Neighborhood group approves Como-Raymond plan

A proposed auto convenience store and Subway sandwich shop at Como and Raymond avenues is moving closer to fruition.

On May 4, the District 12 Land Use Committee voted to approve most of the requests for variances and rezoning submitted by Como Raymond Properties (CRP) in connection with a proposed redevelopment of the property at 2101 Como Ave. on the southwest corner of Como and Raymond.

That property was recently purchased by Ned Wesenberg, who also owns Park Service at 2277 Como Ave. Wesenberg wants to remodel the building at Como and Raymond and make substantial landscaping additions to the site. The refurbished building would house an auto convenience store and a Subway sandwich shop. The site would continue to be a BP gas station.

Adding a fast-food restaurant would not be permitted under the property’s current business zoning classification (B2). Accordingly, CRP has asked that the property be rezoned to one of the city’s traditional neighbor-hood classifications (TN2).

That zoning change would in turn require a conditional use permit for the auto convenience store. In addition, the specific site plan submitted by CRP would necessitate variances for parking, fences, ingress/egress and outdoor storage.

Public comment was taken at the May 4 meeting. Several residents voiced support for Wesenberg, citing his long involvement in St. Anthony Park and his previous attentiveness to neighborhood input regarding changes at Park Service.

Other people expressed concerns about the proposed redevelopment, including fears that it would increase traffic at an already busy intersection. Also, several residents said that the addition of a fast food restaurant would be at odds with the character of the neighborhood.

Wesenberg said that the proposal would beautify a corner that has deteriorated in recent years. He said that costs for additional landscaping could not be recouped by continuing to operate only a gas station and convenience store on the site, and that adding the Subway would enable him to be profitable.

People at the May 4 meeting heard a detailed presentation from the architects working on the project and saw drawings of what the redeveloped site would look like. The property would be ringed by trees, flowers and ornamental grasses along Como and Raymond. Pedestrian access would be encouraged by a diagonal walkway through the middle of the site.

The Land Use Committee decision was endorsed by the District 12 Executive Committee. The request then went to the St. Paul Zoning Committee on May 11. After hearing public testimony, the committee unanimously approved the rezoning request and conditional use permit.

They also approved variances for 15 parking spaces rather than the required 19, waiver of a required six-foot wall between residential property and the site, and reduction from 60 feet to 40 feet of the distance between an ingress/egress lane and residential property. The committee denied variance requests for outdoor storage and a required three-foot wall along the site’s right of way.

At the May 11 meeting, Wesenberg said that he purchased the BP station in response to a request from the previous owner. He said he plans to spend $60,000 on landscaping at the Como-Raymond site.

Landscape architect Stephen Mastey said that the proposed plan will increase parking on the site while reducing the amount of impervious surface.

Several neighborhood residents spoke in opposition to the zoning change. Bill Plummer, of 2334 Brewster St., said he represented other residents of the Alden Square neighborhood, which is located southeast of the BP station. Plummer said they support beautification of the corner but don’t think rezoning is necessary to accomplish that.

Plummer said the proposed plan would increase congestion at the intersection, put more pressure on already strained parking in the immediate area, and further endanger the pedestrian crossing at Raymond and Gordon, just south of Como. He predicted the addition of a fast-food restaurant would add 650-700 vehicles a day to the area.

Plummer also complained that residents did not receive adequate notice of the redevelopment plans, and he asked the Zoning Committee to at least delay a decision in order to give residents more time to discuss the matter.

Alden Square resident Erik Jordan said that beautification on the site is being used to justify fast food and questioned whether that “Faustian bargain” makes sense.

Robert Warde said that a fast food restaurant would not fit the character of the neighborhood. He echoed Plummer’s request for a delay on the rezoning decision.

Speaking in support of the rezoning, Jeff Lunde, who manages the Subway at 2121 University Ave., said that the previously cited figure of 650 new vehicles a day was grossly inflated.

Philip Broussard, the project’s building architect, said they predict significant walk-in traffic at the new restaurant. He added that most St. Anthony Park residents who now want to go to a Subway travel by car, so Subway is already generating automobile traffic in the neighborhood.

On May 19, the St. Paul Planning Commission unanimously ratified the decision of the Zoning Committee. The zoning change must also be approved by the St. Paul City Council.

Pending final approval, Wesenberg hopes to begin refurbishing the site in June.

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