St. Paul Tennis Club expansion: failed public process

January 18, 2017

Dear St. Paul Planning Commission and City Council members,

Saint Paul STRONG (SPS) recently learned about the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) granted to the St. Paul Tennis Club (SPTC) by the Planning Commission for the SPTC building expansion plans. The process used by the City to grant a CUP to SPTC led to a neighbors' appeal to the City Council on December 7, 2016. Neighbors asked the City Council to deny the CUP and instead require SPTC to process a Nonconforming Use Permit for Expansion and Relocation (NUPER), which requires neighbor input on and approval of the building plan. While this story is detailed and complicated, SPS is primarily concerned about the following issues related to public process:

1. City staff disseminated inaccurate, incomplete and inconsistent information regarding the type of permit required for the SPTC expansion plans such as:

  • Determining that SPTC should apply for a CUP when a NUPER was clearly the appropriate permit for what was repeatedly identified by City staff as a “legal nonconforming use” property.

  • Erroneously Identifying SPTC as a noncommercial recreation facility to order to fit into a CUP application, while the City Staff report correctly identifies the SPTC land use under the commercial code “C-Health/Sports Club”. When neighbors pointed out this error as part of their appeal, rather than admit a mistake, City staff removed that code for land use from the next report.

  • City staff misrepresented the size of the SPTC expansion failing to acknowledge to the public that there would be a 66.6% increase in space and that the roof-top deck is a completely new addition, not a replacement. Those facts necessitate a NUPER to be processed.

2. City staff failed to collect pertinent, accurate environmental information related to the effects of the SPTC building plan on the neighborhood which is required to process either a CUP or a NUPER.

3. City staff failed to provide many property owners with the required timely notice about the Planning Commission Zoning Committee public hearing for the SPTC permit.

4. The Planning Commission Zoning Committee meeting was attended by three out of eight Zoning Committee members (not a quorum) who voted in favor of the SPTC expansion.

5. Zoning Committee members accepted as fact clearly inaccurate and misleading information regarding estimated levels of noise generated from the proposed roof-top deck. A true sound study should have been completed to inform the public process.

6. The City Attorney provided inaccurate information to Zoning Committee members and the public regarding the possibility of laying over the permit vote for two weeks.

7. The Planning Commission meeting was held and the Zoning Committee’s recommendation was adopted without any opportunity for public testimony or discussion with only ten commissioners present and eight absent.

8. The City Council kept the neighbors waiting for three hours while listening to all citizens who wanted to speak on the issue of the Police Civilian Review Board. The City Council President then strictly applied a 15 minute speaking time limit for neighbors of the SPTC, only granting them an additional 6 minutes after they objected to not being heard. Most neighbors who came to speak to the City Council were denied that opportunity.

9. The City Council could have voted for a layover to allow the SPTC and neighbors to try to work things out. The Council decided not to ask the SPTC whether they would agree to that extension and went ahead with the vote.

10. The City Council voted 6-1 against the neighbors' appeal without addressing specific appeal content and despite the issues of City staff's poor and inconsistent communication about permits and the lack of proper notification of property owners.

In summary, City staff, who are expected to facilitate accurate communication and serve the public, instead placed obstacles in the way for neighbors to participate in a meaningful public process. Instead of listening to neighbor concerns, they silenced them. Instead of promoting accountability, the City Council condoned impunity.

The experience of concerned neighbors attempting to wade through the murky rules and inconsistent practices of the St. Paul City Zoning Committee, Planning Commission, and City Council shows how a failed public process instills frustration and mistrust of our City government. Saint Paul STRONG looks forward to hearing what remedy you will afford these neighbors of SPTC so that their voices will be heard and their concerns addressed regarding the building expansion project, and how you will work to prevent this from happening again.

Sincerely,

Linda Winsor, Saint Paul STRONG, Communications

indajwinsor@gmail.com

651.224.6004

Saint Paul STRONG, as a group, does not take positions on any issues. We are a nonpartisan community-led organization dedicated to improving open and representative government in Saint Paul by encouraging and supporting open and transparent public processes at City Hall, engaging and empowering resident participation, and building a stronger, more inclusive Saint Paul.

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