St. Paul restaurant seeks environmental waiver for stormwater

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 19, 2012 - 8:14 PM

Mayor Coleman's office opposes the pizzeria owner's latest request.

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Dave Cossetta, owner of Cossetta Italian Market in St. Paul, is seeking a third waiver in his expansion.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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The owner of Cossetta Italian Market and Pizzeria, a landmark St. Paul restaurant, says he needs more city help for his $10 million expansion. He may find out Wednesday if he's going to get it.

Dave Cossetta, owner of the 100-year-old family restaurant near the Xcel Energy Center on West 7th Street, wants what city workers believe to be an unprecedented environmental waiver. Complying with the city's requirements would be "like committing suicide," Cossetta said.

Mayor Chris Coleman's office is not pleased.

The City Council is expected to conduct a public hearing and vote on the request Wednesday night. If the request is rejected, Cossetta said he will consider his options. It's unclear what those are, because his project appears to be progressing quickly.

Cossetta already has received two substantial waivers from the city, as well as money.

Last year, the council granted him a controversial waiver to the city's living-wage ordinance. Only one council member voted against the waiver, but it was strongly opposed by labor representatives because it meant he didn't have to meet the requirement that businesses provide a living wage, currently defined as $12.36 an hour. The project also received a waiver of landscaping requirements for a new back parking lot. Anne Hunt, Coleman's adviser on environmental issues, said Cossetta previously said he needed the waiver to comply with stormwater rates.

In addition, Cossetta received a $2 million subsidy package, most of it coming in the form of forgivable loans.

Coleman's office notes that Cossetta proposed the strategy for complying with stormwater requirements by building an underground holding tank that would collect and slowly release rainwater into the sewer system. The tank would have met the city standard of managing 6 inches of rain in 24 hours.

Allowing a waiver for Cossetta would not only set a bad precedent, Hunt said, but also result in unknown consequences including potential flooding of adjacent buildings and streets.

Cossetta says the city's requirements are too strict and too costly for him to build into the solid bedrock under his building. Earlier this year, however, the city's Board of Zoning Appeals denied the waiver.

The stormwater rate is the volume at which water flows off of hard surfaces into the sewer system. The regulations are designed to protect residents, roads and buildings from flooding as well as to preserve the Mississippi River.

Since the adoption of the stormwater standards in 1981, city workers with more than two decades of experience cannot recall a waiver having been granted. Everyone -- regardless of whether they receive a public subsidy -- must adhere to the regulations if they are building on a lot bigger than a quarter acre, she said.

Until Wednesday night, it's impossible to know how council members will vote because they are legally barred from discussing their positions.

Instead of building the holding tank, Cossetta proposed building catch basins to filter water before it leaves his site, installing a green roof on the project's penthouse and a water retention tank in the loading dock area. He also proposed donating to the city a vacant lot at 226 Ryan Av. for green space to be named "Cossetta Park."

Hunt said the proposals either don't do enough, or in the case of filtration, don't address the rate issue. She also said the property on Ryan isn't on the same sewer trunk as Cossetta's restaurant so it wouldn't change the stormwater rate.

In support of his position, Cossetta submitted a letter from the West Seventh Street Federation that recommends he get the variance.

In support of the administration's position, the nonprofit Capitol Region Watershed District sent a letter to council members urging them to deny the variance. Administrator Mark Doneux wrote that the city has required similar underground stormwater measures on other sites with bedrock like Cossetta's.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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