Saying no to (some) development near Central Corridor in St. Paul

Local community councils scored a win with the St. Paul City Council’s October 12 decision to veto St. Paul Port Authority plans for a single-story warehouse/office development just a few blocks from the Central Corridor. The Union Park District Council had appealed earlier approval of the plan by city staff and the planning commission, over opposition by Union Park District Council, St. Anthony Park Community Council, and the Desnoyer Park Improvement Association. The St. Paul Chamber of Commerce denounced the city council decision.

For more background on the dispute, see ST. PAUL NOTES | How many jobs and how many cars in new St. Paul development?

Now that the initial plan for a single-story office/warehouse building surrounded by parking lots has been vetoed, what’s next?

Jon Schumacher, executive director of the Saint Anthony Park Community Foundation, wrote in the SAP Connect blog:

I hope a couple things: one, that the Port can find a better fit and relatively soon and two, that potential developers understand that this is not a NIMBY issue but simply the wrong design for a site that will be a gateway from a nearby residential neighborhood to light rail. … It will be very important now for neighbors to work closely together to ensure that site doesn’t sit vacant for long.

The district councils and other community residents have been pushing for development consistent with previously approved plans and standards, listed on the Union Park District Council appeal as “the Raymond Station Area Plan, Central Corridor Development Strategy, Merriam Park Master Plan, St Anthony Park Community Plan, Mississippi River Corridor Plan, and by the preliminary guidelines set forth by the West Midway Task Force.”

Geoffrey Warner, an architect with offices on Raymond Avenue, is a member of the task force of the Creative Enterprise Zone, which is trying to promote activities and industry based on creative endeavors in the area. Warner says the warehouse plans “raised some eyebrows,” particularly since no tenants were lined up and “it was completely on spec.”

While he attended some of the community meetings about the site, he found fault with the process, noting that meetings for community input were scheduled with as little as a single day’s notice. Even so:

The land use committee in St. Anthony Park couldn’t have been clearer that they though that there were a number of fatal flaws with the site plan that was presented, mainly being that it is a big, huge square in the middle of the site with a sea of parking around it, which doesn’t follow the comprehensive plan.

St. Paul City Councilmember Russ Stark said his objection was not to the proposed use as an office/warehouse, but to the site design:

As such while the proposed use was appropriate, the site plan with the building set back behind parking from both Pelham and Wabash was inconsistent with the Central Corridor Development Strategy, which says that the area within 1/4 mile of the LRT stations should be designed for pedestrian movements to the station.  I was concerned that this site plan would diminish the potential for higher density transit-oriented development across Wabash.  Further, nearly all of the older industrial buildings in the vicinity are built out to the streets that they abut without a setback.  So on both counts, consistency with other existing buildings and consistency with the City’s Comprehensive Plan, the setback from the street behind parking does not pass muster.

The St. Paul Chamber of Commerce sent out a press release criticizing the city council decision and asking its members to contact the City Council:

The Chamber is disappointed that development in an industrial region of Saint Paul, has been turned away. A diverse commercial property tax base is critical to the economic success of Saint Paul. The recent decision by the Council bodes poorly not only for future tax increases on residents, but on the unemployed Saint Paul residents looking for work.

At a time when our City is struggling to cope with the loss of local government aid from the State it is difficult to fathom this decision to turn away private investment, tax base growth and jobs. Please contact your City Council members and remind them that job creation remains a priority for Saint Paul.

Warner called the Chamber response “laughable” and  “reactionary,” saying that there “win-win situations that could take place,” with planning that includes “a bigger conversation among a lot of people.”

 

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.

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