A planned apartment complex on Lexington Parkway between Interstate 94 and University Avenue has been both rejected and approved by various levels of city government.
Opponents say the developer, Minneapolis-based Alatus, isn't including enough units that people from the area could afford. Some nearby district councils and residents have said the $57 million, 288-unit project is "luxury" housing that would speed gentrification and displacement of low-income residents and increase property taxes.
It's shortsighted criticism, and Mayor Melvin Carter deserves credit for backing the project along the Green Line light-rail corridor. Redeveloping what has long been an empty lot with market-rate housing would generally be good for the community and the city. And Lexington Station would be fully financed by Alatus; no city funding is involved. This is the kind of housing development light-rail proponents have touted as a benefit of the commuter lines.
Yet the project's opponents are well-intentioned. Some of their concerns are understandably rooted in the neighborhood's history and the economic opportunities that were stripped from the Rondo area when I-94 was built. But there are still advantages for the community and the city to have mixed-income rental housing at the site.
Alatus has said 124 of its 288 units would be affordable to renters making 60% of area median income, and another 20 units would be affordable to those making 50% of area median income. The rest would be rented at market rate.
In a recent St. Paul Pioneer Press commentary, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce leaders B Kyle and Channon Lemon voiced support. They argued that the city should approve the Alatus project because it meets — and exceeds — current zoning requirements.
But they recognized that it is complicated to balance current zoning rules with housing policies in areas struggling with growth and historical inequality. And they rightly suggested that Alatus continue working with the community on economic advancement opportunities within the project. (Full disclosure: Lemon serves on Star Tribune Media Co.'s board of directors.)
After city staff recommended the project earlier this year, the Planning Commission rejected it in an 8-7 vote. Then, in early April, the council voted 4-3 to reject it, but Carter wisely vetoed that decision. Last week, the council voted to seek a nonbinding opinion on the veto from the Minnesota attorney general.
Carter told an editorial writer that he is "confident" about his authority to veto the council's action. And, as a proud "son of Rondo,'' he said he understands the concerns raised by opponents.
"I want to be clear, we need more affordable housing," Carter said. "St. Paul has grown from 284,000 to over 315,000 since 2010 with more growth in front of us. So we need more of every kind of housing."
Carter pointed out that the administration is involved in helping families find programs that make rent more affordable. Keeping property values depressed is self-defeating, he said, adding that the healthy way to keep taxes affordable is through development that spreads out the tax burden.
That's the right approach. The area already has a number of affordable and deeply affordable newer developments. Lexington Station would bring more mixed-income housing to the neighborhood, benefiting the city's economy and growing its tax base.