A Grand Avenue property owner is one step closer to having a mid-block building with homes on either side rezoned for his footwear and apparel retail store. The Saint Paul Planning Commission on March 17 recommended rezoning 1416 Grand Ave. from office-service to traditional neighborhoods 2 use. That recommendation will go to the City Council for a final public hearing and vote.
The Macalester-Groveland Community Council’s Housing and Land Use Committee recommended against the change, citing concerns about illegal spot zoning. The district council would like business owner Rob Yang to locate his Phenom Global shop elsewhere on Grand, citing the number of empty storefronts available.
City staff say rezoning is “atypical,” but so is Grand
However, city staff recommended approval of the rezoning, saying it is consistent with the way Grand has developed. Planning Commission members agreed, saying that while they understand the neighborhood concerns, they do not see the request as being illegal spot zoning.
“It is clear that mid-block commercial is atypical in a citywide context, but Grand Avenue is an atypical street, and the current building is part of the character of the neighborhood,” the staff report stated. “TN2 would allow development at a scale allowed by the adjacent (low-density residential) district also fronting Grand Avenue on this block.”
Yang said he should be able to open a retail business in the one-story building, which has housed a variety of office and service businesses in recent years, including a hair salon. He grew up in Saint Paul and has been trying to open a store at 1416 Grand since 2021.
Owner doesn’t anticipate parking problems
He noted that many customers for his Lucky 888 LLC business will be purchasing items online and that he does not anticipate creating parking problems. The building has no off-street parking.
Four residential neighbors and one business sent letters in opposition to the rezoning request, and one neighbor spoke. Neighbors said Yang has renovated the building and advertised the location online before getting the zoning change, and has had crews and materials placed on adjacent properties without owners’ consent.
They said that not only will a zoning change bring in a use that is incompatible with the rest of the block, the change to TN zoning allows the possibility of the building being demolished and replaced with a much larger mixed-use structure that would generate more parking demand. Under recently changed city regulations, none of those uses have to supply any off-street parking.
Neighbor says rezoning will have negative impact
Caleb Johnson, who lives adjacent to 1416 Grand, said a change in zoning and use of the building will have an immediate, negative impact on the neighborhood. He noted that city and neighborhood plans call for retail at corners and so-called neighborhood nodes, not mid-block. The property at 1416 Grand is reportedly one of only five commercial lots on the avenue with residential-zoned properties on both sides and not at an intersection/node.
“None of the four other properties are general retail use,” Johnson said. He added that rezoning the property would set a precedent for the other lots on Grand and for similar properties throughout the city.
— Jane McClure
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