Recommends changes to residential multifamily zoning

By Jane McClure

The Saint Paul Planning Commission voted on July 24 to recommend approval of rezoning 1074-1096 James Ave. from single-family residential to multifamily residential. The final decision on that request will be made by the City Council.

The commission also voted unanimously to recommend changes to the city’s residential multifamily (RM) zoning to allow more density in new developments. One key change allows developers to add more units if some of them are made affordable. The changes to RM zoning will go to the City Council for a public hearing on August 26.

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A preliminary sketch of the proposed 60-unit apartment building planned for the southeast corner of James Avenue and Lexington Parkway.

The citywide changes directly affect the future redevelopment of the block on the southeast corner of James Avenue and Lexington Parkway. Developers Chet Funk, Nathan James and Erich Leidel have proposed as many as 60 apartments in a new building there, but were waiting for the RM zoning changes to be adopted before moving ahead with plans for the site. Preliminary plans showed three to four levels of apartments above two levels of parking. Six houses would be removed to make way for the new building.

The commission has asked that it be able to conduct a public hearing on the site plan for the James project. That could address concerns raised by neighbors regarding increased traffic and parking demand caused by the proposed development.

The developers also have discussed plans to construct a second apartment building on the northeast corner of Lexington and Randolph Avenue in partnership with another property owner. That building would mean the removal of four dwellings.

Comments on the RM zoning changes will be accepted through noon on the day preceding the August 26 hearing. The COVID-19 pandemic does not allow for the public to attend hearings at City Hall. Instead, comments will be taken by emailing council@ci.stpaul.mn.us or leaving a message at 651-266-6805.

The citywide RM zoning changes have been discussed for several months. Principal city planner Bill Dermody led the RM zoning study. Generally, the changes are meant to encourage developers to add greater density in projects on RM-zoned site. It also will affect properties when their zoning is changed to RM categories.

Additional changes to the RM zoning category were made after a Planning Commission public hearing, Dermody said. The changes are in response to concerns raised over the need for more residential developments in the city to provide affordable housing.

Commissioner Cedric Baker called the proposed RM zoning “very bold” in its advancement of affordable housing. Other commissioners said that the city should continue to promote such construction.

One change would allow developers to build at a greater density by allowing higher floor-area ratios if they provide affordable housing units as part of the project. The ratio is based on the total usable floor area of the building and the total area of the lot.

The zoning changes would allow building heights of up to 40 feet for RM1 (low-density) districts and 50 feet for RM2 (medium-density) districts. City staff had recommended lower heights for narrow, mid-block infill buildings, but the commission asked that the higher heights be implemented.

Another change involves the maximum height allowed with a conditional use permit in RM2. A 70-foot height was proposed, while the changes going to the City Council call for a maximum height of 75 feet.

In addition, rear-yard setbacks would be reduced to nine feet on RM2 and RM3 (high-rise) lots, while side-yard setbacks would be reduced to six feet on narrow lots in RM1 and RM2 districts when buildings are 35 feet or shorter.

Commissioner Cedric Baker called the proposed RM zoning “very bold” in its advancement of affordable housing. Other commissioners said that the city should continue to promote such construction.

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