Note: This article is the first in a series of regular updates on St. Paul City Council Member Rebecca Noecker’s voting, related to issues affecting the Summit Hill neighborhood.
As a District Council, the Summit Hill Association is charged, among other things, with representing the overall neighborhood as a liaison with the City, and upholding the Zoning Code and other regulations.
In 2016, SHA and its Zoning and Land Use Committee (ZLU) worked on several issues that affected the neighborhood. In all cases, public comment was encouraged, with public meetings to learn more about the application from the applicant and listen to neighbors’ concerns. SHA subsequently took positions with recommendations to the relevant City governing bodies.
Four of these cases were appealed to the City Council; in three of the four cases, Ward 2 Council Member City Rebecca Noecker voted against SHA’s position. (The cases are described in detail below.)
SHA has reached out to Rebecca Noecker, and asked that she and her staff make a greater effort to learn more about the Summit Hill neighborhood and the issues that are important to it, as reflected in the most recent Neighborhood Comprehensive Plan. Additionally, we requested better communication and earlier participation in ongoing matters that SHA deals with, supporting us as we seek to adhere to the St. Paul Zoning Code and other regulations in a way that is both lawful and sensitive to the needs of both the neighborhood and the applicants.
Finally, we have also asked for her leadership in obtaining adequate funding to meet our mission in all areas, as City funding has not increased in more than a decade.
Following is a summary of four recent cases that were appealed to the St. Paul City Council:
|June 1, 2016: 1174 Grand Avenue Proposed Condominium Building||Summary: In mid-2015, developers submitted a proposal for a condominium building at 1174 Grand, replacing a historic single-family house, which they tore down. They requested the rezoning of the parcel from BC to RM2, plus substantial lot coverage and setback variances. In July 2015 the Planning Commission approved rezoning, but not the variances, which were subsequently rejected by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) and, in November 2015, by the City Council. The developers returned with minor adjustments, reducing the proposed lot coverage by a total of 3 square feet. The BZA approved the variances. A group of neighbors appealed the decision to City Council.|
|SHA Position: From the beginning, SHA was against granting all but the front setback variance (making the building’s setback comparable to that of surrounding buildings) because the developers had not met most of the Zoning Code criteria required to grant the variances. The building’s mass was a primary concern, as it would have been out of character with the rest of the neighborhood, as was the precedent set by approving such a building. SHA supported the neighbors in their appeal.|
|Outcome: Although the development was substantially the same as what the City Council had rejected in November 2015, the councilmembers who had been present for that vote reversed themselves and rejected the appeal. Of the two new councilmembers, one—Jane Prince—voted to support the neighbors’ appeal. Ward 2’s new councilmember, Rebecca Noecker, who had been kept up to date on SHA’s position, recused herself at the meeting and left the room under the grounds that she’d been involved in the Planning Commission vote the previous year. SHA, with no advance knowledge that she was planning on doing this, was disappointed that it was not represented by its councilmember.|
|Rebecca Noecker Support of SHA? No|
|August 3, 2016: 975 Lincoln Avenue Proposed Enclosed Breezeway||Summary: The homeowners applied to the City in May to build an enclosed breezeway connecting their house to a new 3-car garage they were building to replace the older, dilapidated one on the alley. This would have required a 20.5 foot setback variance. BZA denied the variance in May, and again in July when it was resubmitted with minor changes, finding that four of the six requirements for a variance in the Zoning Code had not been met. The applicants appealed to the City Council, which rejected the appeal.|
|SHA Position: SHA voted against granting the variance because it did not meet 3 of the 6 Zoning Code criteria for granting variances. There was concern that such a structure would change the character of the neighborhood, and that alternatives for addressing the issues the applicant identified which would not have required a variance had not been considered.|
|Outcome: The appeal for the variance was rejected by the City Council. Ward 2 councilmember Rebecca Noecker voted against the appeal.|
|Rebecca Noecker Support of SHA? Yes|
|September 21, 2016: 210 S. Victoria Proposed Front Yard Garage||Summary: The homeowner applied to the City in July to build a front yard garage, requiring two variances. The first: to build a garage in the front yard, which is prohibited by the Zoning Code. The second: a 16 foot front yard setback variance. The case went to the BZA on August 15 and the variances were approved. SHA appealed the decision on September 21 to the City Council, which rejected the appeal.|
|SHA Position: SHA voted against granting the variances because it did not meet 3 of the 6 Zoning Code criteria for granting variances. There was concern that such a structure would change the character of the neighborhood, and that alternatives for a front yard garage had not been considered by the applicant. Furthermore, a similar application had been made by the owner of the house next store in November, 2012 and had been voted down by SHA and the BZA.|
|Outcome: The appeal by SHA was rejected by the City Council. Ward 2 councilmember Rebecca Noecker led the 6-1 vote against the appeal; only councilmember Jane Prince voted in favor.|
|Rebecca Noecker Support of SHA? No|
|December 1, 2016: St. Paul Tennis Club Proposed New Buildings with Rooftop Deck||Summary: In July the St. Paul Tennis Club (SPTC) applied to the City to replace its existing buildings and swimming pool, which were in disrepair and not ADA-accessible. One of the buildings would have a rooftop deck, a new feature. The plan went through numerous iterations before its final version, requiring a conditional use permit for what was a nonconforming legal use. It was approved by the Planning Commission on October 28. A group of neighbors appealed the decision to the City Council on December 7; the appeal was denied.|
|SHA Position: SHA had very little time to react when it received notice of the Zoning Committee of the Planning Commission meeting, but called a public meeting two days ahead to hear public comment. It received the City staff report and recommendations only hours before the meeting. Given concerns expressed by neighbors regarding the potential negative impacts of the rooftop deck, ZLU recommended a condition to the permit requiring support by 60% of neighbors within 100 feet of the SPTC, in order to ensure that both sides were able to come to a mutual agreement about the deck and its use. ZLU subsequently, prior to the Planning Commission vote, raised concerns regarding the lack of quorum for the Zoning Committee vote, and the apparent need for a nonconforming use permit for expansion and relocation rather than a conditional use permit, given the legal nonconforming status of the SPTC. ZLU asked for a layover of the vote, with no response.|
|Outcome: The Planning Commission rejected SHA’s proposed condition. The appeal by the neighborhood group regarding the proposed rooftop deck and other issues was rejected by the City Council. Ward 2 councilmember Rebecca Noecker led the 6-1 vote against the appeal; only councilmember Jane Prince voted in favor. Noecker then volunteered to mediate an agreement regarding the deck and its use between the neighborhood group and the SPTC.|
|Rebecca Noecker Support of SHA? No|