More senior housing a goal of rezoning

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The St. Paul City Council will soon be asked to consider a small-area plan that would change zoning along Como Avenue in St. Anthony Park to encourage more retail and multifamily housing, while keeping growth manageable in terms of traffic, parking and neighborhood character.

Task force leader Jon Schumacher said the vision is for modest residential growth of 10 to 15 percent, plus a few more retail options, adding up to “an area where you can kind of get everything” within easy distance of more varied housing options.

The proposal is a result of several years of surveys, meetings and design workshops, including sessions in which neighbors were invited to redesign three specific properties along the stretch and then see the economic viability of their proposals analyzed by computers.

The areas that would be affected are within 150 feet of Como Avenue between Highway 280 and the University of Minnesota Transitway, plus the Milton Square parking lot.

The plan makes liberal use of St. Paul’s recently adopted “traditional neighborhood” zones, which allows for more flexibility in mixing business and residential uses than the old zones did. Even so, the proposed zones are something of a patchwork.

“We tried to be very careful to ensure that we did not create any nonconforming uses at existing properties,” task force member Roger Purdy noted. “The goal is to create different possibilities if and when a property is sold.”

For example, the plan keeps the parcel where Park Service is located as a B2 Community Business area, which allows a service station, but the rest of the business area between Luther Place and Commonwealth Avenue would be rezoned from a B2 to a TN2 Traditional Neighborhood.

That would allow more mixed-use developments such as buildings with commercial space on the main floor and housing above it.

Task force member Steve Townley, whose real estate office at 2190 Como Avenue is one of the properties that could be affected by the changes, said the building he  owns could be combined with the one next door, making it possible to develop something new.

Townley said “a cohesive zoning plan” will help draw businesses along Como together. “It’s going to cause a little bit more uniformity-with character,” he said. “There’s still a lot of opportunity for creativity.” And it will be attractive to developers looking for opportunities, Townley said. “Now there’s something that somebody could look at and say, ‘Here are some possibilities.'”

The St. Anthony Park Community Foundation commissioned the study and paid for the design consultants.

Schumacher, the foundation’s executive director, said the city’s trend toward centralizing services means St. Anthony Park needs to maintain its population numbers in order to retain schools, libraries, parks and other services within walking distance.

The 2000 census showed a declining population in the previous decade, as duplexes were converted to single-family homes and children grew up and moved away.

St. Paul city planner Allan Torstenson, who lives in the neighborhood and served on the task force, said the 2010 census information isn’t available yet, but he doesn’t expect significant changes in those trends.

Meanwhile, empty-nesters can’t find suitable homes in the neighborhood, Schumacher said.

“There are neighbors who want to find smaller places to live,” Schumacher said. “Those people are taking their time, their talent and their buying power to other communities.”

The plan calls for increased housing options for seniors within walking distance of the neighborhood’s “downtown.” That could mean some sites may see taller buildings.

The zoning changes would allow that along parts of Como Avenue. The plan suggests that the city consider allowing mixed-use development proposals that exceed three stories if they met the core goals listed in the Como 2030 plan.

The likeliest short-term result will be opening up some of the Luther Seminary property at Eustis Street and Como Avenue to allow a mix of commercial and higher density residential uses, Schumacher said. The St. Anthony Park United Methodist Church parking lot at Hillside and Como has also been central to the discussion, he said, as a possible site for development.

To find out more about the plan, you can download the document, “An Addendum to the St. Paul Comprehensive Plan,” at www.stpaul.gov/Documentview.aspx?DID=14746.

Affected property owners will be notified of a City Council hearing in the coming months, Torstenson said.

Hearing notices will also be published in the Bugle and other local newspapers.

Townley expressed confidence that Como 2030 will enhance the neighborhood while remaining “sensitive” to concerns about too much growth.

“The long-term goal is managing the inevitable change that will occur in St. Anthony Park,” he said.