June 05--Residential buildings along sections of University Avenue, West Seventh Street and Highland Village will not have to offer as much off-street parking as they currently do, under an ordinance change adopted Wednesday by the St. Paul City Council.
The new rules allow residential developments in mixed-use areas zoned as "Traditional Neighborhoods" -- T1 and T2 -- to offer less than one parking space per living unit.
The goal of the "Transit Corridors" ordinance is to encourage residential construction and reduce housing costs in areas accessible by public transit.
Reducing off-street parking requirements could help developers shave costs, fill vacant buildings and offer more housing along the new Green Line light-rail line and other transit corridors.
Expressing skepticism, council member Dave Thune said residents will simply park in surrounding areas. "You're allowing developers to take short cuts and provide less parking, which puts cars in other people's streets," he said.
Up to the final vote, Thune fought the long-simmering plan. The council vote was 6-1, with Thune the lone vote opposed.
Parking requirements for multi-family residential buildings in areas zoned T1 and T2 will be reduced by 25 percent. The rule changes will apply to developments with more than six living units.
Those "Traditional Neighborhood" areas include sections of University Avenue, West Seventh Street and other business districts that allow "mixed-use" construction, such as converted warehouses full of residents, retail and office uses.
Developers in those areas had been required to provide 1.5 parking spaces per unit in 2006.
That was reduced to one space per unit in 2011. The new changes require 0.75 spaces -- or 75 spaces for every 100 apartments.
The city council was scheduled to vote on the ordinance in April, but Thune asked for the vote to be delayed so neighborhood district councils had more time to review the proposed changes.
Most district councils still have yet to weigh in or won't be affected by the changes.
The West Seventh Street/Fort Road Federation has come out against the plan. With an eye on Highland Village and the future redevelopment of the Ford Motor Co. campus in Highland Park, the Highland District Council has supported the proposed decrease in off-street parking requirements.
A resolution from the Highland District Council states: "Requiring off-street parking increases the cost of housing and development and may not be as necessary in a walkable, transit-oriented environment."
On Wednesday, Thune presented three potential amendments to the ordinance and asked that the vote be put on hold again, to the frustration of city council President Kathy Lantry. Sensing defeat, he then withdrew the amendments, one of which would have restored parking requirements if there is no transit stop within a quarter-mile of a residential development.
Land that housed the former Island Station coal plant, which was recently demolished, is zoned for mixed-use development but is not situated near a transit stop.
"This is being used as a social thing to try to push more people out of cars," Thune said, "... (but) no bank in the world is going to lend people money to build a building with less than one car per unit." He added later, "Even people who love biking own a car."
Lantry said neighborhoods that feel they need to be exempted from the ordinance can approach the council for special consideration on a case-by-case basis.
"We've laid this over since April 16. It's June," Lantry said. "All of our district councils meet once a month, so we're all playing by the same rules. I think for the majority of the city, it's going to be a better thing. ... I don't think there will be any evidence that this (was) ramrodded or pushed through."
Council member Dan Bostrom, who voted for the reduction, said he was nevertheless skeptical of any efforts to reduce parking.
He said he met five friends for breakfast Wednesday morning, and "those five individual people all came in separate cars, and that's a fact of life."
The Transit Streets ordinance also changes maximum construction heights throughout the T1 and T2 areas to 45 feet with a conditional- use permit.
That option had previously been allowed only within 600 feet of a planned transit stop.
Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172.
Follow him at twitter.com/FrederickMelo.
Copyright 2014 - Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.