The Saint Paul Planning Commission launched a study on August 6 that will assess how much industrial land has been lost to other uses in the city in recent years and look at ways to preserve the jobs and property tax base that industrially zoned land provides. The goal is to have a recommendation to the City Council in 2022.

Several factors are driving the study, said senior city planner Mike Richardson. One is a section in the city’s 2040 comprehensive plan calling for protecting current industrially zoned land from conversion to residential or institutional uses. Another is the growth of charter schools that have opened at industrial sites.

In early 2013, the City Council adopted several technical amendments to industrial zoning. They included changes to the separation requirements between more intensive industrial uses and residential and mixed-use properties. The Planning Commission had considered removing uses like churches and schools from industrial districts, before dropping the idea due to protests from some institutions.

The need for another study came up in 2018 with the debate over a developer’s proposal to turn the former Superior meat packing plant at 2103 Wabash St. into housing.

The city’s most recent study of industrial zoning wrapped up in 2014. It included a West Midway plan to foster redevelopment of industrial properties in an area bounded by Snelling Avenue, I-94, and the west and north city limits. The study coincided with the opening of the light-rail Green Line that same year.

The need for another study came up in 2018 with the debate over a developer’s proposal to turn the former Superior meat packing plant at 2103 Wabash St. into housing. That project sparked a high-profile confrontation between the developer and Planning Commission members who wanted to see industrial land preserved.

The Saint Paul Port Authority and Midway Chamber of Commerce supported the rezoning request for the project, citing the building’s age and condition. The City Council approved rezoning the site from industrial to traditional neighborhoods use, but the project never moved forward.

 

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Factors to be looked at in the newly launched study include how the industrial market has changed in Saint Paul since 2000 and how much land devoted to industrial use is no longer used for that purpose. That is likely to include everything from charter schools to brew pubs to self-storage facilities that have opened on industrial properties.

As it progresses, information on the industrial zoning study will be posted at tinyurl.com/yxv7wpyc.

— Jane McClure

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