Dozens of St. Paul residents have told city planners they want more dense, affordable housing and see the 2040 comprehensive plan as the best way to make that happen.
But while the draft plan includes more than 100 policies on housing and land use — including the creation of 64 dense, walkable “neighborhood nodes” citywide — it doesn’t include more radical policies like upzoning or eliminating parking minimums, and likely won’t.
Minneapolis drew national attention last year when the City Council approved a long-term plan that allows multifamily housing across the city. As St. Paul planners prepare to put the final touches on their 2040 plan, they’re sorting through online and in-person comments from residents who say they want the same.
“Now people are telling us, ‘We want you to go farther, to be even bolder,’ which I think is pretty interesting,” said Principal City Planner Lucy Thompson. “We always like being told, ‘You’re on the right track — keep going.’ ”
The St. Paul and Minneapolis plans cover a lot of similar ground. But while Minneapolis’ plan prescribes specific zoning changes, the St. Paul plan is more measured, often framing policies as recommendations rather than hard-and-fast rules.
“It provides that framework and that vision and kind of where we’re headed without really getting too specific about exactly how we get there,” said Paul Sawyer, who lives in the Highwood Hills neighborhood and chairs his district council’s land use committee. “It’s not necessarily that St. Paul is saying a different thing than Minneapolis.”
Every 10 years, cities in the seven-county metro submit comprehensive plans to the Metropolitan Council detailing how they will grow and develop over time. The St. Paul plan includes chapters on housing, land use, transportation, parks, water resources, heritage preservation and the Mississippi River and tackles topics ranging from climate change to the city’s aging population.
As in Minneapolis, much of the resident discussion about the comprehensive plan has focused on housing. According to the plan, St. Paul’s housing stock is evenly split between single-family homes and other housing types, and the number of renters recently surpassed the number of homeowners for the first time in modern city history.
As in cities across the country, rents in St. Paul are rising faster than renters’ incomes. According to census data included in the plan, more than half of St. Paul renters are housing-cost burdened — meaning that more than 30 percent of their income goes toward housing costs.
St. Paul leaders say they are chipping away at what they describe as an affordable housing crisis, and the comprehensive plan includes policies on creating more affordable housing and preserving what exists.
One of those policies calls for expanding permitted housing types across most of the city “to include duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, small-scale multifamily and accessory dwelling units to allow for neighborhood-scale density increases, broadened housing choices and intergenerational living.”
Lexington-Hamline resident Sara Dovre Wudali said she supports adding small-scale affordable housing within neighborhoods, rather than towering, market-rate apartments like the ones cropping up at the intersection of Snelling and Selby avenues a mile from her home.
“It seems so many developments are just addressing young professionals,” she said. Having people of mixed incomes living side by side, she said, “would do a lot of good for our political climate.”
But some residents are wary of opening up their neighborhoods to more density. Several residents who submitted comments to the city mentioned concerns about crime, traffic, absentee landlords and the loss of neighborhood character.
A group called the Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association (SARPA) is worried about how zoning changes might affect their street and neighborhoods. Bob Morrison, a SARPA board member, said he appreciates that the plan includes policies on historic preservation but wants to make sure that city leaders adhere to them.
“My overall take of it is we need to be very vigilant, we need to see what sort of development is going on and we need to make sure the historic preservation groups are at least weighing in,” he said.
City planners will recommend changes to the draft plan based on comments they’ve received, then submit it to the Planning Commission for approval. The City Council is expected to hold a public hearing and approve the final plan in June; the deadline to submit it to the Met Council is June 30.
When it comes to residents’ proposals such as citywide upzoning and eliminating parking minimums, the city will likely study them separately, rather than incorporate them into the 2040 plan, said Thompson, the city planner.
Residents advocating for a more aggressive plan say they want to see changes sooner rather than later. Macalester-Groveland resident Mike Sonn said he’s concerned that if policies aren’t in the 2040 plan, there will be less pressure on city leaders to uphold them.
“I think it does create a situation where if they don’t meet those goals, there’s not accountability for it,” he said. “I feel like St. Paul is a city that needs its feet held to the fire.”