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Assisted living project in limbo
Possible land swap with city could save project
Plans for an assisted living home at 1475 Ames Ave. have been put on hold after neighbors expressed concerns about increased traffic along the narrow street.
While the intention was to rezone the empty lot at 1475 Ames Ave., the District 2 Community Council pulled its support for the rezoning after homeowners expressed concerns at the Jan. 18 board meeting about potential increased traffic along the quiet, residential street.
Although the St. Paul Zoning Committee makes the decision on whether or not to rezone a plot of land, its decision is often affected by the support, or lack thereof, by the local district councils.
“The city pretty much killed it so it’s not going anywhere,” said Cy Thao, a consultant for the assisted living project. He said because of the neighbors’ worries about the increased traffic and lack of on-street parking, the city’s zoning committee voted not to change the zoning for 1475 Ames Ave.
Thao said the developers have since withdrawn their application for rezoning.
The assisted living home would have been located just a few blocks east of Johnson Parkway. However, the possibility of a land swap with the city may save the project.
The project was the idea of Hlee Xiong Moua and May Xiong, two siblings who have nursing degrees and work at the Mayo Clinic and at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
Thao, a former state legislator and manager of Sun Light Senior Living in the Frogtown neighborhood, is a consultant for the project.
A few years ago, Thao came before the District 2 Community Council seeking approval for a similar assisted living project on the 1000 block of Hazel Street. As he was planning that facility, he learned the city would assess him for future repairs on Hazel Street. Thao said he didn’t have the funds for the hefty future assessments and had to scrap that plan.
The current plan is for Thao to help Moua and Xiong navigate the process of getting the necessary city permits, building the facility and helping them manage it for the first year. After that year, he will hand over full reins to them.
During a Sept. 21 meeting of the District 2 Community Council board, Thao, along with Xiong and Moua, came to the board to explain their plans and to seek support from the board to rezone the plot of land.
Currently the two-acre plot of land at 1475 Ames Ave. is zoned RM-1, which is designated for structures like townhouses and multifamily duplexes.
Thao was applying to have the lot zoned to RM-3, which would allow for the eventual construction of a 40-unit facility.
Thao explained that the facility would be built in two phases. The first phase calls for the construction of 20 assisted living units, as Xiong and Moua have funds to cover those costs. Once more funds are raised, the second phase will be completed, adding 20 more units. Of the 40 total units, 10 would be designated for individuals with memory loss.
Other council members asked why the project required an RM-3 zoning, rather than a RM-2 zoning. Thao and Chuck Repke, executive director of the District 2 Community Council, explained that RM-2 acts like an RM-1 zoning, but that it requires an additional conditional use permit to account for increased traffic. An RM-3 zoning cuts out the need for the additional conditional use permit.
Additionally, RM-3 allows for additional floors, but Thao assured members they have no plans for a multi-story building.
At a meeting on Dec. 14, the board members changed their support to say they supported a RM-2 zoning with the conditional use permit for increased traffic.
A potential compromise
Chuck Repke, executive director of the District 2 Community Council, said after neighbors expressed concerns about increased traffic, neighbors also brought to the district council’s attention that the city owns a lot just north of 1475 Ames Ave. along Magnolia Avenue, a street designed for higher traffic volumes.
“We wanted to also explore the potential of doing the land swap,” said Repke, explaining that a land swap between the city and the owners of 1475 Ames Ave. would offer a compromise. The district council decided to pull support so the idea of a land swap could be researched more in-depth.
The empty lot owned by the city is kitty-corner to 1475 Ames Ave., located approximately at 1446 Magnolia Ave., directly west of the Elders Lodge assisted living facility.
Repke said the potential land swap could serve as a solution because Magnolia Avenue already has a higher traffic count and it connects to Johnson Parkway. He said it is also wider and has room for on-street parking. He said the city-owned lot already has the zoning Thao, Xiong and Moua seek.
According to Ramsey County property records, the wooded lot owned by the city is 37,897 square feet and is currently valued at $89,000. The 1475 Ames Ave. parcel, which is owned by Xiong and Moua, is 27,007 square feet and valued at $23,000.
As far as the potential land swap with the city, Thao said there is “nothing concrete.”
Repke said the council is currently reaching out to St. Paul City Council member Dan Bostrom, who represents Ward 6, to work with the city on a land swap deal. However, there is no guarantee such a deal could occur.
Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.