Changes beyond the curb: Rezoning for Central Corridor in St. Paul

Along with the obvious and immediate changes that will literally be happening on the street, the addition of a light rail line along University Avenue will also stimulate development beyond the curb. Planning and regulating the new development means changes in zoning regulations, and now is the time for feedback to the city on proposed changes. 

A public open house where individuals can hear about preliminary staff recommendations and provide comment will be held July 28 at the Arlington Hills Library from 6-7:30 p.m. Interested parties can also provide feedback by responding to an online survey.

 "We want the city to keep growing and it makes sense to grow along this corridor," says Donna Drummond, Director of Development for the City of St. Paul. Among the city goals outlined by Drummond: higher density development, a reduced demand for parking, and a pedestrian- and transit-oriented environment. Before rezoning along the corridor, they want to retool their set of applicable zoning codes.

The planning commission is seeking public input on the new zoning regulation language. The issues on which they are most eager for public comment go beyond height minimums and maximums. They want public perspective on questions that could potentially change the character and feel of the entire corridor:

  • Where should auto-oriented businesses be allowed?
  • Should mandatory parking requirements be eliminated for businesses along the light rail line?
  • Should the city use inclusionary zoning, which requires residential development projects to include a percentage of affordable housing units?

At a public open house on July 22, the proposed regulatory changes were met with interest, some enthusiasm, and concern. Benita Warns, owner of Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles, was one of the concerned participants. Her business sells vintage bikes and uses the profits to give refurbished bikes to anyone who needs one, often the disadvantaged or homeless. Warns depends on her low-rent storefront on Prior Avenue to keep in operation, and worries about the effect rezoning may have on her ability to stay in that location. In addition to her storefront, the building has more than 20 affordable housing units and Warns is concerned that these people could also be dislocated if the building is sold for redevelopment. "People are going to be beating down the owner's door to sell so they can knock it down and build a high-rise," worried Warns.

What the city's planners are proposing is adding a new class of Traditional Neighborhood (TN) zoning-the current category for mixed commercial and residential use districts. TN districts were first added to the zoning code in 2004. The city says the three existing TN zones are not a "perfect fit" for the Central Corridor. Planners propose a new zoning category, TN4, would be what city planner Sarah Zorn called "the most intense" of the categories. TN4 would most notably allow for taller buildings-up to 150 feet-without a need to apply for any special permitting. Along with proposing the new zoning category, the city is reassessing and revising the regulations for the other three TN zones to better suit the city's needs, based on their experience with TN districts over the past six years.

Currently most of the area along the Central Corridor is zoned for general business, or B3 in the zoning code, one of the least strict zonings. TN zoning, along with incorporating residential and commercial uses in single structures, also holds requirements for design and density, and may be written to discourage auto-oriented uses and services like drive-throughs or repair shops.

Drummond indicates that through well-executed rezoning, the city can be "carefully defining where change happens." Because existing buildings and uses will not be required to comply, Drummond expects change will happen "very incrementally." "[Change] will happen gradually enough that people can respond," she says.

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Sarah Vig's picture
Sarah Vig

Sarah Vig lives in Northeast Minneapolis. Sarah has both a figurative high brow and a figurative low brow and two regular eyebrows to boot. She blogs about art and culture in the Twin Cities.