Intersecting visions for Lexington-Larpenteur

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What should the Lexington-Larpenteur intersection look like?

Formal discussion of that question, which has been under way for over a year, continued with two recent public meetings at Como Park’s Historic Streetcar Museum. But whether an answer is any closer remains uncertain.

Neighborhood concern about the intersection surfaced in 2007 when MGM Wine & Spirits, which occupies the southwest corner, removed a fence separating its retail store and corporate head-quarters from the adjacent alley that runs behind California Avenue. The city sought an injunction requiring MGM to reinstall the fence. A Ramsey County district judge ruled against the city, which appealed the decision. A judgment by the Minnesota Court of Appeals is expected this summer.

In early 2008, Ward 5 St. Paul City Council Member Lee Helgen asked the Saint Paul on the Mississippi Design Center (SPMDC) to coordinate a planning process for guiding redevelopment of the St. Paul side of the Lexington-Larpenteur intersection.

“I wanted to make sure there was a process that involved the neighborhood,” said Helgen. “The District 10 land use plan, which was approved in 2006, addressed the Lexington-Larpenteur area. The plan prompted some discussions but without any specific definition.”

In March of 2008, SPMDC convened meetings with community members, business owners and city staff. Their goal, according to Director Tim Griffin, was to create a “redevelopment vision” for the area.

SPMDC is part of the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation, a private nonprofit that partners with the city to guide development in St. Paul. The Design Center, which has operated since 1997, has been involved with over 100 projects, many in the downtown area.

SPMDC created what it called the Lexington-Larpenteur node plan, but the plan sat on a shelf for almost a year. Then, in early 2009, Paster Enterprises, which owns part of the southwest corner of the intersection, bought a house adjacent to their property and floated their own plan to redevelop the corner. That reignited neighborhood apprehension and led to an Apr. 7 community meeting.

At that meeting, Griffin presented SPMDC’s recommendations. He said his interpreta-tion of their charge was to come up with a design for the intersection that would solidify it as a gateway to the city and to the Como Park neighborhood in particular.

The plan calls for an expanded crosswalk, 25-foot building setbacks, reconfigured parking and redevelopment of the intersection’s southeast corner.

The part of the plan that drew the most comment at the Apr. 7 meeting was a large building, possibly 2-4 stories, that would be in the area currently occupied by Flowerama, Ted’s Bar and two single-family houses. Residents objected to the size of the proposed building and to the potential loss of residential housing on the site.

Griffin said the intersection is a challenging one to work with because Larpenteur constitutes the border between St. Paul and Roseville. He noted that the north side of Larpenteur is mostly fronted by parking lots and suggested that the St. Paul side should aspire to something more aesthetically pleasing. The node plan calls for widened sidewalks and increased plantings.

Griffin said that redeveloping the southeast corner of Lexington and Larpenteur would require rezoning. Most residents seemed leery of that prospect, in part because they have watched with alarm as MGM has purchased houses to its immediate south, which front California Avenue.

Residents said they fear that rezoning residential property on the southeast corner would create a precedent that could result in rezoning the property on California west of Lexington, which could enable MGM to expand its operation.

Helgen stressed that discussions are still at the neighborhood input level. “There’s no proposal in front of the city yet,” he said.

At an Apr. 20 meeting of the District 10 Land Use Committee, Howard Paster, of Paster Enterprises, presented his company’s plan for the intersection. They own the Flowerama site and have purchased a residential property to the south, with plans to buy additional property to the east, including Ted’s Bar.

Paster stressed that their plan is different from the node plan. It calls for 13,300 sq. ft. building that would be 20 ft. high. They anticipate having a single tenant, whom they would sign to a long-term lease.

Paster said they have a prospective tenant, whom he did not name, but speculation is that it would be Walgreens, which currently occupies a building that Paster also owns, just north on Lexington.

At the Apr. 20 meeting, discussion of Paster’s plan focused on its implications for traffic. People voiced concerns that a large building at the intersection would increase traffic in an area that is already congested.

Several residents also said they would prefer to have several smaller shops rather than a large, single-user building. Paster said that a multi-user building would be less economically viable.

“We’re the ones who have to pay for this and make it work financially,” he said.

Donna Martinson, who said she often bikes in the area, asked whether the Paster plan would be bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

At its Apr. 21 meeting, the District 10 Community Council voted to create an ad hoc committee to study the node plan and Paster proposal further.

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