A longtime Selby Avenue commercial building and two adjacent houses would be torn down to make way for a five-story apartment building if a requested zoning change is approved by the Saint Paul City Council.
 
The Saint Paul Planning Commission’s Zoning Committee recommended approval of the rezoning at 1708 Selby Ave. from community business to medium-density multifamily use (RM2) despite the objections of several neighbors. That recommendation will be reviewed by the full Planning Commission on November 12.
1708 Selby
Developer Jon Schwartzman would like to build a five-story apartment building on the site of a commercial building (left) and two single-family homes at 1708-1716 Selby Ave. The houses are already zoned for medium-density multifamily housing, but the commercial building would need to be rezoned.
 
Five neighbors spoke against the proposal on November 4, and 35 more signed a petition opposing the project. They contend that the five-story building will tower over the homes on Hague Avenue to the south. The block has no alley, which puts the planned Selby development even closer to the homes.
 
“This building will block the view of the sky from my front porch,” said Hague Avenue resident Steve LeBeau.
 
Hague Avenue resident Paul Toman said the maximum building height in the area is two stories. He and other neighbors questioned the lack of a site plan and building drawings. Neighbors also criticized what they see as a lack of notice and time to discuss the project with the developer.
 

More detailed plans are pending

Hopkins-based developer Jon Schwartzman requested the rezoning. He has been involved in other housing projects in Macalester-Groveland and Merriam Park, including the five-story building on Marshall Avenue and Moore Street.
 
Schwartzman said he wants to get the rezoning approved before working on more detailed plans.
 
The Union Park District Council’s land use committee had voted in support of the rezoning in October. However, the UPDC’s executive committee had a split vote and did not make a recommendation.
 
As a condition of its support, the UPDC land use committee asked that the developer return with detailed building plans as well as plans to have some affordable units in what will otherwise be market-rate rental housing. About 40 studio, one- and two-bedroom units are tentatively planned.

Two single-family homes are already zoned for multifamily housing

The single-family homes at 1712 and 1716 Selby that Schwartzman would tear down are already zoned RM2. The one-story commercial building at 1708 Selby sold this fall for $225,000. It currently has a woodworking shop, but has housed other businesses over the years, including a repair shop and a lawn care and landscaping business.
 
Schwartzman’s plan is to combine the three lots. If the rezoning of 1708 Selby is not approved, he said he will demolish the two houses, construct a smaller apartment building and level 1708 to make way for surface parking.
 
Union Park committee members and local residents at their meeting had mixed feelings about the proposed five-story building. Ben Quam said redevelopment and greater density should be encouraged on Selby between Snelling and Fairview avenues. Charlotte Berres disagreed, saying she does not see a need for such tall buildings beyond Snelling’s intersections with Marshall and Selby avenues.

Ten percent of apartments would be affordable housing

Last year the Planning Commission and City Council approved sweeping changes to multifamily zoning to allow taller buildings on lots zoned for that use as one means of addressing the city’s housing shortage. The commission and council also pushed for requirements for developers to provide more affordable units in exchange for the chance to redevelop sites. According to UPDC committee member Roger Meyer, there are other single-family houses on Selby that are being eyed by developers for new multifamily housing.
 
Schwartzman said he plans to make about 10 percent of the units in the Selby building affordable to households making 60 percent of the Twin Cities area median income, or about $62,940 for a family of four. UPDC committee members asked Schwartzman to strive for deeper affordability if the rezoning is approved.
Schwartzman does not plan to seek any variances for his building. The structure would have approximately 17 parking spaces on the ground floor but no underground parking, he said. Though off-street parking is no longer required by the city for a project of this type, Schwartzman believes it is important to offer some parking to make the apartments more attractive to tenants.

— Jane McClure

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