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Planning begins for new apartments near campus

By , University Affairs Editor  |  Sunday, March 9, 2014 11:48 PM

The real estate development firm Cullen LLC has announced plans to build a four-story apartment building near the corner of Finn Street and Grand Avenue.

The firm that built the five-story Grand and Finn apartment complex at 2124 Grand Ave. will tear down two, single-family homes and a duplex next door to make way for the construction of the building. Graham Merry of Cullen LLC said the second apartment will be smaller than the first because of zoning changes.

“The City of St. Paul has changed the property zoning,” Merry said. “One of the changes made was reducing the building height limit from five stories to four stories.”

Real estate development firm Cullen LLC plans to tear down these three houses to build a four-story apartment building. The firm does not yet know when construction will begin on the complex. (Grace Pastoor/TommieMedia)

Real estate development firm Cullen LLC plans to tear down these three houses to build a four-story apartment building. The firm does not yet know when construction will begin on the complex.(Grace Pastoor/TommieMedia)

St. Thomas Neighborhood Liaison John Hershey said the zoning changes were the result of a controversy surrounding the height of the larger apartment, which began construction in 2012 and opened in 2013.

“Everybody was up in arms about that, and it made a big fuss about it last year,” Hershey said. “It kicked off a whole study, the West Grand Avenue Study, it’s called. And they studied the zoning code from basically Cretin (Avenue) all the way over to Fairview (Avenue), where Whole Foods is, and came up with a new zoning code.”

The new code reduced the maximum height of a building to 40 feet in the middle of the block.

Hershey said the only part of Merry’s plan that might not meet code is the possible indoor parking garage. If allowed, the garage would increase the surface area the building takes up and would require a variance.

“What he’s proposing is a slightly bigger footprint to allow indoor parking on the first floor,” Hershey said. “His contention is that hiding the parking is less unsightly, and so most neighbors are agreeing with that.”

Merry said he believes the building will not have a negative effect on the neighborhood.

“I believe the building is an opportunity to bring positive change to the neighborhood by improving the quality of rental housing available,” Merry said.

Senior Tony Bennek said he thinks building more housing closer to campus is a good idea, and will encourage students to live closer to campus.

“Anything that’s closer to the school would be more beneficial to me because, I mean, being closer to campus would make it easier to walk to and from class and attend other events on campus,” Bennek said.

Junior Clare Knutsen said she understands why some neighbors might be opposed to another building.

“I can see how it would affect the neighbors, because I think a lot of the neighbors are concerned that it’s turning their nice little residential neighborhood into more of a Dinkytown,” Knutsen said. “I can see how people would be concerned that it would affect the neighborhood.”

But Hershey and Merry said apartment complexes like the one being proposed pose few problems for neighbors.

“In comparison to rental houses, apartments, like the proposed building, are more closely monitored and maintained by building managers and maintenance staff,” Merry said.

Merry said the opening date for the building has not been determined.

Grace Pastoor can be reached at past6138@stthomas.edu.

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