whole exterior to meet the guidelines,” he said.

HPC members raised questions about Kennedy’s plans for two double garage doors. He said he would look into the feasibility of using single doors. Commissioner Stuart MacDonald said another option is to have double doors designed to mimic the appearance of single doors.

The commission added a condition on garage door design. The other 11 conditions deal with historic district guidelines, including ones that involve siding, roof materials, windows and other details.

Commissioners only heard from a few residents. One neighbor expressed concern about the new duplex casting a shadow over her building. Another concern was regarding the fate of retaining walls on the site. The wall in front of the property will be removed, while the one in the back could be rebuilt. Neighbors would like to see that back wall not be too large and not be made of plain cinderblock.

Gause said the HPC is limited to having input on a wall’s appearance. Engineering details would be hammered out during the site plan review by city staff. Water runoff flowing through the backyard will also have to be addressed.

The property was part of 322 Summit, but was rezoned in 2003 as part of the Irvine Avenue Development Plan. Properties were downzoned because of the steep and narrow street’s inability to handle more traffic, lack of on-street parking, and a desire to minimize development on steep slopes where water runoff and erosion created ongoing problems.

The Summit-Irvine lot was split in 2009. Several developers have eyed the lot since then. One shelved idea was for a single-family home. A second developer in 2019 had the property rezoned from single-family to townhouse use, with plans to build two townhouses there.

— Jane McClure

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