The developer of a proposed five-story apartment building at 1708-16 Selby Ave. can move forward with the Saint Paul City Council’s approval of a rezoning request on December 15.

Jon Schwartzman wants to tear down a commercial building and two single-family homes near the southwest corner of Selby and Aldine Street and replace them with Selby Flats, a building with 36 to 38 mostly studio and one-bedroom apartments. The Hopkins-based developer constructed a five-story apartment building several years ago at Marshall Avenue and Moore Street and is now at work on two apartment buildings at Marshall and Finn Street.

About three dozen neighbors signed a petition and sent letters in opposition to the project, as did five small-business owners on Selby. The neighbors are unhappy with what they see as a closed process with little opportunity for their input. Saint Paul no longer requires a petition with the signatures of nearby property owners in the case of a rezoning request.
 
According to Louise Jacobs, who lives on Hague Avenue directly behind the rezoned property, the proposed building will be the only five-story structure between Fairview and Snelling avenues and does not fit the neighborhood. “Increasing the density of housing can be done in a manner which is consistent with the character of a neighborhood,” Jacobs stated in a letter to city officials. “Character matters. It says so in the city’s policies and plans.”
 
 
1708 Selby
The commercial building at 1708 Selby Ave. (left) and the two single-family homes to its west would be torn down to make way for a five-story apartment building under developer Jon Schwartzman's plan. Photo by John Wadell

“Please make Selby Flats flatter,” said Hague Avenue resident Steve Lebeau. He asked the council to consider a three-story building instead. “From my front door, the new building would block the sky,” Lebeau said. “It’s too big for our neighborhood.”

“All of the homes in the area are either two or 1-1/2 stories,” said Marlene Toman, who lives on Hague. “There are also two-story fourplex apartment buildings. The idea of putting a five-story apartment building in the middle of a narrow block with no alley is shocking. That will be more than twice the height of all surrounding buildings.”

City Council votes 6-1 to approve

The City Council vote on the rezoning was 6-1 with Ward 7’s Jane Prince in opposition. Prince said the development is out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood. She also cited neighborhood concerns about parking congestion, increased traffic and additional college student housing.

City Council member Mitra Jalali, whose Ward 4 includes the Selby address, spoke in favor of the housing project. She cited its proximity to mass transit and the Snelling-Selby business district as among its pluses.

The developer only needed the rezoning of the one-story commercial building at 1708 Selby to proceed. The single-family houses at 1712 and 1716 Selby had already been rezoned for medium-density multi-family housing several years ago.

 

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The Saint Paul Planning Commission recommended approval of the rezoning in November. The Union Park District Council (UPDC) executive committee had a split vote on the rezoning and took no position. The UPDC land use committee supported the project, but its members asked Schwartzman to include more affordable apartments.

Schwartzman wants to make three or four of his units affordable to households making 60 percent of the Twin Cities area median income, or about $44,100 per year for a single person. He told the UPDC land use committee that the building will not be specifically marketed to students, but could house young professionals.

Under new city parking regulations, Schwartzman could build without off-street parking, but he plans to provide 17 to 19 enclosed parking spaces on the ground floor.

— Jane McClure

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