Zoning Committee Rejects TCGIS Variances, Site Plan
Friday, January 18, 2019 8:25 AM


In identical 5-1 votes on Jan. 17, Saint Paul’s Zoning Committee rejected the variances and site plan that Twin Cities German Immersion School needs for its proposed building addition.

The committee’s recommendations go to the full Planning Commission on Friday Jan. 25. If the full commission also rejects the three zoning variances and overall construction plan, the school cannot proceed – unless the school appeals to the City Council and wins.

Committee members rejected city staff interpretations that the school’s plans meet the six legal criteria necessary to receive a variance. By rejecting the variances, the committee automatically doomed the site plan – because the site plan depends on receiving variances for height, lot density, and parking.

During debate, Bill Lindeke was among commissioners who said they believed the school’s plans were inconsistent with the city’s overall Comprehensive Plan. Commissioner Anne DeJoy said she believed the school’s plans did not fit the character of the neighborhood. Commissioner Kris Fredson, who made the motion to reject the variances, said he believed the parking variance, in particular, was a result of the school’s own decisions, not a result of circumstances unique to the property. Commissioners Christopher Ochs and Luis Rangel-Morales also voted to reject the variances; acting chair Cedrick Baker was the only committee member voting to move the school’s plans forward.

(On Dec. 14, 2018, Baker, DeJoy, Lindeke, and Ochs had joined the majority of the Planning Commission in voting that historic designation of the former St. Andrew's church building -- which the school intends to tear down for its construction project -- is not consistent with the city's Comprehensive Plan.)

Changes don't satisfy committee

The Zoning Committee’s vote came after it delayed a decision Dec. 20 in order to give the school and city staff more time to work out issues with the parking variance, and traffic flow and pedestrian safety, especially during morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up times.

In an attempt to meet the committee’s concerns, the school added three more parking spaces on site, reducing its variance request to 34 spaces. It also agreed to additional conditions, including providing crossing guards at Como and Oxford; directing staff and parents not to park on Como Ave.; and pursuing tactics to reduce vehicle traffic, such as promoting use of Metro Transit by staff and students, carpooling by staff and families, and increasing the number of buses for students.

In addition, the school agreed to implement future changes if ordered to do so by the city’s Department of Public Works; these possibilities include directing staff and parents not to park on additional residential streets near the school, and implementing a staggered release time at the end of the school day. The city, for its part, said it would continue tweaking signal timing at Lexington and Como, and examine other congestion issues, including expanding areas around the school where parking is not permitted at certain times of the day.

Baker said he thought the school did what the committee asked it to do, and that he agreed with city staff that solving traffic issues would be “a process.” But other commissioners suggested the school is too big for the site and said they were uncomfortable relying on traffic issues to be worked out over time.

Ochs, noting that only 9 percent of the school’s 580 pupils live in District 10, said the school was essentially a “commuter school” that is not serving the immediate community. “The school should either move or reduce its enrollment to an appropriate size,” he said.

Lindeke criticized the low percentage of pupils riding a bus, which the school reports is 25 percent. He said that magnifies the impact of vehicle traffic on the community twice a day.

“The intensity of use is a problem for me,” DeJoy said – adding that the school's conscious decision to keep growing contributes to the problem.

(C) 2019 Como Community Council.

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