Selby Avenue in Saint Paul is known for the Cathedral Hill neighborhood, with its restaurants and mix of businesses, flats, and houses centered around Western Ave. Down the street west of Lexington, Selby is quieter, but it’s the backbone of the Lexington-Hamline neighborhood. Back in the streetcar days, this was an ideal suburban neighborhood, where a family could enjoy a comfortable home with a yard, while running daily errands on Selby. Today, Lexington-Hamline is still ideal for families, with parents gathering to meet school buses and kids running in the streets. If not for the mixed-use character of Selby, you might not know you’re in a city. But we’re not a suburb anymore; we are part of Union Park, midway between downtown Saint Paul and Minneapolis, soon to be home to the new soccer stadium. So it’s time to plan to grow as a modern urban neighborhood. The Lexington-Hamline Community Council strategic plan promotes Selby as the central corridor and heart of our community, but presents no strategy for growth. I would like to see more housing options available, especially for renters, small households, and people who prefer not to maintain a yard. I love having a bike shop, a hair salon and a pizza place right around the corner. I would like to see more businesses thriving on Selby. The Union Park draft neighborhood plan offers a strategy to encourage new housing options and businesses in Lexington-Hamline along Selby.
The Union Park district council approved the neighborhood plan late last year and is gathering final feedback before submitting to the Planning Commission (learn more about the project and read the draft plan here.) The plan was drafted by neighbors after gathering input in a variety of ways and in a variety of venues from neighbors. The plan reflects the features that we value most about Union Park: our established residential neighborhoods, and our businesses, non-profits and universities that provide local jobs. The draft plan encourages walking, biking and making the most of our great transit options–the Green Line on University, the (soon to open) A Line on Snelling, high-frequency route 21 service along Marshall and Selby, and several other local bus routes. So the draft plan also encourages walkable development along the transit corridors (including Selby) using traditional neighborhood zoning, in keeping with the historic, human scale of each corridor.
Last week, I attended a town hall meeting to discuss the how the draft plan might transform Selby between Lexington and Hamline. Some neighbors expressed concern that the draft plan would allow large new developments on Selby like those along the Green Line. We talked about how different traditional neighborhood zoning codes define the level of density, and density appropriate for a light rail station area is not appropriate for Selby.
I learned a lot about traditional neighborhood zoning in Saint Paul reading Snelling Avenue After the A Line, a report compiled by grad students at the U of M to help Snelling Ave south of Interstate 94 to best capture the benefits of the A Line. The report gives an excellent overview of the four types of traditional neighborhood zoning, from the lowest density T1 to the highest density T4, a zone created specifically for use near Green Line stations. The report also describes the benefits of traditional neighborhood zoning: flexibility and increased walkability. Flexibility means that a variety of businesses that serve the neighborhood’s needs both day and evening are permitted. Increased walkability means that neighbors can walk to transit and local businesses, and that businesses follow design standards to make walking comfortable and enjoyable.
The report recommends rezoning parcels along the Snelling study area to traditional neighborhood, in a nodal pattern and consistent with the current level of building intensity. Most parcels recommended for rezoning are commercial parcels near major intersections (historically streetcar stops). Residential zoning between nodes is maintained. The study authors found that the lower density T1 and T2 zoning codes are sufficient to permit transit-oriented increased density, because most of the study area is not very intensely developed. The objective is to grow incrementally, in scale with the neighborhood.
After the Selby town hall meeting, the Union Park draft neighborhood plan was revised to recommend a zoning study of Selby between Lexington and Hamline to identify appropriate zoning to encourage walkable mixed-use development in scale with our quiet street. The approach and methods used by the Snelling After the A Line study authors provide an example of how rezoning could be pursued in a context-sensitive manner. I support the Union Park draft neighborhood plan for Selby, because I want more businesses to walk to, and more neighbors here to support them. I support pursuing traditional neighborhood zoning for Selby so that when new development comes, it supports a walkable lifestyle for new residents, as well as those of us who live here now.