The St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission has reversed course and denied an application for the construction of a new triplex in the Summit-University neighborhood amid objections from neighbors who say it's a bad fit for the historic area.
The commission voted 5-2 to deny construction at a meeting Monday, reversing its earlier approval of the project.
The new townhouse building, which would have been built on the back lot of an existing triplex, would have had a Portland Avenue address — 540 Portland Av. — but would have been more visible from Summit Avenue.
"The [commission] felt that it is in the interest of the developer to discuss this plan with the immediate neighbors and another round at the drawing board would benefit this project," according to city planning staff.
The preservation commission reheard the matter after residents said a virtual hearing on Oct. 5 was marred by problems, including technology glitches that made it impossible to hear all comments and deliberations. The meeting also overlapped with another city hearing about the same property.
To build the triplex, property owner Sullivan Property Investments II needed six city variances from multiple boards waiving requirements regarding minimum lot size, setbacks and parking. The plans created a rift between neighbors who applauded the additional housing and investment, and those who said the project would break carefully cultivated rules they're required to follow to preserve one of the city's most iconic neighborhoods.
The Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association had opposed Sullivan's plan, calling it "extremely oversized." The Ramsey Hill Association also expressed concerns about the project, saying the public hearing processes lacked transparency.
But the Summit-University Planning Council supported the construction and city planning staff recommended approval of all six variances, writing that they would not alter the essential character of the area. The Board of Zoning Appeals approved the variances, and the City Council followed suit Wednesday — though the preservation commission's earlier decision will still prevent immediate construction.
"We do have a housing shortage in the city of St. Paul. The city continues to grow," said Council Member Dai Thao, who represents the Summit-University area. "As responsible leaders, I think it's important for us to continue to allow density, especially in a historical district."
Council President Amy Brendmoen also expressed support for the new construction.
"I support any way that we can add more people to those large lots and those large homes," she said.
Sullivan did not respond to requests for comment. But in documents filed with the city, the company argued the new building will be a "significant improvement" to the back lot, which is now a gravel parking lot surrounded by a chain-link fence. Sullivan's team said the new building will blend into the neighborhood, with architecture inspired by the Dutch Colonial roof profile of the existing building.
Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037