PRESS RELEASE/OCTOBER 26, 2020NEIGHBORS FOR A LIVABLE SAINT PAUL TAKE LEGAL ACTION
Since the Ford Master Plan was approved in 2017, Neighbors for a Livable Saint Paul (NLSP) has continued to monitor the project to ensure that the new building construction is consistent with the original principles of that plan. As Ryan Companies Inc. works with the city on the permitting and variance process for the first few buildings, it has become apparent that the principles of the Master Plan are merely a pretext to create unwritten rules to workaround inconvenient zoning laws, and to inflate the scale of the already out-of-scale plan.
NLSP has made official requests to the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections asking Zoning Administration to enforce the provisions of their own municipal code and the Master Plan that the city developed. The city has refused.
Therefore, NLSP has decided to pursue legal action against city officials to compel them to enforce their own zoning laws. Several neighbors have filed a writ of mandamus and a declaratory judgment action petitioning Ramsey County District Court to declare that the city must enforce the formal variance process if Ryan intends to deviate from the Master Plan by counting private rooftop decks and apartment balconies as “open space."
The Master Plan prescribes that each development parcel is to have a certain percentage (typically a minimum of 25 percent) of public“open space” (i.e., landscaping, gardens, trees and parkland) that is distinct from the percentage of the parcel that is occupied by the building.
These controls benefit the community by enhancing the aesthetics of the development with appropriate green space and avoiding an urban canyon-type development.
Despite the clear distinction between “open space” and “building lot coverage,”Ryan requested variances for their first buildings in the development in order to increase lot coverage from 70 percent to over 90.3 percent. This increase in building footprint reduces the open space from the original 25 percent to less than 10 percent. This is a 60 percent reduction of available “open space” on that parcel.
For the proposed building at 2170 Ford Parkway Ryan had requested a variance of less than 10 percent; a huge reduction of open space, from the original requirement of 25 percent. Ryan went to great lengths to justify this request. It was wasted effort. The City inexplicably determined that a variance wasn't actually required.
In a departure from the plain meaning of the Master Plan text and the municipal code, the city developed a “new” open-space formula that counts privately owned rooftop decks and apartment balconies as “open space.”
This is unacceptable and inconsistent with nearly every codified definition of “open space” or common sense understanding of the term, as well as the intent of the Ford Site Task Force that worked for more than a decade to shape the plan.
In effect, the city is conflating private structural elements inside the building footprint, with the area of the parcel that is supposed to be covered with trees, gardens and landscaping (i.e., not the building footprint).
The city and Ryan are using the variance process to increase building lot coverage while circumventing the open-space controls in the Master Plan. This will inflate the scale of the development beyond the controversial high-density plan that was approved.
The result: bloated building scale, maximum high density,and insufficient open space. If allowed to move forward, an unlawful precedent will be established resulting in a series of individual building parcels with greatly diminished open space and an aesthetically obtrusive urban canyon-style development for our community.
NLSP remains committed to promoting responsible community development that enhances the existing neighborhood and the City overall. Given the concerning lack of checks and balances in Saint Paul city governance, NLSP cannot standby and watch the city break its own zoning rules.
According to longtime neighborhood resident and NLSP affiliate Jim Winterer, “Counting apartment balconies as open space is the latest disappointment in the development of the Ford site. The city planned one of the most-densely packed neighborhoods in the country and now buildings are being designed to expand the scope using a dubious interpretation of what ‘open space’ means. NLSP has always supported reasonable development at Highland Bridge, and now we are making a reasonable request that the city and developer abide by code they developed and agreed to in the first place.”