Second apartment also planned at Lexington and Randolph

By Jane McClure

A proposed rezoning of the southeast corner of James Avenue and Lexington Parkway from single-family residential to multifamily residential to make way for a new 60-unit apartment building will be reviewed by the St. Paul Planning Commission on June 26. The rezoning of 1074-1096 James Ave. has the unanimous support of the commission’s Zoning Committee. A final decision rests in the hands of the St. Paul City Council.

Developers Chet Funk, Nathan James and Erich Leidel met on June 10 with the Macalester-Groveland Community Council Housing and Land Use Committee. The committee is expected to make a recommendation on the rezoning on June 24 following a second virtual meeting with the developers. (For a link to the Zoom meeting, email mgcc@macgrovel.org.)

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Preliminary plans unveiled at the June 10 meeting show three to four levels of apartments above two levels of parking. The building would have 60 studio, one- and two-bedroom units. Eighty off-street parking spaces are proposed with 20 in a surface lot and 60 within the structure. According to the development team, a study has shown that market-rate apartments are in strong demand in the area. Six houses would be removed to make way for the building.

A preliminary sketch of the 60-unit apartment building planned for the southeast corner of Lexington Parkway and James Avenue, on the site of six single-family homes.

A second phase of the project is also being planned. It includes a second apartment building on the northeast corner of Lexington and Randolph Avenue. That building would mean the removal of four dwellings, including a mixed-use building. Funk said the development team controls the James property. There is another owner to work with on the Randolph property.

The two projects are in anticipation of changes to the city’s residential multifamily (RM) zoning districts. The St. Paul Planning Commission is considering provisions to allow more density in RM districts. A public hearing on the RM zoning changes was held this spring. They are expected to be brought back to the Planning Commission later this summer and then sent on to the City Council for final approval. Those changes could influence how many apartments are built at the James-Lexington site. Construction is expected to begin in 2021.

At both the district council and Zoning Committee meeting, there were calls for the project to have some level of affordable housing. However, the Zoning Committee’s focus was on the rezoning itself and not the development plans, as those could change. Whether the property falls under the old or new RM zoning standards depends upon when the city’s site plan review gets underway, according to principal city planner Bill Dermody. Site plan reviews are typically handled by city staff, but in this case the Zoning Committee asked that it conduct the site plan review.

Another concern is how icy James Avenue can get in winter on the block being eyed for development. “Most of us cannot even drive up James on a snow day,” said neighbor Laura LeBlanc.

Four neighbors raised objections to the developers’ plans at James and Lexington. One major issue is traffic. Backups are a regular occurrence on Lexington and Randolph, which is near the entrance and exit ramps to I-35E, and neighbors are worried that they could become worse. Motorists can use eastbound James Avenue to get to I-35E, and some do to avoid the traffic backups.

Another concern is how icy James Avenue can get in winter on the block being eyed for development. “Most of us cannot even drive up James on a snow day,” said neighbor Laura LeBlanc. Neighbors asked about the possibility of making James a one-way street. The developers said they would consider the idea.

Another neighborhood concern is parking congestion. Local streets are already used as parking by employees at the Trader Joe’s market at Randolph  and Lexington.

“Parking is one of the biggest challenges and we’re very sensitive to it,” Funk said. The developers plan to accommodate their parking needs on their property.

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