Development will transform St. Paul corner but raises traffic fears.
After years of being largely overlooked, the corner of Snelling and Selby in St. Paul is getting a long-overdue overhaul.
Once the kind of unpretentious place where Charlie Brown might feel at home, the corner is on the verge of a makeover so ambitious that the late Charles Schulz, the “Peanuts” cartoonist who grew up there, might not recognize it.
A two-stage housing and commercial development by Ryan Cos., along with Metro Transit’s $25 million plan for Snelling Avenue, promise to revitalize the largely underdeveloped corner with new market-rate apartments, an upscale grocery and the metro area’s first arterial rapid bus line.
The latter, to be called the “A Line,” will link Rosedale with light-rail stations at University Avenue and 46th Street in Minneapolis.
But the activity also has heightened concerns about congestion from Ayd Mill Road, the short bypass that routes traffic onto Selby Avenue from northbound Interstate 35E and several city neighborhoods.
It’s not unusual to find cars backed up on Selby for more than a block en route to Snelling Avenue and I-94.
“Most people are positive about the development itself, but worried that it will add traffic to an area that’s already burdened,” City Council Member Russ Stark said.
Another issue is off-street parking. Some worry that there won’t be enough to accommodate nearby businesses, while others say that a large parking lot planned for the Whole Foods grocery will only encourage more auto traffic.
Anne White, chairwoman of the land-use committee for the Union Park District Council, said many neighbors fear the area could become another Grand Avenue-style district. But she said many also look forward to building on an eclectic collection of shops, services and cafes that recently expanded to include the Cupcake bakery.
“It’s a very mixed bag,” she said, “and I think that’s what people love.”
Initial work on the Ryan Cos. development will begin in the next two weeks, when several structures at Snelling and Dayton avenues will be razed to make room for a new Associated Bank building.
Once that opens in late summer, the bank’s current home at Snelling and Selby will be demolished and work will begin on the Vintage on Selby — 208 market-rate apartments in a five-story building that includes Whole Foods, slated to open by the fall of 2015.
No subsidy for project
Tony Barranco, development vice president for Ryan, said St. Paul hasn’t seen similar apartment developments outside of downtown because of the lack of available land. Associated Bank’s decision to move opened up the corner, he said.
“There’s nothing like it over there,” Barranco said. “Great neighborhoods, very good activity. So it wasn’t hard for us to get excited about it.”
The project also is one of the few recent housing developments in St. Paul without a city subsidy, Stark said. “That says a lot about what developers see about the potential value in that area,” he said.
The St. Paul Planning Commission signed off on the project in December after Ryan tweaked it to add space for bikes and made off-street parking optional for residents. That wasn’t enough for Neighborhoods First, a community group that formed years ago hoping to turn Ayd Mill Road into green space.
“We are concerned about stormwater runoff associated with the site and would like to see more green roofs,” said Catherine Zimmer, an environmental health scientist who sits on the group’s steering committee. “We also would like to see them scale back the parking lot. … There are things that we like about [the project], but we’d like it done a lot better.”
A Line moving ahead
One reason less parking will be needed, Zimmer said, is the $25 million Snelling BRT project. The first of 12 arterial bus lines proposed for the metro area, the A Line moved closer to reality last month on two fronts: Gov. Mark Dayton included $10 million for it in his bonding recommendations, closing the project’s funding gap, and the Metropolitan Council contracted with Kimley-Horn & Associates for $1.9 million to design a uniform BRT station.
The Snelling Avenue route was chosen as the metro area’s first arterial BRT because of its popularity with riders, varied destinations and connections with the two light-rail lines, said Katie Roth, Metro Transit’s project manager for arterial BRT.
Unlike BRT used on freeways, arterial BRT is a city system that doesn’t use dedicated lanes. There are fewer and quicker stops than with regular buses, since tickets are bought in advance as with light rail.
The A Line will include 20 pairs of stations with 38 platforms, each with its own ticket machine, Roth said. One pair of stations will be located near Selby, perhaps at Dayton Avenue.
In the meantime, a community task force will look at ways to make the busy intersection safer for pedestrians, and the local business association will analyze the need for additional off-street parking.
As for Ayd Mill Road, movement on that issue may have to await the drafting of a new area plan in the next year. Neighborhoods First still wants the roadway turned into a linear park, or at the very least, a two-lane parkway or city street.
The only thing all sides agree on with respect to the road, White said, is that the status quo won’t do.
“We think it will be more productive to have it be part of that larger conversation, and that will help resolve differences of opinion,” she said.
Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035
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