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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

St. Paul/ Keillor sues neighbor to block addition

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24 Comments:

Blogger Bob said...

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In a lawsuit filed Monday, the "Prairie Home Companion" host says that a two-story addition next door would block access to light and air.

By PAT PHEIFER, Star Tribune

Last update: January 15, 2008 - 6:48 AM


The Lutherans of Lake Wobegon would most likely fume in silence, but Garrison Keillor, creator of the fictional town and among St. Paul's most famous citizens, isn't being quite so quiet.

Keillor and his wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson, are suing their next-door neighbor, Lori Anderson, to stop her from building a two-story addition to her home that would include a three-stall garage and studio.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Ramsey County District Court, claims the addition would "obstruct the access of light and air to the Nilsson-Keillor property" and "impair or destroy protected historical resources."

Both homes in the 400 block of Portland Avenue are within the Ramsey Hill historic district.

The complaint also said the project would obstruct their view "of open space and beyond" and possibly hurt property value. The estimated market value a year ago for Keillor's home was about $1.2 million, according to property tax records; Anderson's was about $600,000.

The city also is named a defendant in the documents, which said Keillor and his wife were not notified of public hearings before a zoning variance was approved and the project was OK'd by the Heritage Preservation Commission.

'We were heartsick'

Anderson, who has owned her home since 1999 and lives there with fiancé Paul Olson, said Monday that Keillor and his wife have been good neighbors and that she is wary of offending them.

"We were heartsick," Anderson said of learning about the suit.

Olson said when he and Anderson decided to marry, they realized their one-car garage wasn't big enough. Even before they hired an architect, the couple said they talked to neighbors. They planned to build three stalls, a storage area and a mudroom on the first floor and a studio for Anderson's business on the second. The addition would be a few feet lower than the existing home and would be attached to the rear.

The project would add about 1,900 finished and unfinished square feet to the home, which now has 2,124 finished square feet. The Keillor-Nilsson home has 5,168 finished square feet, according to tax records.

Anderson and Olson received a zoning variance for a 23-foot rear-yard setback rather than the standard 25 feet and conditional approval from the Heritage Preservation Commission, pending final approval of the plans.

The nine-page complaint filed by Keillor and his wife claims "the city's decision to grant ... Anderson's variance is arbitrary and capricious."

City Attorney John Choi said Monday that "we have reviewed the plaintiffs' allegations in the complaint and find them to be without merit. It is our position that the city, Board of Zoning Appeals and the Heritage Preservation Commission acted in compliance with the law and within our legal discretion."

Olson said Monday that Keillor and his wife "couldn't have cared less" when Anderson told them they were building a bigger garage.

"He's a busy guy," Olson said. "We didn't feel obligated to include him in the planning."

Objections over e-mail

Olson said he and Anderson were on vacation in New Zealand when they received "an angry e-mail" from Keillor on Nov. 29. The e-mail accused Anderson and Olson of building "a carriage house" and said, "If we had known, we would have been horrified. ... Neighbors do not deal with neighbors the way you dealt with us."

Anderson and Olson cut short their vacation and returned home, hoping to talk to Keillor and Nilsson.

"We wrote them a very conciliatory e-mail to say we'll do anything we can to work it out," Anderson said. "They refused to talk to us."

Anderson said she and Olson voluntarily stopped construction and asked their contractor to draw up two alternative sets of plans to try to accommodate their neighbors.

Olson said they offered to sell Keillor and Nilsson some land -- Anderson's house is on 1½ lots -- and to obtain an easement. All they want, Olson said, is to be reimbursed for the $50,000 they have already invested in the project.

Matthew Seltzer, attorney for Keillor and Nilsson, would not comment Monday. He referred calls to Keillor's spokesman David O'Neill, who read a statement from Keillor:

"My wife and I live in a historic St. Paul house in a historic neighborhood, and this gives us an obligation to defend the house and the neighborhood against violations of the beauty of Ramsey Hill," it said.

"A two-story stucco addition eight feet from the western wall of our house is a violation of it."

O'Neill said Keillor would not be available to comment.

Keillor's complaint asks for the court to declare the zoning variance null and void, bar construction of the addition and grant the plaintiffs' costs, expenses and attorney's fees.

As for Anderson and Olson, they want Keillor's request for a temporary restraining order to be denied in court today.

"We just wish they would have talked to us before filing a suit. We just didn't think they cared," Anderson said

Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551

9:35 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

http://a-democracyfiles.blogspot.com/2008/01/garrison-keilor-and-neighbors-back-yard.html

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sucks for Keillor but, c'mon.
We are seriously trying to deal with vacant housing, after math of sub-prime lending, tenant fairness and enforcement. While I understand Keillor's issue, he didn't purchase the right for the light and air in the neighboring yard.

The neighbors went through the process and even offered to accomadate. The house still won't be as big as Keillor, which indicates he has other windows to look out.

Good for the city for standing behind Olson and Anderson. Those two jumped through all of the hoops and went through the proper process which includes community notification.

Next.

Eric<-----------

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is Gary Keillor crying about. His house is two times as big as the neighbor's property.

Mr. Keillor the review process has already been done and this project has been reviewed at public meetings and numerous committees. The homeowners even cut short their vacation to accommodate Mr. Keillor, something Mr. Keillor would NOT do. The homeowners have gone out of their way to work with Mr. Keillor, but he is "too busy" for common folks.

This is just another “Not In My Backyard case.” It seems Mr. Keillor feels he is above us and he is more important than the rest of us. That everything should revolve around him. Mr. Keillor, I don’t think so. In St. Paul we have to get along and lawsuits like this are the wrong way to go. We had a process and it was followed and you choose to ignore and not participate in the process. We don’t do business like this in St. Paul and I think your lawsuit is frivolous.

I commend the city of St. Paul, the homeowners and HPC for their thoughtful consideration of the matter.

If I were the homeowner I would have the contractor finish what all governmental bodies have approved. ASAP In fact I would even donate my time to help the homeowners complete their plans as APPROVED.

It is time Mr. Keillor did something about global warming and closed his mouth. With the reduction of all that hot air that is being admitted from his mouth into our atmosphere just might save the planet. PLEASE Mr. Keillor for the sake of our planet zip it.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Nancy Lazaryan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nancy,
You've got to stop judging cases from headlines. Its about as accurate as Senator Frist diagnosis of Terry Shivo from a video.

You're not familiar with the notification process I see.
Even if the neighbors don't notify their neighbors, PED or the Planning Commission sends out these gray postcards which give you the date of the public hearing as well as what the issue to be discussed is. It happens rather the neighbors make contact or not.

In favor of the Olson-Anderson folks:

1. City Attorney John Choi said Monday that "we have reviewed the plaintiffs' allegations in the complaint and find them to be without merit. It is our position that the city, Board of Zoning Appeals and the Heritage Preservation Commission acted in compliance with the law and within our legal discretion."

2. Olson said Monday that Keillor and his wife "couldn't have cared less" when Anderson told them they were building a bigger garage.

3.Olson said he and Anderson were on vacation in New Zealand when they received "an angry e-mail" from Keillor on Nov. 29. The e-mail accused Anderson and Olson of building "a carriage house" and said, "If we had known, we would have been horrified. ... Neighbors do not deal with neighbors the way you dealt with us."

Anderson and Olson cut short their vacation and returned home, hoping to talk to Keillor and Nilsson.

"We wrote them a very conciliatory e-mail to say we'll do anything we can to work it out," Anderson said. "They refused to talk to us."

Anderson said she and Olson voluntarily stopped construction and asked their contractor to draw up two alternative sets of plans to try to accommodate their neighbors.

Olson said they offered to sell Keillor and Nilsson some land -- Anderson's house is on 1½ lots -- and to obtain an easement. All they want, Olson said, is to be reimbursed for the $50,000 they have already invested in the project.
----------------

These people have bent over backwards to appease the Keillors and it appears that the Keillors won't even talk to them. They also very likely threw out the public notice when it came in the mail.

Nancy, this is an example of how you jump to conclusions and take your very good points and muddle them up in your set perspective of the players involved.

Call the SPFD and find out is eight feet is too close. Stop assuming so much, it'll save you a lot of headaches.

Eric

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nancy,

Yes the Keillor's were noticed about all public meetings. The city of St. Paul noticed EVERYONE within 300 feet of the property as required by law. This is documented by the city. The HPC was involved in this project and this is no easy process I should say. To get their 2-foot variance everyone within 300 feel were notified and another public hearing was held before it was approved.

Nancy all codes were followed. This is a case of a snob trying to control the process after the process has been followed and he chose not to participate in. Sort of some of your arguments here. All setbacks were correct and acceptable for St. Paul.

Your fire code issue is a non-factor because the code says the construction of this building is acceptable. What are you really after?

The neighbor took the time to cut their vacation short just to accommodate the Keillor's. This is something the Keillor’s would not do. They are left wing SNOBS. The homeowners even asked their design team to come up with different plans just to accommodate the Keillor's. When the judge ordered the Keillor’s and homeowners to enter into mediation, Keillor did not like this. This is something the homeowners have tried since day one, but the Keillor’s are too busy to bother with common folk.

The city followed all code requirements; the HPC also followed all review and notification procedures. The housing code review for the variance was followed. Have you ever tried to build in a HPC area or tried to get a variance, not an easy process.

This property owner has every right to construct the structure as long at it conforms to city code and is on their property. THIS IS AMERICA. I am tired of all you folks telling property owners what they can or can’t do with their property. The Keillor’s don’t even pay one dime on the neighbor’s property taxes, but want to dictate what goes on the property.

1-800-ASK-GARY

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me tell you people about building in st.Paul real problem.

First you need check out the zone laws. Then you need to go the district planning council, the city council. Next you need to submited it. yhe city planning group.

The first of many meeting with city.

Then the district planning council
flyers everyone in about 200 ft.
from the project area.

then they have two or three meetings on it.

Then back to to city planning group.

That takes about 6 months to 12 months. while that is going you
need to leip for their ok on the plans. Its about two to three months for them to decide if you can build it or not. Then you going to city planning with the ok from the city. If not then you
support from everyone one the block or two.

the city mailout 3x5 postcard to everyone about meeting on the planning building.

It will take about 1 year time. before building start to going up.

the reason I know this. I because
I builded two houses in frogtown.

All you need is four feet from the property line for fire safetly.
And for windows. That is the code
for St.Paul. It cost me about $10,000.00 to $15,000.00 for all that stuff.

I had my neighbors support.

I had one Neighbor the threating to bring on lawsuit for the same thing. Bring it on. He decide to not to so. because you can tell a
what to do with property and he would have to pay me for all work until then.
That will be same with keillor.
It will cost them about $50,000.00 to $85,000.00 to get their way.

Leslie K. Lucht

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Usually, it's kind of nice to get noticed. . . but not in St. Paul.

6:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thee's only 1 soloution here. Kellior should get a connected political buddy and have the Anderson house ordered to demolished under the guise of code enforcement and saftey.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Mr. Keillor is getting screwed here. Building carriage houses is a huge issue in that neighborhood. It is essentially building a second house on your lot. If one person does it, then many others want to, and it would change the character of the community. IT sounds like a stealth operation if he was not aware of it. He is probably upset over the publicity. I think 6:34 identified the city's usual way of handling this kind of thing.

10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't the city council give their blessing to people building carriage houses a while back?

1:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These people are building a garage with an office. This is acceptable in St. Paul.

If the HPC signed off on this, it had to pass the smell test. Not an easy task.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Hi All,

Small world folks. The contractor on this project is related to a regular poster here.

I am going over to Garrison Keillors house today to give him notice of this discussion here.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The HPC is a sock puppet of the city. Ask Rita Tessmer they LIED about the condition of her home.

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The HPC has a strong tendecy and record of saying 'no'. For them to say yes is no easy task in itself. I know people that have tried to add windows that were denied.

Leslie gives a good example of the process you must go through just to get your plans approved. The Keillors ignored that.

As far as politically connected friends. Who is better connected than Keillor? Since I've been around he's been doing a consistant DFL gigs. I never heard of the Olson/Andersons before this.

Keillors are rich, politically connected and locally famous. Their house is bigger. The city sided with the regular people who followed the rules on this one.

You can't fault them for this one.

Eric<-------

10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric,

I agree with you on this one. The neighbors did EVERYTHING to accomodate the Keillors, plus follow the law. Keillor is just a cry baby on this issue.

You are 100% right on this one.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I HATE agreeing Eric, but he is right.....the city stand with the small guy for once. Lets hope it continues.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Nancy Lazaryan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nancy is correct when she said, "Wow, folks will actually have to talk with each other and work things out."

Talking to his neighbor is something Keillor clearly did not want to do. It seems Keillor was not happy about this avenue when told of it by his lawyer.

To take it one step further, do we really know our neighbors. With working so hard to pay the taxes, we have really lost that connection with our neighbors.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the posters try to use this to prove that the "small guy" gets a fair deal in St. Paul.

This dispute involves a "small guy" only in a comparative sense. The Anderson-Olson house is worth $600,000, and preliminary planning and initial construction for a 1900 square foot "garage and office" are $50,0000.

The city has never targetted people in the Anderson-Olson income range and will probably try to fairly deal with this on its merits.

This treatment does not extend to the "small guy" in St. Paul.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

9:23,
It appears that you are so bent that you have to find a problem even when the city does what its supposed to do. It makes your point less credible.

Asking you if the city did the right thing is like asking the DFL Party Chair is Governoe Pawlenty doing the right thing. Of course he will say no but, his credibility is in question because he has something to gain with negative news about Pawlenty. Same thing with you and the city. You seem unable to take an objective stance on this.

1. Why does it matter what their house is worth? Many landlords have property that add up to more than that house- and they still say they have problems.

2. Once you get to a certain point, are your rights lessened? Your logic would have people who have a little more playing around the rules instead with them. We should find it refreshing that these middle class people played within in the rules.

3. Their house may be worth 600,000 but, you don't know when they bought it and what it was worth at the time. Its clearly one of the smaller houses on the block being the house right next door is a million and half.

4. The millionaires, who are very politically connected, have the bigger and more expensive property, lost out in this one. Anderson/Olson are regular folks who followed the rules and won out.

Nancy,
You seem to be providing an answer for a question that wasn't asked. Thanks for the info but, it doesn't apply here. You took a position before knowing the facts to the questions you made up, instead of taking a position on the story as presented.

How many of your charges against the city and individuals end this way?


Eric<-------

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric,

I'm sure that you would prefer that Mr. Keillor did not know about the city's dirty little secret (the $100M in lawsuits that have been in the courts for four years for civil rights violations and racketeering for inspections that run completely against what the Democratic party stands for).

How do you exlpain the document about how the city was targetting the bottom of the barrel and down and outers?

The fact is that this city is poised to crash and burn because the "little people" have been targetted. It is a group that has gotten arrogant and power hungry, and has to be removed so the "little people" can get a fair shake.

5:24 PM  

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