344 Summit Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55102
  
   
www.344summit.mn.cx 
  

Proposed "Luxury Boutique Hotel" 

Comments & Responses

    

Summit Ave (north side; left to right)   --   361    353    345    339    335    329    323 
Summit Ave (south side; left to right)   --   370    366    364/362    360    344    340    332    324    318    312
Irvine Ave (north side; left to right)   --   372 (Summit)    365    (360 Summit)    339    333
     

COMMENTS and Responses to developer's supporting information (in blue font)  
by across-the-street neighbor, Eric Lein (361 Summit):

  • On 06/25/2014, John Rupp stopped by our house, delivered a copy of his most recent proposal to create what he calls a "Luxury Boutique Hotel" at 344 Summit Avenue (see Developer's Proposal), and is seeking our support as across-the-street neighbors.  My family and I get to look at and live close to 344 Summit every day.  Although he is not required to ask, we appreciate the contact and understand that our signatures on his petition could help to convince City planners to approve the project as currently written.  However, we...
    • Have serious concerns regarding commercial activities and parking at the proposed "hotel."
    • Oppose what could become the granting of special favors that, almost exclusively, are for the benefit of very-high-end clientele.  (See "Mind the Gap" - below)
    • Sincerely hope for an amicable agreement that ensures long-term follow-through regarding 344 Summit's future use and likely traffic.
  • Neighborhood Character -- City of St. Paul online zoning maps show that the southerly part of the property is in a more-restrictive R2 zone (not RT2, like the northerly part).  For many years 344 Summit was operated as an art school/college - a conditional use that  is  permitted in RT2/R2 residentially-zoned areas.  Since 1992 my wife, Laurel, and I have lived almost directly across the street from 344 Summit.  
    • In June, 2014, the new owner (a Limited Liability Corporation created by John Rupp) circulated a proposed application for a conditional use permit to allow "reuse" of the large property as a "hotel" - i.e. conversion to a commercial use that  is not  permitted in our RT2/R2-zoned neighborhood (see Developer's Proposal). 
    • See neighborhood newsletter 
        
  • One requirement for the conditional use permit is that two-thirds of the property owners within 100 feet of 344 Summit sign a petition to accompany the application for reuse.  Unfortunately (for us), Summit Avenue is exactly 100 feet wide.  Thus, owners of property located directly across the street from 344 Summit who are continuously affected by whatever happens at 344 Summit, are denied an official "vote" on the proposed conditional use.  My family lives 18-feet too far away.  Our easterly neighbors, at 345 and 353 Summit, live just 1-inch too far away. 
      
  • Financial Distress?  When operating cash falls short, plans change.  
  • Liquor License?  Developer says (verbally on 07/22/2014) that he will continue trying to obtain a liquor license for his hotel.  Developer's 08/05/2014 written application carefully avoids this topic.  Today's designation of 344 Summit as a "hotel" will accelerate the search for a liquor license ... which will attract next year's events ... and traffic. 
      
  • Loopholes?  Will be used to manipulate long-term follow-through via creative interpretation.  Many loopholes exist in developer's written proposal.  Verbally-explained "plans" change often.  If you listen carefully, some plans change after just a few minutes.  Others, shift over days and weeks.   Caution: If it's not in very precise written form, don't bet too much on what you hope will happen. 
      
  • Semantics, and this developer, are hard to pin down. 

Developer's 07/17/2014 suggested additions to supporting information (see developer's Suggested-Additions-1) state, in part:  " COMMERCIAL/BANQUET USE.  The proposed luxury boutique hotel plan does not now nor will it in the future contain banquet facilities similar to Summit Manor, 490 Summit, or the AAUW (College Club).  The grounds and gardens will also not be used as an outdoor banquet venue." 

  • COMMENTS:  
    • I suppose it's nice to hear about Summit Manor, 490, and AAUW, but it fails to answer the larger question: 
      • If developer's proposed application is approved by the City as currently written, 
      • what activities (whether currently planned or unplanned) could be determined to be proper operations within the conditional use permit 
      • and therefore be allowed to take place at this "hotel" 
      • regardless of complaints and appeals by unhappy neighbors?  (See Frustrated Neighbors
    • "Commercial" activities involve far more than banquets. 
    • As of 07/22/2014, developer says he will continue trying to obtain a liquor license for use at the hotel. 
    • Despite dissimilar facilities, might any or all indoor spaces become a banquet venue?  Is today's boutique hotel the first step toward tomorrow's intimate restaurant?  (See Forepaugh's photo gallery)  What about weddings, indoors or out?  Receptions or conferences, with or without food?  Political fundraisers?  High Tea with neighbors?  Indoors or out? 
  • SUGGESTION - Write special conditions that say only listed items, uses or activities will be permitted in specifically identified spaces (i.e. tell us in advance or you don't get to do it).  Include: 
    • What the PEOPLE are allowed to do, &/or not do (who, what, where, when, why...) 
    • How each of many SPACES is allowed, &/or not allowed, to be used (Unit 01, 02...; Yard & Gardens; Driveway; Public Street; ....) 
    • Etc. 

       

Developer's 07/17/2014 suggested additions to supporting information (see developer's Suggested-Additions-1) state, in part:  "APARTMENT USE.  The hotel will limit the rental of rooms and/or suites for a period of one year or longer to a maximum of four.  An annual report will be filed with the Department of Planning and Economic Development Zoning Section and/or other appropriate city department(s) confirming this agreement."

  • COMMENTS:  
    • Caution:  Via imprecise but carefully-crafted language, developer plants loopholes throughout his proposal.  For example: 
      • "...hotel will limit the rental of rooms and/or suites for a period of one year or longer to a maximum of four." (four what -- suites, or years?) 
        • Is it a maximum of 4 rooms/suites to be rented for periods of one year or longer?   Or, 
        • Is it up to ten rooms/suites to be rented for periods up to a maximum of 4-years
        • A common statement by this developer is, "You misinterpreted what I said."   [And, why might that be?] 
      • "An annual report will be filed...confirming this agreement."
        • What will be reported?
        • Might the report simply say: "I ____, hereby confirm that the agreement dated xx/yy/2014 still exists."
        • Any deadlines?  Penalty for failure to file?  Etc...
      • Developer claims that very little on-street parking will be required because (today's) plan is to seek short-term occupants.  But, the written proposal would allow short-term and long-term stays.  10 units could be filled with residents who sign 11-month leases?  Or, 4-year leases.  Etc.  Etc.
    • Long-term residents create higher demand for parking.  (Most will have cars.) 
      • 10 hotel units used only for short-stay guests?  Developer says many "...will not have cars" and explains that City code requires just 3 off-street parking spaces (plus required parking for other uses?).
      • 6 hotel units for short-stay guests, plus 4 units for long-term guests?  Parking requirements are greater.  Something like: 2 spaces for short-term residential guests plus at least 4 spaces for long-term residents = 6 off-street parking spaces (plus required parking for other uses?). 
      • 10 hotel units for long-term guests?  At least 10 off-street parking spaces (plus...?). 
    • Annual reports?  For neighbors to inspect?  What about City staff's always-aggressive interpretation of data-privacy laws?  Or, will reports be posted on the internet for easy public access?  Will City staff spend time on this un-funded mandate? 
  • SUGGESTION - Provide code-required off-street parking from Day #1, thus allowing future flexibility and (possibly) avoiding repeated neighborhood debates about parking, permitted uses, and un-enforced special conditions. 

   

Developer's 06/25/2014 supporting information, in language added in order to dispel some neighbors' fears, states in part:  "If in the future the hotel ceases operations, the property would revert to the current zoning - limiting it to a maximum of four units."   

  • COMMENTS:  
    • This is nothing new, already exists via city ordinance, and...is an empty "promise."
    • If the previously permitted art school/college operations cease, the property will revert (or maybe it already has reverted) to the current zoning - limiting 344 Summit to a maximum of four units (ie. RT2 zoning).   But...
      • To circumvent reversion, developer (verbally on 7/22/14) said that active use by a college continues at his seemingly-unused building.
      • The same technique could (will?) be used to keep hotel operations going...and going...and going....
      • The careful choice of words (i.e. semantics) illustrates this developer's commitment to:
        • creating, finding and using loopholes (high?), and 
        • the spirit of today's verbal statements and written agreements (maybe.....not-so-high?). 
   

Zoning Code Section 65.132.  Reuse of Large Structures.
Standards and Conditions in Residential Districts: 

(a) The planning commission shall find that the structure cannot reasonably be used for a conforming use. 

  • Developer's 06/25/2014 supporting information states, in part:  "...The structure is in need of substantial repairs given years of neglect.  The property is so large, and the cost of renovation so great that the likelihood it will be returned to the original use as a single family home with large live in staff is remote to say the least.  The RT2 Townhouse Residential Zoning District would allow four dwelling units in the structure, but the property has essentially no off-street outside parking other than stacked in the driveway and no useable indoor parking, which adds further challenges to conventional apartment and/or condominium use.  Adding off-street parking would severely compromise the fabulous gardens."   
  • COMMENTS:  
    • The property was "on the market" for a very short time (although developer verbally says otherwise).  
      • A realtor's sign stood in the front yard for a few hours before it was tossed behind the front bushes.  
      • It is common for large residential properties on Summit to be prominently advertised for sale for more than one day.  Eager buyers did not allow that to happen. 
    • The structure at 344 Summit can reasonably be used for a conforming use
      • A number of large residential mansions in the neighborhood have recently undergone or are currently undergoing substantial and very expensive restoration. 
      • Experienced owners and developers of luxurious property anticipate the cost of repairs and adjust their purchase prices accordingly. 
    • Developer proposes to renovate the property to create "one of the finest, if not the finest, projects in the state" at which 
      • many dollars will (presumably) be spent on interior renovation and decoration, 
      • fabulous gardens will provide curb appeal, and 
      • code-required off-street parking would eliminate outdoor yard spaces and, seemingly, unbalance the budget by displacing or eliminating undisclosed commercial events. 
    • Off-street parking can reasonably be provided at 344 Summit for an RT2 conforming use
      • See Parking comments & aerial photos.  
    • Nearby large structures are successfully used for conforming uses at the following locations 
      • all are greater than 9,000 sq ft 
      • none have large live-in staff 
      • none are hotels 
          
    • 255-259 Summit - 12,600 sq ft  

    • 260 Summit - 19,100 sq ft 

    • 261 Summit -  9,400 sq ft 

    • 266 Summit - 10,000 sq ft 

    • 280 Summit - 14,900 sq ft 

    • 294 Summit -  9,200 sq ft 

    • 312 Summit - 14,200 sq ft  

    • 335 Summit -  9,900 sq ft 

    • 340 Summit - 10,100 sq ft  

    • 366 Summit - 17,800 sq ft  

    • 432 Summit -  9,700 sq ft 

    • 442 Summit - 14,700 sq ft 

    • 456 Summit - 23,500 sq ft 

    • 476 Summit - 20,000 sq ft  

    • 533 Summit - 14,800 sq ft 

    • 550 Summit - 11,200 sq ft 

    • 579 Summit - 11,400 sq ft 

    • 624 Summit - 10,800 sq ft  

    • 89 Virginia -  9,800 sq ft 

    • 383 Portland - 10,800 sq ft 

    • 480 Grand Hill - 14,500 sq ft 

    • 260 Maiden Lane -  9,900 sq ft 

    • 5-7 Heather Place - 14,100 sq ft 

(b) The planning commission shall find that the proposed use and plans are consistent with the comprehensive plan. 

  • Developer's 06/25/2014 supporting information states, in part:  "The project meets this standard...  ...the proposal is consistent with the Summit Hill/District 16 Neighborhood Plan to preserve the pedestrian-friendly, historic residential and commercial character of the Summit Hill Neighborhood."  
  • COMMENTS: 
    • Although three commercially-used properties already exist on Summit within two blocks of the proposed hotel, Summit Avenue should not be held up as an example of the "commercial character of the Summit Hill Neighborhood."  (See Zoning Map
    • Summit Avenue is historically residential and should remain predominantly residential.
    • Neighborhood zoning is an integral part of and is not casually overruled by the City's comprehensive plan or a Neighborhood Plan.  
    • Zoning Code Section 66.214.  Intent, RT2 townhouse residential district, states: "...Because of its residential nature, this district is not intended for more intensive uses such as small conference centers, private retreat centers and reception houses."
    • A hotel at 344 Summit would concentrate too many commercial venues in a four-block long residential area (see Parcel Maps). 

(c) The planning commission shall find that the proposed use and structural alterations or additions are compatible with the surrounding neighborhood and land uses. 

  • Developer's 06/25/2014 supporting information states, in part:  "...As to the proposed use the surrounding neighborhood, since the earliest days, contained many hotel properties..."   
  • COMMENTS:  
    • But almost none along Summit between Selby and Dale. 
    • Commercial use of the proposed hotel (i.e. conference center, reception house, etc.) will not meet this standard. 

(d) Parking for the new use shall be provided in accordance with the requirements of Section 63.200 for new structures.

  • Developer's 06/25/2014 supporting information states, in part:  "...the requirement for the proposed use is...3 parking spaces."  "...There is still a long, narrow driveway from Summit Avenue along the side of the house to the former garage, but because of the steep hill immediately behind the house there is no feasible place to add parking there... Locating parking on the lawn to the west of the house - visible from Summit Avenue - is not feasible because it would destroy the gardens and severely compromise the overall site.  Therefore, modification of this parking requirement is requested..."   
  • COMMENTS:  
    • Developer expects to avoid the City's clearly-stated parking "requirements" for his proposed hotel. 
      • The former art college (a use that IS permitted in this residential area) was apparently granted a legal nonconformance of 49 parking spaces.
      • Short-term residents of a hotel plus all non-resident users (uses that are NOT permitted in this residential area) would require 3++ parking spaces.
    • Developer's written proposal states that only 3 parking spaces are required and will be adequate.  Verbally explained: 
      • On 07/16/2014 as:  10 units filled only with short-term guests 70% of the time, many of whom won't have cars.
      • On 07/22/14 as:  ...60%... 
    • When verbally describing the hotel's luxurious surroundings, service and operations, developer suggested: 
      • on 07/16 -  the hotel could employ 10 to 15 people, have a live-in caretaker, and house occasional long-term guests.  
      • on 07/22 -  ...employ 20 to 30 people... 
      • that employees would not have cars, or would not park near the hotel, or...
    • On 07/22/2014, developer told the District 8 board that he will actively continue trying to obtain a liquor license for use at his hotel.  When he succeeds, hotel traffic (events, deliveries, customers, and cars) will increase.  (This seems to contradict statements made by developer on 06/11/2014.  See neighborhood-news.htm)
    • Off-street parking in addition to the assumed 3-space minimum should be provided for 
      • deliveries & pick-ups, 
      • long-term guests, 
      • live-in staff, 
      • daily staff, and
      • people who visit the hotel but are not overnight residents. 
    • See Parking comments & aerial photos.  Note the side-yard parking garage on adjacent property at 340 Summit. 
    • See Zoning Code Section 63.207, parking requirements by use -- Residential  &  Commercial. 
    • The "fabulous gardens" that developer wants to preserve were not located on the lawn to the west of the house. 
      • See the historically significant 1912 photo and 1916 Plat Map that show a now-missing structure to the west of the existing house - visible from Summit Avenue.  
      • Long ago, today's overall site had two houses and (possibly) two sets of gardens, not just one.  
      • Later, after one house was removed, Watson Davidson planted vegetable gardens near the bottom of his large hillside  
      • This is a 150-ft wide x 330-ft deep double lot on a steep hillside with space for lovely gardens and today's (supposedly) required off-street parking. 
    • The 50-foot high hillside at 344 Summit would look small to developers of luxury property who creatively incorporate mountainsides (see Paradise Valley, AZ). 

    

Zoning Code Section 61.501.  Conditional use permit, general standards.

(a) The extent, location and intensity of the use will be in substantial compliance with the Saint Paul Comprehensive Plan, and any applicable subarea plans which were approved by the city council.  

  • Developer's 06/25/2014 supporting information states, in part:  "The proposed plan meets this standard..."   
  • COMMENTS:  
    • Neighborhood zoning is an integral part of and is not casually overruled by the comprehensive plan. 
    • RT2 Zoning does not permit "hotels" with their commercial activities. 

(b) The use will provide adequate ingress and egress to minimize traffic congestion in the public street.  

  • Developer's 06/25/2014 supporting information states, in part:  "The proposed use will radically improve traffic and parking problems associated with the former college use." 
  • COMMENTS:  
    • Developer's supporting information talks only about resident (housing/apartment) guests and speculates that many "...will not have cars."  
      • Nothing is said about non-resident traffic that will be associated with permitted hotel activities.  
    • If driveway is full of cars or needed for deliveries and garbage pick-up, residents, guests and staff will be told to park on the street. 
    • There is no back alley delivery and service access to 344 Summit.  
      • Everybody and everything must enter and exit on Summit (see photo).  
      • During and after the art college's years: 
        • Garbage trucks sat in the middle of Summit and honked their horns whenever a car blocked the dumpster.  
        • Large delivery trucks parked in the street or interrupted traffic while backing slowly into or out of the narrow driveway. 
        • Construction dumpsters and a delivery truck illustrate the size of potential on-street commercial delivery trucks if 344 Summit Ave becomes a popular hotel with liquor license and "events" 
                   
    • Regardless of how guests, staff, supplies and services travel, the proposed  almost zero ingress/egress  for cars, limousines, taxis, trucks or busses does not comply with residential or commercial zoning standards.  (See Site Plan)
      • Despite rules, delivery drivers tend to park in any open space (in front, down the block, across the street, etc). 
      • When the proposed hotel's driveway is full (or deemed inconvenient), and when there is inadequate space at the curb:
        • Busses, taxis and limousines will block traffic while riders climb out/in 
        • Busses and limousines waiting for passengers will park close by with engines idling 
        • Beware of legal double parking on busy Summit Avenue 
    • Nearby Example -- Frequent traffic congestion, packed parking, blocked sidewalk, large trucks, and illegal parking near the intersection of Summit and Ramsey while University Club guests, busses, parking valets, delivery trucks, garbage trucks, and service workers come and go.  (Click on any photo for an enlarged view.

Food delivery
Parked, on Ramsey St.

Late-night party bus
Parked, on Ramsey St.

Linen delivery
Parked, blocking sidewalk
  
  
             
More deliveries
One, blocking sidewalk;
Other, blocking traffic lane
while backing into driveway
Liquor delivery
Posted no-parking zone; blocking bicycle lane;
partially blocking traffic lane; fire hydrant; 
blocking view of drivers on Arundel St.

(c) The use will not be detrimental to the existing character of the development in the immediate neighborhood or endanger the public health, safety, and general welfare.  

  • Developer's 06/25/2014 supporting information states, in part:  "The proposed use meets this standard. ...not only is the proposed project not detrimental, it will enhance the character of the immediate neighborhood, and in no way endanger public health, safety, and general welfare." 
  • COMMENTS: 
    • A hotel with "commercial" activities will harm the existing character of our "residential" RT2 neighborhood. 
    • A hotel with inadequate on-site parking and limited delivery and service access will be detrimental to our RT2 neighborhood. 
    • Delivery trucks, garbage trucks, limousines and busses backing across or blocking traffic lanes and the city sidewalk will jeopardize public safety and general welfare. 
    • Zoning Code Section 66.214.  Intent, RT2 townhouse residential district, states: "...Because of its residential nature, this district is not intended for more intensive uses such as small conference centers, private retreat centers and reception houses."

(d) The use will not impede the normal and orderly development and improvement of the surrounding property for uses permitted in the district.  

  • Developer's 06/25/2014 supporting information states, in part:  "The proposed use meets this standard and meets it better than the former college use." 
  • COMMENTS: 
    • Proposed new uses should be compared to current circumstances, not to the former college's mass of cars, students and special conditions. 
    • If 344 Summit is used exclusively for residential (housing) purposes that do not overload on-street parking, this standard appears to be met.  
    • However, if the hotel is approved for use as a commercial "party venue" (conference center, retreat center, reception house, etc.), or if hotel occupants' cars take over nearby on-street parking because there is inadequate off-street parking, this standard is not met.

(e) The use shall, in all other respects, conform to the applicable regulations of the district in which it is located.   

  • Developer's 06/25/2014 supporting information states, in part:  "Project meets this standard and is a substantially better use based on the above considerations than the neighborhoods residential treatment centers and sober houses that occupy other neighborhood "large structures".  It is also more compatible with the neighborhood than the previous college use." 
  • COMMENTS: 
    • Our neighborhood's RT2/R2 zoning does not permit hotels, conference centers, retreat centers, or reception houses.
    • RT2/R2 zoning does permit residential treatment centers, sober houses, and colleges.  
    • There are a number of congregate living facilities in our area and I am pleased to call them good neighbors.  
      • I live nearby, walk past two or three of them almost every day, and own an apartment building adjacent to one of them.  
      • With the exception of delivery trucks blocking streets, I have not had problems or noise issues with any of them.  
      • Their buildings and grounds are well-tended and the residents provide a welcome bit of diversity. 
    • I would prefer to live close to a small college (like CVA) or one of our area's sober houses than to live across the street from a new or existing "party venue." 
    • Developer promotes this project as a luxurious Boutique Hotel or Apartment Hotel
      • Where high-end clientele will pay top dollar to stroll in fabulous gardens, enjoy opulent surroundings, and avoid the annoyance of keeping house.  (07/16/2014 - Developer says room rates to be: $300 to $900 per night  ///  07/22/2014 - says $200 to $900)
      • St. Paul's Comprehensive Plan highlights this report: 
        • Mind the Gap - Brookings Institution  
        • The Gap widens when the City hands out special favors that, almost exclusively, are for the benefit of very-high-end clientele (in this case, by waiving requirements for residential zoning, off-street parking, and adequate ingress/egress). 

    

Zoning Code Section 61.502.  Modify special conditions. 

  • Developer's 06/25/2014 supporting information states, in part:  "...Because of the steep hill immediately behind the house there is no feasible place to add parking there.  Because of the historic significance of the house and grounds...it is also not feasible to add parking to the large side yard west of the house.  As a practical matter, the six on-street parking along the street frontage of this wide lot will reasonably provide for the parking needs of the proposed use..." 
  • COMMENTS:  
    • See Parking comments & aerial photos.  Note the side-yard parking garage on adjacent property at 340 Summit.
    • See the 1949 photos of Watson Davidson's historic gardens and home-grown vegetables - surely there's space to add parking uphill to the north and a bit east without destroying what's left of Watson's garden shed and corn.
    • See the historically significant 1912 photo and 1916 Plat Map that show a now-missing structure on the lawn to the west of the house - visible from Summit Avenue.  Long ago, today's overall site had two houses and two sets of gardens, not just one.  This is a 150-ft wide x 330-ft deep double lot with space for lovely gardens, healthy vegetables, and the required off-street parking.
    • If the proposed hotel is used for purposes other than or in addition to lodging, the proposed lack of off-street parking will be an even greater problem.  See Commercial parking requirements. 
    • See Frustrated Neighbors regarding legal but unexpected changes.
    • And finally, see aerial photo that shows five useable on-street spaces (not six) and demonstrates how people repeatedly park their cars in front of 344 Summit. 

  

Zoning Code Section 66.214.  Intent, RT2 townhouse residential district.   "...Because of its residential nature, this district is not intended for more intensive uses such as small conference centers, private retreat centers and reception houses."