In Lowry Hill, 1900 Colfax developer’s plan gains ground

Opposition to a proposed Lowry Hill condominium development appears to be ebbing after a neighborhood group voted to work with the developer on his plans.

The board of Lowry Hill Residents, Inc. (LHRI) voted 7-3 in early February to consult with developer John McCarty to refine his proposal for an eight-unit, 21,000-square-foot condo complex he wants to build at 1900 Colfax Ave. S.

McCarty owns a seven-unit apartment building currently on the site.

At the previous month’s meeting, board members spoke strongly against the proposed demolition of the 107-year-old brick building.

In December, the city’s Planning Commission rejected McCarty’s proposal.

McCarty, who owns the Uptown Diner and has several successful St. Paul developments, said, "I was encouraged that the neighborhood supported our revised design. I couldn’t be happier."

LHRI President Ed Newman was quick to add a cautionary note to the developer’s ode to joy. "I wouldn’t say that [the board is] fairly content yet. All that was was an agreement to continue working with him. I wouldn’t call that an approval of his current plan."

McCarty and his design team from downtown architectural firm Tanek, Inc. showed off a new old-looking design to the board Feb. 1.

The previous incarnation had a mostly glass exterior; the drafts shown at the February meeting were of a reconfigured building that looked like a couple of giant, conjoined houses meant to resemble the affluent area’s grand mansions.

The neighborhood board makes recommendations to the Planning Commission and, in case of appeal, the City Council.

Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) spoke in opposition to McCarty’s development at the Commission’s December meeting and renewed her vow at the February LHRI meeting. She said she remained opposed to his original proposal "10,000 percent."

Goodman left the meeting before the new design was unveiled; McCarty said he hopes to gain her support when he shows her the final revised design after completing "the citizen participation process" with LHRI.

Newman said he and other LHRI board members will meet with McCarty and his architects "to modify the design to have it more in keeping with buildings in the neighborhood."

David Mahoney was one of the three board members who voted against working with McCarty, but he said the revisions represent a step up from the original proposal "in the sense that it was less boxlike."

Mahoney said he’s disappointed that McCarty appears to be unwilling to consider retaining the existing 1900 Colfax house.

The developer has said it’s economically unfeasible to renovate the brick structure but hopes his new plans, when finished, will "make the neighborhood proud."

McCarty said he plans to file the new proposal with the Planning Commission "as soon as possible." He plans to start construction by July 1.