After several appeals from neighboring residents, St. Paul has given the go-ahead for construction of a five-story apartment building at 2124 Grand Ave., on the south edge of the St. Thomas campus.
The three-month debate over the apartment complex is the latest chapter in ongoing tensions between student renters and homeowners. Some permanent residents don’t like the basis for the city’s decision.
Lincoln Avenue resident Alyssa Rebensdorf said the provision that allowed the apartment building to be built was ill-suited for the neighborhood, claiming that the apartment is “actually bigger and taller” than what would be permitted on campus.
“We had worked so hard to create these conditions that would transition into the neighborhood, and someone took advantage of a code provision that really wasn’t well suited for our part of Grand Avenue,” Rebensdorf said.
Developer Graham Merry said that the apartment building does not violate any zoning codes in St. Paul.
“Grand Avenue is zoned for very high-density buildings, but never developed as such. They were developed as single-family homes and duplexes,” Merry said. “People have assumed that’s what will always be there and not realize that there was an opportunity for change.”
Merry hopes this project will draw students out of residential renting and into the apartment building. A typical unit will have an open family room and kitchen separated by a peninsula dining counter with stools, four separate bedrooms, two bathrooms and laundry room with stackable washer and dryer. Merry said the new apartment will feature underground parking among several other amenities.
“The design is oriented for young individuals,” Merry said. “Whether they be young working professionals or recent graduates that may still be living with co-workers or friends. It will be fit for students as well as other people.”
Sophomore Kyle Kneepkens is bothered by the neighborhood’s apprehension to building larger apartment complexes.
“If (the neighbors) don’t want students in the houses, why don’t they want them in apartment buildings?” Kneepkens said. “It separates the students; they wouldn’t have neighbors. The only people they’d be next to are other students, not a house.”
The St. Paul City Council also recently established a district around the St. Thomas campus that prohibits conversion of owner-occupied housing into student-rental dwellings within 150 feet of permanent residents.
St. Thomas Neighborhood Liaison John Hershey said that he has less trouble with students residing in apartment buildings in comparison with students living in houses.
“(Apartment) properties seem to be managed and take care of their business internally,” Hershey said.
Rebensdorf sees this apartment building as a “dormitory” and believes it will draw more students to the neighborhood.
“Obviously it is; it’s bringing 80 (more students),” Rebensdorf said.
Rebensdorf said the only way she foresees the neighborhood surviving with both student renters and homeowners is for both populations to be balanced and respect each other’s properties, which Rebensdorf said has not been a trend with other neighborhoods in the area.
“People come to my neighborhood to buy houses because they see the houses north of campus are beat,” Rebensdorf said.
Sophomore Kara Baumgardner said an apartment building near campus could be beneficial for students.
“It can be kind of difficult to find housing or know people who all want to get together,” Baumgardner said.
Merry said he thinks the apartment building, which is scheduled to open June 1, 2013, will decrease neighborhood tensions.
“I think students are more likely to be respectful of their student neighbors rather than family neighbors. The problem when students live in single-family homes is that they disregard their family neighbors,” Merry said. “But if they live in an apartment with student neighbors, their neighbors are more likely to come over and say something.”
Rebensdorf said the neighborhood regularly faces noise violations, property theft and vandalism during the school year and that the presence of this apartment complex will only heighten these issues.
“It’s just out of touch with the direction we’ve been trying to take this neighborhood,” Rebensdorf said.
Katherine Curtis can be reached at email@example.com.