As new housing options and a variety of transit oriented developments pop up throughout the Twin Cities, many communities are struggling to balance their desire for walkable neighborhoods and easy access to amenities with the increased density and population growth that usually comes as part of such development. A primary example of that back-and-forth struggle can be seen along Snelling Avenue in Saint Paul.
Snelling Avenue has long been a major arterial street in the Capitol city. Stretching from Rosedale Mall to the north, past the State Fairgrounds, Hamline University, and Macalester College, before ending in West 7th Street on the south, Snelling Avenue provides access to Interstate 94 and the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport as well as the University Avenue and Grand Avenue commercial districts. However, with the opening of Metro Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) A-Line, there has been significant conversation about whether the city should allow larger scale developments along the Snelling Avenue corridor.
In April 2017, the St. Paul Planning Commission released the Snelling Avenue South Zoning Study and began a public dialogue regarding potential rezoning of a number of properties along Snelling Avenue between Interstate 94 and Ford Parkway. Nearly two years in the making, the Zoning Study attracted significant attention and the input of individual residents as well as the Highland Park, Macalester/Groveland, and Union Park District Councils.
The Planning Commission held a public hearing on May 19, 2017 to solicit comments, and the combined Comprehensive and Neighborhood Planning Committees reviewed those comments at a meeting on June 13, 2017 before forwarding a revised rezoning proposal to the full Planning Commission on June 30.
The proposal would rezone a number of residential, commercial, and industrial properties to “Traditional neighborhoods” (TN) in an attempt to promote more dense mixed-use development along the transit corridor. The St. Paul City Code describes TN districts as being “intended to foster the development and growth of compact, pedestrian-oriented urban villages.” The TN districts are also “intended to encourage a compatible mix of commercial and residential uses within buildings, sites and blocks; new development in proximity to major transit streets and corridors; and additional choices in housing.”
However, those “pedestrian-oriented urban villages” are not without their detractors. Many of the comments received by the Planning Commission expressed concern as to the impact increased building height and density would have on nearby single family homes. Reduced parking access, increased vehicle traffic, shade and privacy concerns, and pedestrian safety were all cited as potential negative side-effects of the rezoning plan.
One of the major points of contention centers on building height, with particular concern from neighborhood groups focused on buildings of five or more stories. In response to those concerns, the Planning Commission has scaled back portions of the proposal, including the rezoning of properties near the intersection of Snelling and St. Clair Avenues. The city council is expected to take up the rezoning proposal sometime in August.