Up to six unrelated adults and the minor children in their care would be allowed to live in a single dwelling if the Saint Paul City Council adopts a recommended change to the definition of “family” in the city’s zoning code. The Planning Commission recommended the change on January 8. The City Council will hold a public hearing on the issue on March 3.

The city currently limits dwellings to house up to four unrelated adults. Some opponents to the change are concerned that increasing that number to six will lead to more college students living in off-campus rental housing units. Many of those rental properties are a source of disruptive behavior and parking congestion in the neighborhoods, they say, and increasing their capacity will only make matters worse.

The West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee, which reviews issues around the University of Saint Thomas, voted 6-2 on February 9 to oppose the change that would allow more students to live in a single dwelling unit. While committee members generally support the goals of changing the definition of family, there were questions about what that means for student rentals.

One issue committee members raised is that of safety. Some student rentals are in poor condition, and adding more residents could make conditions worse. Some committee members also cited fires that have occurred in student housing, including one that proved fatal a few years ago.

A second issue members raised is the need to study the current student housing zoning overlay district around Saint Thomas, and make changes to student rental regulations at the same time.

The Macalester-Groveland Community Council is expected to discuss the matter this week.

Some Planning Commission members oppose the student overlay district and want to review its effectiveness. “I just don’t like it,” said commissioner Bill Lindeke, who called the district a “weird status” and “discriminatory.”

The increase to six unrelated adults in a dwelling was included in an amendment added at the last minute by the Planning Commission. The change would affect the zoning overlay district that was established in 2012 around Saint Thomas. The zoning district limits the number of single-family homes and duplexes that may be rented to college students in parts of the Macalester-Groveland and Merriam Park neighborhoods. It sets minimum distance requirements between those rental properties, and requires landlords to register their dwellings with the city.

Some Planning Commission members oppose the student overlay district and want to review its effectiveness. “I just don’t like it,” said commissioner Bill Lindeke, who called the district a “weird status” and “discriminatory.” He initially asked that the overlay district and its student occupancy limit be studied later, but then changed course and proposed that the maximum of six unrelated adults be made part of the proposed ordinance.

The change to the definition of family and dwelling occupancy would take effect citywide if it is adopted by the City Council. It would remove the issue of relatedness and replace the notion of a family with that of a household. A dwelling could have any number of occupants ages 17 or younger, regardless of their relation.

A dwelling would be defined as “a building or part thereof that provides complete living facilities, including bathroom and kitchen facilities, for the exclusive and unhindered use of one household.”

The City Council called for a study of the zoning code definition of family in 2018. The study began last fall, and the comment period was expanded following a Planning Commission public hearing in November.

The comments received represent a wide range of opinions. Some people said the current zoning code is outdated and needs changing. However, others said they are already concerned about overcrowded houses in their neighborhoods where multigenerational families live. Concerns were also raised about overcrowded student housing. Some citizens asked for rental or landlord licensing, but that measure has been rejected by city officials in the past.

For more information on the ordinance change, visit tinyurl.com/4b99r83u.

— Jane McClure

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