232 affordable housing units are already in the works.

Variances for three projects at the northwest corner of the Highland Bridge development were approved by the Saint Paul Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) on August 9 despite ongoing concerns about the large number of affordable housing units in that area and the density of the developments.

The three projects are in a block bounded by Ford Parkway, Mount Curve Boulevard, Hillcrest Avenue and the new Gateway Park. They include a two-story medical office building at 2270 Ford Pkwy., a five-story Emma Norton Services building with 60 units of affordable housing at 801 Mount Curve Blvd., and Project for Pride in Living’s (PPL’s) five-story Nellie Francis Court building with 75 units of affordable housing at 2285 Hillcrest Ave.

The city’s master plan for redeveloping Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant requires that 20 percent of the housing units be affordable, according to Sarah Zorn, principal project manager for the Saint Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED). Of Highland Bridge’s roughly 3,800 new homes, about 380 will be affordable to households making 30 percent of the Twin Cities area median income (AMI), 190 will be affordable to households making 50 percent of AMI, and 193 units will be affordable to households making 60 percent AMI. The Twin Cities AMI is $73,430 for an individual and $104,900 for a family of four.

Highland Bridge
The footprints of the proposed five-story Nellie Francis Court and Emma Norton Services buildings at Highland Bridge on the northwest corner of Hillcrest Avenue and Mount Curve Boulevard.

Other affordable housing projects planned for Highland Bridge include CommonBond Communities’ 60-unit senior housing project at Cretin and Bohland avenues and six rowhouse units being built by Habitat for Humanity. Another 31 affordable homes will be scattered throughout the site in market-rate buildings.

“This is a really rare opportunity to provide affordable housing,” Zorn said.

The city’s plan is to use tax increment financing (TIF) generated by the market-rate housing and commercial buildings at Highland Bridge to help pay for the affordable housing. According to Zorn, any TIF revenue not needed at Highland Bridge can be used to help build affordable housing elsewhere in Saint Paul.

Variances approved for the three projects

The BZA on August 9 granted several variances for the three projects at Highland Bridge. The BZA approved a floor area ratio (FAR) of 3.45 for the Emma Norton building. FAR refers to the usable floor area of a building divided by the building’s footprint. The maximum FAR without a
variance is 3.0.

 

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The Emma Norton building was also approved for a lot coverage of 77.9 percent where 70 percent is the maximum. A third variance was granted for exceeding the maximum number of people who can live in a supportive housing facility like Emma Norton’s. Up to 16 people are normally allowed under the site’s mixed-use zoning, and the building will have a capacity of 64 residents.

The PPL building was granted five variances. The first was for a FAR of 3.04, or slightly more than the maximum. Also approved was a variance for PPL’s open space lot coverage of 22.1 percent—or 2.9 percent lower than the minimum open space lot coverage of 25 percent. PPL was granted a third variance to allow a building height of 60 feet 9 inches in the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area where building heights are normally limited to 48 feet.

PPL also received a variance to the minimum off-street parking requirement of 0.75 space per dwelling. With a total of 75 units, a minimum of 56 off-street parking spaces were required, and 38 parking spaces will be provided.

The fifth variance was a waiver to the requirement that larger developments at Highland Bridge provide car-sharing vehicles. Ryan Companies, the master developer for the 122-acre Highland Bridge, is planning to have a car-sharing hub or hubs on the site serving many developments.

The 62,500-square-foot medical office building received three variances. One was for a FAR of 0.94, or less than the minimum allowable FAR of 1.0. The building will have 266 underground parking spaces and 16 surface spaces. Its car-sharing requirement was waived. The third variance was for exceeding the maximum setback of 10 feet. Portions of the building will be set back between 10.7 and 64.6 feet from Gateway Park.

— Jane McClure

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