Alatus plans meet mixed response
Two redevelopment plans for a vacant lot near Lexington Parkway and University Ave. would offer a six-story mixed-use building with a grocery store and east-west bicycle-pedestrian connection through the structure.
But Alatus LLC’s plans drew objections July 15 during a sometimes raucous meeting of the Union Park District Council (UPDC) land use committee. Several people criticized the project for a lack of affordable and family-friendly housing, saying it adds to the problems already seen due to gentrification.
Both plans call for a building where Lexington and Fuller Ave. intersect. Both plans offer about 21,000 square feet of space for a grocery store. The number of apartments, ranging from efficiencies to four-bedroom units, would be about 226. There would be about 180 parking spaces, underground and on the main level. Both plans also call for the building to have two outdoor amenity decks.
One plan calls for all market-rate apartments, as well as 5,000 square feet space for smaller community coworking or a business incubator space.
The second plan calls for what Alatus representatives describe as privately subsidized/affordable units, with six to 12 units allocated to people who meet income restrictions. But that plan calls for eliminating building features including the 5,000 square feet of community space, dropping energy-efficiency and technology features, eliminating resident transit passes and increasing rent for parking spaces.
About two dozen area residents attended the meeting, raising a range of objections to the project. Worries were voiced about increased traffic and parking demand, and potential home structural damage due to new construction. But most objections were about the proposed rents and the project’s lack of affordable housing.
But how much input district councils and neighborhood residents can have is limited. The project meets its underlying zoning and doesn’t need any variances. Nor is Alatus seeking any public subsidy. The developers hope to go through city site plan review during the third quarter of this year and start construction early in 2020. The district council could ask for a site plan review public hearing before the Planning Commission, but affordable housing isn’t an issue the commission can address under current city zoning regulations.
The development site is zoned for Traditional Neighborhoods 4 use, which is intended to provide for high-density, transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly mixed-use development. The zoning was changed when property all along University was rezoned several years ago in anticipation of redevelopment spurred by Green Line light rail.
Chris Osmundson, director of development for Alatus, said the developers have struggled with balancing project costs and the wide range of issues neighbors have raised over the past few months. If the developers sought bonding or other types of affordable housing subsidies, that would push the project back at least one year. The site at 411 Lexington Parkway has been for sale for a decade, and at least three other proposed projects have failed.
Neighbors weren’t mollified, saying that too many projects are being built for newcomers and not for people who want to stay in the area. Some want senior housing, with others wanting to see units that are larger, yet affordable for families. Others asked why another grocery store is needed, when an Aldi store is nearby.
One red flag for UPDC committee members is how the market-rate rents would be structured, with the three and four-bedroom units rented by the bedroom rather than as a total unit. That’s more akin to student-oriented housing, instead of housing for families. Affordable family housing has been raised as an issue during the past three project meetings.
A four-bedroom unit would be $3,432 per month, with three bedrooms renting for $2,829. Two-bedroom units are $1,900 to $1,930, with efficiencies listed between $1,000 to $1,030.
Met Council awards funds
The Metropolitan Council July 24 awarded $3 million in grants that promote redevelopment and economic opportunity to five cities, through its Livable Communities program.
Pollution investigation and cleanup, and redevelopment grants were awarded.
Funds were awarded to five cities for 14 projects this funding round. The grant awards will help clean 27 acres, increasing the net tax base by $1.9 million, and encourage millions more in private investment.
“These grants will help create 1,000 jobs and support the development of more than 800 new homes, including 160 affordable homes, at a time when housing is so desperately needed in the region,” said Council Chair Nora Slawik.
441-453 Snelling Ave. is in line for $199,700 for environmental investigation, asbestos abatement, and soil remediation at a 0.6-acre site with three vacant buildings. The site will be redeveloped to include 134 market-rate apartments, three affordable apartments, and 7,000 square feet of retail space. Scannell Companies is the developer.
A Seeding Equitable Environmental Development (SEED) grant to promote redevelopment went to 1433 University Ave. The grant of $19,300 is for environmental assessment and related environmental oversight on a 0.4-acre site that’s being leased to nearby businesses for surface parking.
TCGIS receives bonding nod
The planned new Twin Cities German Immersion School, which has been the subject of a pitched battle over historic preservation, got a financial boost from the St. Paul City Council July 24. The council, acting $9 million in conduit lease revenue bonds.
The bonds will be used to build a new school at 1031 Como Ave. School officials and community members have clashed as to whether or not the historic St/. Andrew’s Church there should be torn down or remain in place. Demolition was to start the first week of August.
The school currently serves grade K through 8 with projected enrollment for fall 2019 of 593. In 2013, they acquired their current site at 1031 Como Ave. Planned is a three-story, 23,500 square foot addition for classrooms, special education instructional spaces, administrative offices, a gymnasium and cafeteria. The site plan also includes an expanded play area and underground infrastructure to manage storm water run-off from the building addition. The site plan is predicated on the removal of the existing church (St. Andrews) and east surface parking lot. The project is estimated to cost $7.41 million, and the current estimated bond principal amount is $6.455 million.
Construction of the project will commence immediately following the closing on the financing and will be completed late summer of 2020.
This is the second time that TCGIS has sought city assistance. In 2013, the HRA issued bonds for the school in the amount of $8.545 million, with $8.135 million still outstanding. The 2013 bonds were issued to finance the acquisition and construction/renovation of the school’s current facility and former church building.
The vote was 4-2, with council members Amy Brendmoen, Mitra Jalali Nelson, Dai Thao and Chris Tolbert in support, and Kassim Buseri and Jane Prince against.