How big is too big? St. Paul asks residents to weigh in on West Grand Avenue growth

A recent proposal to build a 5-story apartment building at the corner of Grand Avenue and Finn Street has raised a number of questions about development along Grand Avenue, and how this development relates to the surrounding area. Although the proposed building was found to meet all zoning requirements, some neighbors were concerned about the building’s height and the number of potential residents. In addition to questions about density, the targeting of the building to college students has brought into focus the issue of how to accommodate the demand for student housing.

  • What is an appropriate density for new housing, commercial and mixed-use development on West Grand?
  • What are the best options for accommodating growth and increased density, including student housing, in the City of Saint Paul?


While zoning is the City’s primary tool for regulating development, it is really just a means for implementing the vision laid out in the City’s Comprehensive Plan, or Comp Plan. In particular, the Comp Plan includes a chapter on land use; this chapter contains policies and maps which help to guide housing and commercial investments in the city. The current Comp Plan was adopted by the City Council—following a multi-year, community-driven planning process—in early 2010, and is intended to guide development for a 20-30 year period.

Open Saint Paul is a new online forum for civic engagement. Read what others are saying about important Saint Paul topics, then post your own statement. City staff and officials will read the statements and incorporate them into their decision-making process. Click here for more information on Open Saint Paul.

The portion of Grand Avenue west of Fairview is designated as “Residential Corridor” by the Comp Plan, with average desired densities of between 4 and 30 housing units per acre. This is consistent with the overall goals of the Comprehensive Plan to bring more housing and economic activity to Saint Paul. Click here to see examples of what different densities can look like. The Comprehensive Plan also calls for the existing character of the surrounding “Established Neighborhoods”—those areas of lower density housing (primarily single-family and duplex housing) that make up many Saint Paul neighborhoods—to be maintained.

The West Grand Zoning Study

The City Council has asked the Planning Commission to conduct a study of the issues raised by the Grand and Finn development, and to recommend any zoning changes that could help to address neighborhood concerns and meet the development goals laid out by the Comprehensive Plan. The Council has asked in particular that the Planning Commission examine the RM2 Multifamily Residential and B2 General Commercial zones which cover the majority of properties on West Grand, to determine if they provide for the type of development desired.

In order to allow time to study these issues, the City Council has also passed a moratoriumprohibiting new building permits for buildings greater than 40 feet in height and for multi-family “dormitory-style” housing along Grand Avenue between Cretin and Fairview Avenues for a period of one year.

Your Input

The input you provide to the questions posed above will help to inform the work of staff as we study how to accommodate growth in the city. Because of the complexity of this study, we will need your input throughout the report-writing process. Keep your eye out for additional questions related to this topic.