Growing Selby Avenue Between Lexington and Snelling

1162 Selby, Saint Paul Yoga Center. I’d like to see more buildings like this on Selby west of Lexington, perhaps with another story of apartments.

1162 Selby, Saint Paul Yoga Center. I’d like to see more buildings like this on Selby west of Lexington, perhaps with another story of apartments.


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.

1166 Selby, Salon Ori, with single family homes across the street.

1166 Selby, Salon Ori, with single family homes across the street.


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.

1161 Selby, The Selby Workshops.

1161 Selby, The Selby Workshops.


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.

1183 Selby, Pizza Luce.

1183 Selby, Pizza Luce.


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.

1171 Selby, The Havana Apartments.

1171 Selby, The Havana Apartments.


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.  

175 Lexington Parkway N, Fairy Garden Market. The Fairy Garden Market will soon take over the space of a former salon. I asked my 9-year what she thought would be sold there. She said, “Probably stuff for fairy gardens.”

175 Lexington Parkway N, Fairy Garden Market. The Fairy Garden Market will soon take over the space of a former salon. I asked my 9-year what she thought would be sold there. She said, “Probably stuff for fairy gardens.”

Emily Metcalfe

About Emily Metcalfe

Emily is a parent to 4 kids, which takes up most of her time. She lives in Saint Paul, where she serves on the Transportation Committee of the Planning Commission. She is a member of the Union Park District Council and co-chairs its Transportation Committee. She volunteers with Saint Paul Women on Bikes. Find her on Twitter @emilyemetcalfe.

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14 thoughts on “Growing Selby Avenue Between Lexington and Snelling

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Great post Emily. This is right near where I grew up, and though it’s a bit ironic to have the PIzza Lucé parking lot in the photos, I think there’s room for more “urbanism” on Selby East of Snelling. {e.g. the vacant lot at Victoria that’s been vacant for decades).

    One thing I’ve long been frustrated by is why the #21 bus doesn’t simply go down Selby Avenue, connecting this part of the street with the now-Whole Foods-laden corner at Snelling. Apparently it all started when the bridge over Ayd Mill was rebuilt, and the #21 was re-routed temporarily onto University. It since became a permanent change, but the lack of a direct transit connection fragments the street, increases transit complexity / inscrutability (, and delays anyone wanting to treat Selby like a linear transit corridor. I have asked Metro Transit about this a few times, and they have said they can’t change it now due to regulations surrounding race and poverty geography, but especially given the new grocery options at Selby and Snelling, and new North-South transit options on Snelling and Lexington, it would be really nice to have a direct transit connection along Selby Avenue that connected neighborhoods to key corners without a 10 minute delay down University Avenue.

    1. Emily MetcalfeEmily Metcalfe Post author

      There are several vacant lots and underutilized parking lots on Selby east of Lexington, but they are not in Union Park. I think Selby’s need for development especially between Lexington and Dale is why the city has identified it as a mixed-use transit corridor and a potential route for a streetcar. The future of transit on Selby east of Snelling is an interesting question, since streetcars seem likely to go out of fashion before one ever gets built on Selby and Metro Transit is planning aBRT for the current 21 route, but only as far as Snelling.

      Regarding the University Ave detour, it makes me less likely to take the 21 to get places west of Snelling, but it is useful to switch to the Green Line. Now that I think about it, I have never taken the 21 to get to Merriam Park, because driving or biking (even walking) is so much faster.

    2. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      I was involved with the reroute of the 21 Selby-Lake bus via University & Snelling, and I strongly support keeping it there. The Midway retail district is a major destination for Selby residents, and that is borne out by the heavy ridership to points along University Avenue. In addition, the reroute makes possible an important transfer connection between the 21, the Green Line and the 16 bus. Yes, some through riders are inconvenienced, but a much larger number benefit from the reroute.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

        That’s true until you start increasing density on Selby. At a certain point it makes more sense to shift it back. How many grocery stores, shops, other destinations would it take? I don’t know but a Whole Foods is a big start. a giant grocery store on Selby that’s not directly served by the #21 bus. Why are we increasing North-South frequency and access if not to replace the confusing and inefficient route connections like the #21?

      2. Janne

        I heartily agree that the 21 needs to go back to Selby, and skip University. As Emily states, you can walk faster than you can take the 21 through that detour. It actually prevents me from taking the 21 — and I actually avoided applying for a job based at Selby/Dale because the transit was so dreadful from Uptown where I live. (Long became dreadful thanks to that that extra 10 minutes.)

        I understand that many riders board and disembark there. I wonder how many people are like me, and don’t even board the 21 due to the circuitous and pokey route.

  2. Brian QuarstadBrian Quarstad

    Arron, while I understand your point I think there is a point to be made for service up and down Selby. I just did a quick count and there are now aprox. 52 small to medium sized businesses along side Selby from Saratoga to Fairview. That’s a lot. It’s starting to become a hot up and coming area. I also did a count of Marshal and there are only 2 businesse and they are right at Snelling. I know Marshall is the faster route with the straight through route to Lake street, but 52 businesses should be recognized by Metro Transit as significant with lots of rental units along that strecth as well.

    BTW, I still think Selby would be a great route for a trolly if the city ever decides to go that route.

    1. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

      I’m confused by Brian’s post because there are more than 2 businesses on Marshall Avenue that are serviced by the 21. There are businesses further west on Marshall, like 4+ at Cleveland, for example. There are a few at Cretin. There is also a library at Prior. I agree with Aaron that the current routing is beneficial to quite a few people. If Selby needs transit, there is no reason why there cannot be an additional route if we are serious about transit in this city. Or, perhaps the 53 could become a regular route instead of limited stop rush hour route, and that bus could route along Selby.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

        That would be a good start but why not simply fix the problem. The #21 is too confusing as is. Don’t get me started on the Eastbound v Westbound complexity gap.

        1. Sam Jensen

          Does anyone know why the 53 hops on the freeway at Snelling and the A-BRT is planned to end at Snelling as well?

          I live just off Selby in the Rondo area and unless I’m going to somewhere on the Green Line, downtown Saint Paul or Rosedale Mall, bus service is so slow and/or infrequent to be almost useless. It actually takes the same amount of time to hop in the car and drive to Eau Claire as it does to take the bus to Uptown. The areas of Saint Paul south of 94 are some of the most built up and walkable parts of the twin cities. It seems like a no-brainer that they should at least have comparable bus service to similar areas in Minneapolis.

      2. Emily MetcalfeEmily Metcalfe Post author

        I get what Brian was saying. The 21 could cross the river and serve the businesses at Marshall and Cleveland and then turn south to Selby at Fairview, to serve the many businesses along Selby between Fairview and Snelling.

        And to Aaron’s comment, this is about more than just inconveniencing some riders. It all but renders the route useless when traveling from the Selby side to the Marshall side. It just takes too long to be a viable option. Connecting to the Green Line is nice, but it really isn’t that far to walk from Selby to University. I usually walk it rather than wait for a bus. It is useful for people traveling to the Midway shopping center.

    2. Moin Syed

      I wonder if it would be possible to move towards a model where there is a 21A bus that follows the current route, but then a 21B bus that stays West on Selby and perhaps runs less frequently. I know at least some metro buses run some sort of variant of that system, because I used to ride the 6 from Linden Hills to the U, and I remember several different routes. It seems like something like this would make a lot of sense and be agreeable to all.

  3. Scott

    Selby’s renaissance is well underway, and the tax assessor has certainly noticed. I own a small commercial building between Dale and Lexington. Our valuation notice arrived in the mail yesterday. The assessed value of the building went up by 25 percent between 2016 and 2017.

  4. Mpls Girl

    It looks so clean and tidy. If I am remembering correctly, this was not a safe neighborhood once upon a time when I was growing up. How is it now? Is this a neighborhood that is safe at night?

    1. Emily MetcalfeEmily Metcalfe Post author

      I feel comfortable walking there night. Things are a lot different here than they were 20 years ago.

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