A Better Way to increase Economic


Strengthen and add to economic vitality of Grand Ave, Summit Hill, and St Paul

oWE HAVE  — Grand Avenue is a vibrant “main street” mixed use corridor. A walk up east Grand Ave from Oakland to Ayd Mill reveals hundred of businesses and hundreds of households. Articles in MN Monthly, Explore Minnesota, WhereTraveler and others routinely tout Grand’s traditional charm, small town appeal, and historic appeal. They also refer to Summit Avenue and Summit Hill’s historic and architectural quality. This is the essential character of Summit Hill that we need to build on.

oTHE DEVELOPER PROPOSAL—will have negative economic impacts on the charm, the historic district, and the all the neighbors. Building a steroidal stick built high rise will damage the essential character of Grand Ave, the adjacent Historic Hill as well as Summit Ave West heritage preservation districts.

oABETTER WAY  Investment and redevelopment that compliments the Grand Ave “small town” scale and charm, supports small and local shops, and attracts visitors. New developments should add to—not take from — the historic scale and architecture of Summit Hill

Walking along the pedestrian-friendly avenue you will not only stumble upon locally and nationally owned shops, restaurants and services, but you will encounter stunning architecture of classic homes with 90 percent of them built prior to 1939. Grand Avenue was named one of Forbes’ Prettiest Neighborhoods in America, and with a strong sense of community, you are sure to feel welcomed to the grandest area of the Twin Cities. –WhereTraveler


What is granularity, and why does it matter for Grand Avenue? Why are many small projects better than one big one? 

“Urban areas — especially downtowns and neighborhoods dominated by apartments and condos and navigated primarily on foot — create a fundamentally different day-to-day experience than auto-oriented suburban areas. Our sense of scale and place changes when we are walking (where there is only so far you can reasonable walk, and you are exposed to your environment) compared to when we are driving (where we can drive for miles with little effort, and we have little interest in how the realm outside of our car feels as we are confined inside.) 

Older urban areas in the United States are typically very fine-grained. While newer urban areas in the United States tend to typically be very coarse-grained.”

The description of the benefits of fine-grain urbanism on Small Towns sounds like a description of the best parts of Grand Avenue. The most distinctive parts of Grand Avenue are the one-of-a-kind locally owned shops and restaurants. They are supported by local chains, and even national chains, but the character of Grand Avenue are the unique elements: Caffe Latte and Bread & Chocolate; Golden Fig and Seasoned Specialty Foods; Tom the Tailer and George’s Shoe Repair; Red Balloon, Balloon Bunch and the Wedding Shoppe—to name just a few. These shops are housed in middle scale structures and even Grand’s business-in-houses specialty BC zoning district.

Fine-grained urbanism is preferable because it implies:

  1. Diverse ownership. Each individual lot typically has a different owner.

  2. Lower cost of entry. If we ignore the underlying price of land (small lots in general should be cheaper because you are buying less land), it takes less money to build a shop or a home on a small narrow lot, than building an entire apartment complex.

  3. More destinations within walking distance. An important part of good urbanism is fitting as much as possible within walking distance, so naturally, fitting more in gives you more choices to walk to.

  4. Greater resistance to bad buildings. Bad buildings can make less of an impact when they are limited in size.



Why Does Zoning Matter? A somewhat snarky video from Planetizen on why zoning matters:


“We don’t like to define ourselves by what we are against. We aren’t against skyscrapers, development, luxury housing, or cars. We are for places. But in practice, that means that we do oppose projects that destroy or prevent the creation of quality spaces, and we challenge sweeping reforms that do not acknowledge or accommodate local contexts. There is no one human scale, but by engaging in a placemaking process, we can find the scale that works for every community” – Stephen Burke


The development team could build a 3-story mixed use building by right, without rezoning, without a conditional use permit, and without spot-zoning out of the east Grand Avenue Overlay.  The proposal seeks to upzone to build wider and longer and taller, and then ask for a conditional use permit to build even higher, and then exceptions and modifications to get around all the Traditional Neighborhood design standards that are meant to keep neighborhood scale. Traditional Neighborhood Design standard 5 states that side streets setbacks should match the block. Every reason given was financial. The block average along the west side of St Albans is over 15 feet, but they propose just three. The canopy of current boulevards trees extend farther than three feet across the public sidewalk. Yet another sacrifice for luxury housing.


Wrong-size Density hurts small business

Wrong-sized density hurts business, especially small businesses.  Uptown in Minneapolis has seen a boom in construction of  generic, boxy structures that fill the completely fill lots and rise well above the previous Missing Middle neighborhood scale. The influx of residents has not helped the area business community.  One local business owner who closed his Uptown location has observed that 20-25 businesses closed in the 50th/France area due to all the construction.
Here is a partial list of closures in Uptown:


Cooks of Crocus Hill left 50th/France in 2017 ““The desires and demographics of the Cooks’ customer base are changing and we need to change with them,” owner Marie Dwyer says.” Cooks of Crocus Hill weathered the pandemic at the Grand Avenue location, and continues to offer cooking classes as well as a carefully procured collection of cooking supplies and tools. Visit them on Grand. 


Chino Latino closet in October of 2020 “Kip Clayton, of the Parasole restaurant group, said in a statement that the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the decline of retail in the Uptown area over the last several years led to their decision to close the restaurant.” Note that Parasole also owns Salut, which is on Grand and still open. And really delightful. Anyone reading this should make a reservation and have a meal on their patio.


Muddy Waters in Uptown shuttered their doors in May 2020. They closed due to COVID, remarking that carryout was not enough. On Grand Avenue, local favorites like Hyacinth, Cafe Latte, Punch, and Grand Old Creamery and Pizza were able to adapt their operations to the pandemic. Drive up and carry out continued. Patios were expanded and added; parking lots and sidewalks became outdoor dining rooms.  Retailers like Red Balloon offered local delivery to keep their customers supplied with books and their staff employed. The creativity and resiliency of the small business community was remarkable. Loyal customers, too,  made sure to support these businesses during the pandemic. Where were the Uptown customers? 


Juut Salon just closed its Uptown location as well. Grand remains open — go get your hair cut.

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