Zoning Committee Delays TCGIS Decision
Friday, December 21, 2018 8:55 AM

An architect's portrayal of the Twin Cities German Immersion School expansion, looking east along Como Ave.

After a four-hour hearing Dec. 20, the Zoning Committee of Saint Paul’s Planning Committee delayed action on three variances and the site plan that Twin Cities German Immersion School is pursuing for its proposed expansion.

The delay gives the school, city staff, and District 10 additional time to work out unresolved issues involving parking, traffic, pedestrian safety, and playground noise. The committee now is scheduled to take up the variances and site plan again on Jan. 17, and send a final recommendation to the Planning Commission to consider on Jan. 25.

Buying time
The Como Community Council is supporting the school’s variance requests, but urged the committee to delay action on the site plan, which is the overall document that addresses construction details and the spillover effects of the proposed school construction project.

District 10 executive director Michael Kuchta called the existing site plan “incomplete” and said it failed to meet the standards of city code. A delay, he said, would buy time to reach agreement about ongoing issues “once and for all,” and increase the likelihood that the school, community, and city can reach agreements that would allow the school to “have more positive impacts on the neighborhood, rather than more negative impacts.”

Too many moving pieces
Ultimately, Zoning Committee members agreed that, in the words of acting chair Cedrick Baker, there were “lots of moving pieces” – too many to act now.

Major stumbling blocks, based on commissioners’ comments and questions, include exactly what sort of conditions to place on the school – and how strong those conditions should be. Commissioners also expressed concerns that the city’s Public Works department has not yet reviewed and approved the school’s traffic management plan, that city staff and the school disagree on how large and what kind of parking variance is appropriate, and whether the city can enforce parking impacts by placing a staffing cap on the school, which staff are recommending.

Commissioners raise lots of concerns
More than 40 people testified about the school’s proposals -- mostly school staff, pupils, and parents in support of the proposal, mostly neighbors and other members of the preservation group Save Historic St. Andrew’s in opposition to the variances.

Zoning Committee members also spent more than an hour questioning school administrators and board members about their construction plans and the need for variances. Commissioners raised concerns about the school’s parking, busing, traffic, drop-off, and pick-up patterns; it’s level of collaboration with the neighborhood; enrollment and growth decisions; the small percentage of pupils who live in District 10 and Saint Paul; site density; staffing; commitment to the current Como Ave. site; and lack of incentives to encourage transportation alternatives to driving.

To accommodate the committee’s delay, the school agreed to extend by 14 days the legal deadline by which the city needs to make a decision on the variances and site plan. A final decision by the City Council now may come as late as March 6.

The zoning matters are separate from a parallel city process that is considering whether to grant historic designation to the former St. Andrew’s church building, which the school intends to tear down to make room for its expansion. The city’s Heritage Preservation Commission, using historical and architectural standards, says the building is eligible for designation. The city’s Planning Commission, using a different set of criteria in the city's Comprehensive Plan, says designation is not compatible.

(C) 2019 Como Community Council.

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