FMR appeals oversized building at Mississippi & Minnesota River confluence

On April 24, 2015, the Saint Paul Planning Commission approved a height variance of 33.5 additional feet for Johnson Brother’s proposed mixed-use building at 1465 Davern Street which lies within the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area and the National Park boundary. FMR appealed this decision on May 4, 2015 because this development will significantly impact the scenic and historic character of the river valley at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers.

The area’s significance

The river valley at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers is one of the most historic places in Minnesota. The area is significant to the Dakota people who consider it to be the center of the world. The valley contains historic sites like Pilot Knob Preservation Site and Historic Fort Snelling. The area is also rich in public overlooks, parks and trails such as Fort Snelling State Park, the Big Rivers Trail, the Mendota Bridge and Crosby Farm Regional Park. This has long been a place with special meaning and value where new development should harmonize with rather than detract from the unique sense of place.

The proposed development lies within the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA), a corridor with special protections to help maintain and restore the river’s natural and scenic values. The U.S. Congress reinforced the need for special protections in this area by designating this corridor a National Park—the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) in 1988. Saint Paul also recognized the significance of the riverfront land and prepared to carefully guide development within the river corridor by creating The Great River Passage Plan and the River Corridor chapter of the Comprehensive Plan. This development proposal is the first of what is expected to be several new buildings at this location and therefore sets precedent for this very significant location.

Our appeal arguments

In addition to arguing that the height of the proposed development would degrade the scenic character of the surrounding historic landscape, FMR’s appeal also challenges several of the Planning Commission’s “Findings of Fact”. We argue that the 33.5 foot variance does not conform with the site’s zoning code and that it is inconsistent with the City’s comprehensive plan.

In their request for a structure height variance the developer has argued that the additional height is needed because the low surface to bedrock conditions on the site make it impractical to excavate underground parking. In the appeal FMR contends that this is an economic argument which, by itself, is not sufficient grounds for a variance. The developer was well aware of the site’s constraints prior to initiating redevelopment.

The appeal also argues that the City did not follow their notification procedure provided in their Comprehensive Plan. Because of this error, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources did not have the opportunity to weigh-in on the development before the Zoning Committee meeting and their comments opposing the variance were not included in the public record for the Planning Commission meeting.

How you can help

There are several ways to support this appeal.

  • Submit comments to Councilmember Tolbert and city staff:
    • The City of Saint Paul will be accepting comments until June 3, 2015. We encourage you to let the City know that you support preserving the aesthetics of the Mississippi and Minnesota River confluence and ask them to uphold the Friends of the Mississippi River appeal of the height variance at 1465 Davern Street.
  • EMAIL: You can email comments to Councilmember Tolbert and Josh Williams. Please use a subject line similar to "Vote YES to uphold the appeal of the Shepard Davern Development."
  • MAIL: You can mail comments to Councilmember Tolbert's Office, 310-C City Hall, 15 Kellogg Blvd., West, Saint Paul, MN 55102.
  • Attend the Saint Paul City Council Public Hearing
    • The Saint Paul City Council will hold a public hearing on the appeal June 3, 2015 at 5:30pm at Council Chambers - 3rd Floor of 15 W Kellogg Blvd. We encourage supporters to attend and show the Council that they are supported in upholding the appeal.

Interested in learning more?

Read FMR’s appeal letter or contact Alicia Uzarek at or 651.222.2193 x29.