Neighbors First For Bywater – General Meeting – March 9, 2022

Held via Zoom

The meeting started at 7 p.m. as we visited and waited for a few more panelists to arrive and work out technical issues.

At 7:05 Julie discussed the upcoming board election. There are currently 10 members on the NFB board: John Andrews, Joe Brown, Anthony Eschmann, Tyler Harwood, Molly Henderson, Steve Jacob, Julie Jones, Susan Korec, Brian Luckett, and Michael Owings. There can be up to twelve board members. NFB members are encouraged to nominate new candidates. To be eligible nominees must have been NFB members for at least three months. To vote a person would need to be a member for one month before the election. Since the pandemic and the lack of in-person meetings has made paying dues difficult it is irrelevant if membership dues are current at this time.

Julie then introduced Eve Abrams, Elizabeth Macey, and Bettina Reutter, all near neighbors to a large property at 3000 – 3032 St. Claude. They told us that the current owners of the property are asking for a zoning change to key lots that abut the back yards of numerous residents. The lots along St. Claude are already zoned commercial (HMC-2) and the key lots behind them are zoned residential (HMR-3). The owners want to make it all commercial. The city usually dislikes “split zoning”. Since these properties used to all be separately owned residential lots until they were eventually bought up by the former group of owners the situation is unique, and it is also an unusually large assemblage of lots to be owned (and now listed for sale) by one party.

In 2018 the current owners had plans to build a hotel (the “Sun Yard”) on the property but needed the zoning change and a conditional use. Near neighbors organized in opposition, and when it became apparent that City Council would deny their request, the owners pulled the request for conditional use at the last minute, leaving only the zoning change on the table without explanation. The council voted against the zoning change, and the owners have since sued the city. It is unclear and unusual, but this legal procedure may be an attempt to skip reapplying for the usual CPC review process. 

Since the 2018 denial the commercial structures (former homes) have been leased to a few artists, presumably as studios, but seem to have largely been neglected. The key lots in back remain empty. Several trees have been removed. Neighbors reached out to the new District C council member Freddie King, and he came with members of his staff to visit the neighbors and hear their concerns. It appeared he was not impressed with the condition of the commercially zoned structures. Mr. King had asked for a deferral when the zoning change was originally scheduled to come up for a vote before the council and now it is scheduled for April 7th.

The motives for the current zoning change request are unknown, but it is safe to assume it is to raise the value of the property, as it is currently on the market for $1.9 million. The real estate agent describes the property as “LARGE ST. CLAUDE COMMERCIAL ASSEMBLAGE” and says “The highest and best use is likely a hotel, short-term rental, or restaurant/bar.” < link >

The neighbors, once again, are nervous what may be in store for their back yards, and are understandably weary and annoyed. They encouraged us to join them at the City Council meeting on April 7th, and/or contact council members to oppose the zoning change.

NFB contacted the property owners and their attorney(s) to see if they would like to join the meeting but they were either unavailable or didn’t respond.

Julie reminded everyone about the upcoming NFB board election and thanked our guests. The meeting ended around 7:47 p.m.

Submitted by Tyler Harwood, NFB secretary

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