Cupcake on Grand – SHA’s role and the issues

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We greatly appreciate your interest in the Summit Hill Association (SHA) and understand that there are a number of questions about Cupcake’s decision not to open a location on Grand Avenue. As is often the case with complex issues, the recent associated media coverage lacked the completeness and precision necessary to understand SHA’s role in this process.

The issue of Cupcake and its request for a parking variance is a decision based on City of St. Paul zoning law; and not whether SHA approves of any particular business. In fact, SHA provides only its recommendation in matters such as this, with the ultimate decision being made by the City Council. Since October 2011 when Cupcake first came to the Summit Hill Association, SHA enthusiastically encouraged the business to come to Grand Avenue and resolve its off-street parking needs – necessitated under City code because of Cupcake’s desire to serve alcohol.

In October 2011, a City’s Board of Zoning Appeals’ Staff Report recommended that the requested 7-parking space variance application be denied. Based on this report and public testimony that such a large variance would put undue pressure on adjacent businesses and on the surrounding residential neighborhood, SHA’s Zoning & Land Use Committee also recommended that the proposed Cupcake parking variance be denied.

On December 27, 2011, the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) voted to approve the 7-parking space variance for Cupcake. The BZA’s meeting minutes revealed that they misinterpreted testimony from that meeting and incorrectly believed that SHA was in support of the variance. Based upon these irregularities, on January 17, 2012 SHA asked the City Council to review the decision of the BZA and make a final decision on the issue. A neighboring business of the proposed Cupcake location also decided to independently appeal the decision to the City Council.

On February 15, 2012, the St. Paul City Council reviewed the decision of the BZA and voted 5 – 2 against Cupcake’s requested zoning variance. The Feb. 15th hearing clarified that the Summit Hill Association was supportive of Cupcake moving to 949 Grand Avenue, but that the requested parking variance needed to serve wine and beer was problematic under the current zoning code; and set a negative precedent going forward given the historic parking deficit found on Grand Avenue. After the decision was made, Councilmember Dave Thune volunteered to help the owner of Cupcake find the sufficient number of legal & guaranteed off-street parking spaces to serve wine and beer without the need for a variance.

SHA has always supported and promoted a healthy Grand Avenue commercial district and encourages residents to shop locally. As the city-recognized neighborhood association for the Summit Hill neighborhood, it is our responsibility to represent the interests of all community members – residents and businesses alike.