Variances for a proposed “luxury” laundromat at 1647 University Ave. were rejected on January 24 by the Saint Paul Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) because of the property’s zoning, which calls for developments that are more compatible with mass transit and walking.

Woodbury-based Linn Diversified Properties wants to tear down a longtime restaurant building and replace it with Tumble Fresh, one of a chain of laundromats in the Twin Cities. The current tenant at 1647 University is J.J. Fish & Chicken, but the building was a Burger King for many years.


1647 university laundromat
The site plan for the proposed Tumble Fresh laundromat on the northwest corner of University Avenue and Fry Street.

BZA member Diane Trout-Oertel said she appreciates that the laundromat could be a local amenity, but she and other members said the business would not promote transit use nor a walkable neighborhood, which is what city land use plans and the Traditional Neighborhoods 3 zoning call for. Most of University Avenue was rezoned for that purpose about a decade ago to encourage higher-density development along the light-rail Green Line.

The site plan for the laundromat at 1647 University project had been approved by city staff before it was determined that two zoning variances were needed. Staff recommended denying the variances.

Too much parking, too little density

The variances were for floor area ratio and parking. Floor area ratio is the building’s total floor area divided by the size of the lot on which it is built. A floor area ratio of 0.213 is proposed; a minimum of 0.5 is required. The developer also sought 103.5 feet of parking lot frontage along University; the maximum allowable parking lot frontage is 60 feet.

The laundromat was designed to give the appearance of a taller, two-story building, according to Brady Busselman, a civil engineer with Sambatek, the engineering and planning firm working on the project. The building would be placed at the corner of University and Fry Street. The parking lot to its west would be fenced and landscaped. Grade changes make it difficult to put the parking lot on the alley side of the building, Busselman said.


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At 4,770 square feet, the proposed building would be more than double the size of the one-story, 2,286-square-foot building it would replace, according to Busselman. To meet the minimum floor area ratio would require a building with 11,000 square feet of floor area, which in a single story would not allow room for parking, sidewalks, landscaping and stormwater management, he said. 

“We do feel that this is a fit under the city’s comprehensive plan,” Busselman said. A laundromat is allowed under the property’s zoning, he added.

— Jane McClure


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