D10 Board Endorses School's Construction Variances
Tuesday, December 18, 2018 9:55 PM

tcgis-sketch1.jpg
An architect's rendering of the proposed TCGIS expansion, looking northwest from roughly Como Ave. and Argyle.
variance_2516.jpg
A standing-room only crowd of more than 200 voted on the school's variance requests during a Land Use meeting Dec. 5..

The Como Community Council board on Dec. 18 recommended city approval of all three variances Twin Cities German Immersion School needs for its proposed construction project. The recommendations go to the city's Zoning Committee -- which, after a four-hour hearing on Dec. 20, delayed consideration until Jan. 17. That committee's recommendations on the variances then go to the city's full Planning Commission, which is scheduled to vote on them Jan. 25.

The district council votes are advisory; the Planning Commission is not obligated to go along with the recommendations.The votes by the District 10 board concurred with recommendations made Dec. 5 by the group's Land Use Committee, at a meeting attended by more than 200 people. The details:

Lot coverage
The District 10 board recommended approving a 1 percent variance in lot coverage. Board members rejected an amendment that would have made variance approval contingent upon the former St. Andrew's church building not receiving historic designation. The school intends to demolish the building to make room for its expansion.

The variance would allow the school to increase its footprint to 36 percent of its property; current zoning  allows for maximum lot coverage of 35 percent. School buildings now occupy 32 percent of the property, according to City of Saint Paul staff. The board voted 14-1 to support this variance, with 2 abstensions. Land Use had recommended approval of this variance on a 100-74 vote. City staff also are recommending approval of this variance.

Height
The District 10 board recommended approving a 3-foot, 1-inch height variance. Board members again rejected an amendment that would have made variance approval contingent upon the former church building not receiving historic designation.

The variance would allow a school addition to reach 33 feet, 1 inch; current zoning  allows for a maximum height of 30 feet. (The former church, which the school calls the Aula, is 47 feet at the peak of its roof, and 38 feet, 6 inches at the midpoint of the roof, according to City of Saint Paul staff.) The board voted 14-1 to support this variance, with 2 abstensions. Land Use had recommended approval of this variance on a 96-76 vote. City staff also are recommending approval of this variance.

Parking
The District 10 board recommended approving a 37-space parking variance. The school’s site plan accounts for only 50 of the 86 off-street parking spaces that city code requires, based on the anticipated staff size at the expanded school. The spaces that are unaccounted for likely would be absorbed by street parking in the surrounding residential blocks, or by staff taking alternate forms of transportation. The board voted 8-7 to support this variance, with 2 abstensions. Land Use had recommended approval of this variance on a 101-76 vote.

City staff are recommending a variance of only 29 parking spaces, saying they want "no net loss" of onsite parking. The school's current construction plans would eliminate 7 parking spaces that currently exist, mostly on the east side of the property. The District 10 board specifically rejected an amendment for a 29-space variance. Discussion on the amendment suggests that board members prefer a larger parking variance over requiring additional pavement and a loss of green space on the school property.

The school remains in discussion with city staff on how to meet its required 86 parking spaces. At this point, the school anticipates retaining 26 spaces in its existing west parking lot, continuing to lease 15 spaces from Mission Orthodox Presbyterian Church across the street, and offsetting 9 automobile spaces by installing bike racks for an additional 36 bicycles (an offset allowed under city code).

Other issues
District 10 is also successfully persuaded the city's Zoning Committee on Dec. 20 to delay action on the school's site plan. Approval of a site plan is required before the school can obtain construction permits. The committee is scheduled to review the site plan again on Jan. 17.

In a letter, District 10 says the site plan, as it currently exists, is incomplete and should not be approved as long as issues such as parking, traffic, pedestrian safety, and adding sound and sight barriers to the school’s play areas remain unresolved. "These are issues that have serious and ongoing results in the immediate neighborhood," the letter says. "These are issues that exist today, and will continue to exist – regardless of what form the school’s expansion takes."

Historic designation
Meanwhile, the campaign by Save Historic St. Andrew’s to preserve the former church building and add it to Saint Paul’s historic registry continues on a separate track. The city’s Heritage Preservation Commission ruled Nov. 5 that the building is eligible for historic designation. The city’s Planning Commission, using a different set of criteria in the city's Comprehensive Plan, determined Dec. 14 that designation is not compatible. The Heritage Preservation Commission is scheduled to make its final recommendation to the City Council on Jan. 14

Originally published Dec. 6, 2018; updated Jan. 7, 2019.

(C) 2019 Como Community Council.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

District 10 Como Community Council | 1224 Lexington Pkwy N, Saint Paul, MN 55103 | 651.644.3889 | district10 [at] district10comopark.org

Site donated by: Havens Design, Matt Schmitt Photography
and UrbanPlanet Software LLC