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B Line route may extend to downtown St. Paul

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

The initial route proposed for the B Line.

After hearing from community members, planners now recommend extending the B Line to downtown St. Paul.
The B Line will run along Lake St., Marshall Ave. and Selby Ave. Initial plans called for the B Line to only go as far east as Snelling Ave.
Planners recommend that the existing Route 21 along that corridor remain on a limited basis, running on Lake St. between Hennepin Ave. and Minnehaha Ave. every 30 minutes.
From April to October of 2019, B Line staff attended or hosted 26 community events, participated in bus ride-alongs and stop pop-ups, and connected with over 1,500 individual people to help inform the planning process and preliminary recommendations for the B Line.
Community input on preliminary recommendations is still being gathered to shape a draft corridor plan for the B Line.
This draft plan will be released for public comment in 2020, and will include more detailed information on planned station locations. To co-host an event or schedule a presentation, contact Cody Olson, Community Outreach Coordinator, at BLine@metrotransit.org or 612-349-7390. The Metropolitan Council will consider approval of a final B Line corridor plan in 2020.

The new route proposed for the B Line.

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The Pitch meets delays

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

By JANE MCCLURE
Too-high groundwater levels and rising construction costs have slowed the start on the Pitch, a six-story mixed-use development west of Allianz Field.
The six-story project, which was to break ground this fall, is delayed until 2020. Union Park District Council’s land use committee heard an update Nov. 18 from developer Wellington Management.
The Pitch is to be located at 427 N. Snelling Ave., the longtime home of Bremer Bank. The bank recently moved into temporary space at Spruce Tree Center and is to occupy part of the commercial space in the new building. The bank building is expected to come down in December.
The building will have about 158 units of varying sizes and 13,000 square feet of commercial space. Dwelling units will be a mix of micro-units, studios, one and two-bedrooms, at market-rate rents. Walgreens has been suggested as one of the other commercial tenants.
The high water table has been a key factor in the delay, said Casey Dzieweczynski, Wellington project manager. “We put meters into the ground and over the last spring, we saw that the groundwater level was up seven to eight feet.”
That meant eliminating one of two planned underground parking levels for residents and reducing the amount of parking to 55 spaces on one level, said Dzieweczynski. To offset the reduction Wellington is considering adding an automated car lift to the underground level that would allow for approximately 30 more stalls, bringing the total to 85.
The parking change doesn’t require another round of St. Paul Planning Commission approvals. The original development had 142 parking spaces, with 25 for commercial patrons and 117 for residents. The second level of underground parking would have been for residents, as is the first level. But because the development site is zoned traditional neighborhoods three and is within one-quarter mile of Green Line light rail, there is no minimum number of parking spots required.
“I’m excited to hear that there is less parking,” said Henry Parker, a member of the UPDC board and committee. “It will show other developers and investors that there is not as much of a need for parking.”
The Planning Commission in April approved a conditional use permit, floor area ratio variance and nonconforming use permit for the project. A conditional use permit is needed for height. The property is zoned for traditional neighborhoods three use, which allows a height of up to 55 feet. A height of up to 90 feet is allowed with a conditional use permit; a height of 75 feet is proposed.
The nonconforming use permit allows the new development to have two drive-through lanes, one of the bank and one for the pharmacy. The existing bank building has two drive-through lanes.
Another change is in contractors. Original contractor Watson Forsberg has been replaced by Hopkins-based Frana Companies. Frana is building the six-story Scannell Properties project north of the Wellington site. This fall the old Furniture Barn and World of Wireless building came down to make way for that new development. Frana is also working with Exeter Group to build an apartment building at Marshall and Western avenues this fall.
A third change is in project architect, with UrbanWorks Architecture replacing Pope Associates. New building drawings haven’t been completed, but Dzieweczynski said the structure would be similar to what was originally announced.

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Development Roundup December 2019

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

by Jane McClure

New Taco Bell restaurant?
A controversial plan to rebuild the Taco Bell at 565 N. Snelling Ave. is going back before the St. Paul Planning Commission and its Zoning Committee. Plans for Zoning Committee hearing 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12 at City Hall, and a commission vote as soon as Dec. 20.
Planning Commission decisions on conditional use permits are final unless they are appealed to the St. Paul City Council.
There has been a Mexican-style fast-food restaurant at the site since 1973, including Zantigo and Zapata as well as Taco Bell. In 2015 a new restaurant was proposed but plans were set aside after objections from neighbors and Planning Commission members. At the Planning Commission, there was debate as to whether or not allowing the current business to keep operating was a good outcome.
Restaurant owner Border Foods wants to tear down and replace the existing restaurant, retaining its current drive-through service. Plans call for moving the drive-through service farther away from residents, adding a wall and other buffering features, and reducing the amount of on-site parking.
Taco Bell has been a source of controversy. Late-night and early morning patron behavior at the drive-through has drawn complaints over the years, including noise, fights, loitering and other behaviors.
One complication for Border Foods and for neighbors is the lack of clarity in city records. At some point a drive-through window was installed, although a conditional use permit was never issued for the window. It’s not clear why that didn’t happen because the permits are a longtime requirement for all types of drive-through services. With no conditional use permit for Taco Bell, the city never had a chance to place conditions on operations such as speaker placement and noise levels, and hours.
Another wrinkle is that the site’s longtime commercial zoning was changed to traditional neighborhoods use, as part of a larger study for North Snelling. That type of zoning is meant to promote denser, more walkable neighborhoods and deter uses such as drive-through services.

Parking ramp changes hands
One of the few city-owned parking ramps outside of downtown has a new owner. The St. Paul City Council, acting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) November 13, approved the sale of the Spruce Tree Center ramp to the adjacent office building owner, Spruce Tree Center LLC.
Sale price is $1.5 million.
A license agreement with the city will allow for 200 ramp spaces to be used for events at Allianz Field, the Major League Soccer stadium just east and south of Spruce Tree Center. The terms of the license agreement allow for up to 25 professional soccer matches and up to 10 other events, as well as a gold cup soccer event.
The center and ramp are at the southwest corner of University and Snelling avenue. A purchase has been negotiated for more than a year.
In 1987 the city worked with Metro Plains development to build the office building and the ramp. The building, with its bright green exterior, is meant to resemble a spruce tree. The building was in private ownership, but the ramp was a city-owned ramp.
The operating agreement gave the building owner the right to purchase the ramp.

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Development Roundup November 2019

Posted on 12 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

by Jane McClure

O’Gara’s won’t reopen
As redevelopment continues along Snelling Avenue, one family business will be missing. The owners of O’Gara’s Bar and Grill announced Nov. 3 that the bar/restaurant will not return to its longtime home on Snelling and Selby. It’s one of two Snelling projects making changes.
O’Gara’s had operated at its Snelling-Hamline Location for 77 years but closed in September 2018 to make way for a mixed-use commercial-residential project led by Ryan Companies. The O’Gara family sold their business and two homes they owned, to make way for the project. The intent was to open a new and smaller O’Gara’s in part of the building’s main floor.
Signs had promised a reopening in time for St. Patrick’s Day 2020. But co-owner Dan O’Gara announced that the family wouldn’t reopen at Selby and Snelling and would instead focus on its Minnesota State Fair restaurant and catering. He went on to say that changes in regulations and the growing competition from taprooms made re-opening “financially untenable.”
“It is with sadness that we share the news that we have decided not to re-open the original location,” he said. Dan O’Gara was part of the third generation of the family to operate O’Gara’s.
The other Snelling project facing changes is the Wellington mixed-used development at Snelling and Shields avenues, which received a conditional use permit for its project earlier this year. A reworked plan due to cost considerations will be brought back to Union Park District Council’s land use committee Nov. 18.
A third project at Snelling and Shields, led by Indian-based Scannell, is moving ahead. The former Furniture Barn and World of Wireless buildings recently came down to make way for a mixed-use building.

More opposition for Alatus
Developer Alatus’ controversial plan to construct a six-story apartment building on a vacant lot near Lexington Parkway and University Ave. is being challenged by another district council. Summit-University Planning Council (SUPC) in October asked the St. asked St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED) to withdraw Alatus’ application for $1.125 million in funding through the Metropolitan Council’s Livable Communities Program.
A PED spokesperson said that city officials have asked Metropolitan Council to table the request until community concerns about the project’s lack of affordable housing can be addressed.
Alatus officials will present new development plans on Nov. 18 to the Union Park District Council’s land use committee. Union Park and Frogtown Neighborhood Association have asked that the project add affordable units.

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