How do you keep a good thing going?
That question prompted the St. Anthony Park Community Council to think more seriously about the future of Como Avenue. In November 2006, the council appointed a task force to study how development on Como, between Highway 280 and the U of M transitway, might best support the long-term health of the surrounding neighborhood. At a June 3 public meeting, the task force presented a draft of its working document, the Como 2030 Plan, designed to guide development over the next 20 years.
In recognizing that many features of Como Avenue are worth preserving, the plan uses verbs such as maintain, reinforce, protect, support and strengthen. But in acknowledging that change is inevitable, the report includes other language as well: promote, add, encourage, attract.
On the preservation side, the plan seeks to maintain key buildings, such as the St. Anthony Park Library and Milton Square. It argues for protecting existing green space and gathering places. It recommends keeping the area “walkable.”
On the change side, the plan recommends one- and two-hour parking limits on sections of Como Avenue. It allows for the possibility of mixed-use buildings that exceed three stories, provided they are well integrated into the surrounding streetscape. It encourages higher density housing. It supports “the incremental and contiguous expansion of commercial use onto adjacent residential properties if it helps strengthen the commercial core and if it is designed to limit the impact on neighboring residential.”
An obvious tool for guiding future development is zoning. Accordingly, the Como 2030 Plan includes numerous recommendations for rezoning. Many would take advantage of a fairly recent addition to St. Paul’s zoning code called “traditional neighborhood.” There are three types of TN district, all of which provide for medium-density, pedestrian- and transit-oriented, mixed-use development along major streets.
The plan’s zoning recommendations reflect the difficult task of balancing preservation and change. For example, one of its strategies is to “work toward a long-term goal of focusing auto-oriented businesses and businesses requiring substantial surface parking away from the commercial core.”
To that end, the plan recommends rezoning the stretch of Como between Luther Place and Commonwealth Avenue from B2 (Community Business) to TN2 (Traditional Neighborhood). However, it exempts Park Service, which would remain B2, recognizing that business as “an important neighborhood asset.”
Previous phases of the Como 2030 Plan identified two areas as having high potential for redevelopment: the Luther Seminary property that fronts Como near Eustis Street, and the St. Anthony Park United Methodist Church parking lot on Como between Commonwealth and Hillside avenues. Both of those areas are recommended for rezoning.
At the June 3 public meeting, several suggestions were made for additions to the Como 2030 Plan, including anticipating the effects of a proposal by the city of Minneapolis to route its completion of the Grand Round along a route near St. Anthony Park. Another suggestion was to consider the utility of a circulator bus along Como to move people to the commercial core from outlying parking sites.
Residents also voiced several concerns, including the effects of higher density on pedestrian safety, and the potential loss of the neighborhood’s “open feeling.”
The next step for the task force is to present its plan to the St. Anthony Park District Council. Once approved there, it will go to the St. Paul City Council and will eventually be included as part of the city’s comprehensive plan.