A much-debated plan for a new 72-unit apartment building at the southwest corner of Graham Avenue and Sue Street in Highland Park got mixed reviews on September 8. The Saint Paul Planning Commission’s Zoning Committee recommended a zoning change and conditional use permit for added height for the building. However, it rejected variances for setbacks and for greater density.

workforce housing
The site of the proposed 72-unit apartment building at Graham Avenue and Sue Street in Highland Park is designated with a red rectangle above.

The committee’s recommendations will be reviewed by the full Planning Commission on September 16. The commission will rule on the permit and variances. The zoning change will need to be approved by the City Council.

The project has sparked a controversy in a neighborhood where new housing has raised concerns about parking congestion and traffic safety. The Highland District Council and city planner Spencer Johnson had recommended approval of the zoning change, permit and two variances. However, more than two dozen letters opposing the project were received by city staff.

Local residents contend that the area is already overwhelmed with new developments and that the new housing would make matters worse. Another concern is the loss of more than a dozen trees on the properties to be redeveloped.

A project of Presbyterian Homes and Services

The developer of the apartments is Senior Housing Partners, an affiliate of Presbyterian Homes and Services, which operates several buildings of senior housing in the area, including Highland Path and Highlands of Saint Paul. According to Sam Jagodzinski of Senior Housing Partners, the new building would provide needed housing, including housing for Presbyterian Homes employees.

According to neighbors, Presbyterian Homes employees and vendors do not use the off-street parking available to them and instead park on the streets. Motorists also speed through the area, they said. “I’ve had close calls with my kids on their bikes,” said Brian Arbuckle.

Jagodzinski said the proposed building’s 55 off-street parking spaces should help reduce parking pressure on the streets. Thirty-five spaces would be in an underground parking structure. The rest would be in a surface parking lot.

 

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Zoning is recommended, variances are not

The proposed four-story apartment building would require demolishing two duplexes at 1413 Sue St. and 1883 Norfolk Ave. The Norfolk duplex is zoned for single-family use and would need to be rezoned for multi-family use. The Sue Street address and 1891 Norfolk are already zoned for multi-family use.

The vote recommending the rezoning was 3-1, with commissioner Luis Rangel Morales in opposition. He wanted more information on the historic status of the dwelling at 1883 Norfolk. Neighbors said the house is well over a century old.

Rangel Morales also cast the sole dissenting vote on the conditional use permit, which would allow a building height of up to 58 feet, or 8 feet above the normal maximum.

The committee voted 3-1 to recommend that the variance requests be rejected. The majority contended that the variances were being sought for financial reasons and not because of any practical difficulty. A finding of practical difficulty is required.

One of the variances is for a front yard setback of 14 feet, 7 inches. A setback of 25 feet is normally required. However, Johnson noted, that block of Sue Street has an unusually wide 80-foot right-of-way. Because of that, he said, the proposed setback is more than 39 feet from the curb.

— Jane McClure

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