The Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Paul in an effort to force an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) review of St. Thomas’ proposal to redevelop two Summit Avenue blocks.
 
The 20-page Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, filed in Ramsey County District Court, alleges that the city erred in conducting an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) review on the project.
 
SARPA says an EIS, a more-intensive review than an EAW, would be more appropriate because of the size and nature of the project. St. Thomas hopes to construct two new academic buildings, housing for up to 650 students and up to 590 underground parking spaces on the two-block site.
 
The city began the environmental review process in the spring of 2001 and conducted two EAWs. Earlier this month, St. Paul Planning and Economic Development Director Martha Fuller approved a Planning Commission recommendation that the environmental review requirements have been met by the Revised EAW and that there is no need for an EIS.
 
"The environmental reviews undertaken by the city to date are inadequate and incomplete," Mike Unger, a lawyer retained by SARPA, said Tuesday in a news conference on the Summit median near Cretin Avenue. "Only the (EIS) allows consideration of the social and economic effects of this expansion on the lives of the many people who live near by. Only an (EIS) allows consideration of alternatives for expansion that may lessen the adverse effects on neighbors."
 
SARPA argues that the city, in determining the level of environmental review, failed to include related projects elsewhere on campus and beyond the Summit project site bounded by Summit, Cleveland, Grand and Cretin avenues.
 
If the city counted those projects – the Frey Science and Engineering Center, Morrison Hall, a new Selby Avenue residence hall, a new aquatics center, a new campus center and replacements for Cretin and Grace halls – construction would total 1.4 million square feet and trigger a mandatory EIS. The city chose to include the Summit project site, one building constructed in the past (Morrison) and other buildings that may be constructed in the next five years – the Selby hall and either the aquatics center or the Cretin and Grace replacement halls. All of those projects would total between 822,000 and 872,000 square feet; thus, an EAW, not an EIS, was in order, the city said.
 
St. Thomas always has agreed with the city’s position on the EAW-EIS issue and will seek to join the lawsuit as an intervenor, said Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations. A court date has not been set to hear the SARPA lawsuit.
 
In the meantime, St. Thomas will continue to work with the city and neighborhood organizations on zoning and historic district reviews related to the project.
 
St. Thomas has made two appearances before the St. Paul Heritage and Preservation Commission to describe its plans for the Summit site and, in particular, for a new business education building on the Christ Child Hall site. Because part of the site is in a historic district, the HPC will decide this spring on St. Thomas’ request for permits to raze Christ Child and construct the new building. The commission’s decision can be appealed to the St. Paul City Council.
 
The university also has filed its application to change its Special Condition Use Permit to designate both blocks as part of the St. Paul campus. The permit will govern future development of the campus, including maximum heights and minimum setbacks of new buildings and how many parking spaces must be provided on campus.
 
The zoning process review begins in the neighborhoods. The Merriam Park Community Council will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 7, in the Merriam Park Community Center, 2000 St. Anthony Ave., before making a recommendation on the project to the city in May. The Macalester-Groveland Community Council will hold a public hearing in late April (a date has not been set) on the same issues.
 
The opinions from the community councils will be considered by the Planning Commission. Its Zoning Committee will hold a public hearing in mid to late May. Any decision by the commission can be appealed to the City Council.
 
Hennes urged students, faculty and staff who are interested in the issue to attend the Merriam Park and Macalester-Groveland hearings. Individuals who want to testify at the hearings should contact him at (651) 962-6402 by early next week.