St. Paul City Council votes 3-2 against rezoning for Marshall Avenue townhome project

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A divided St. Paul City Council voted 3-2 Wednesday against rezoning a corner of Marshall Avenue for a seven-unit townhome project, effectively overruling city staff recommendations and the preference of City Council President Mitra Jalali, who represents the neighborhood. The St. Paul Planning Commission also recommended denial.

Mortho, LLC had proposed removing a single-family home at 1984 Marshall Ave. and installing seven townhomes. To accomplish that, developer Stephen Moriarty proposed rezoning the corner from RM1 zoning to RM2, both of which are different levels of multi-family residential zoning. The latter allows construction up to five stories, though Moriarty had proposed building a three-level project with roomier townhome units than would be allowed under existing zoning, based on greater allowable floor-area ratios.

Jalali, after spending the last two weeks reviewing city planning staff reports and community feedback, urged the council to adopt the RM2 zoning.

“It allows for more of the same type of housing, so we’re not changing the use,” said Jalali, noting the site sits near a public transit corridor and had been zoned RM2 prior to 2018. “We’re actually just changing the amount of building that can be built. I find this reasonable. … He’s not actually planning on adding (two) stories. What he wants is the additional floor-area ratio.”

Council Member Rebecca Noecker noted the lesser-intensity zoning had been adopted following the West Marshall Avenue Rezoning Study, which rezoned different corners of Marshall Avenue at different intensities.

“It’s this recent community process that says this should not be RM2, it should be RM1,” Noecker said. “There is a value and a status in plans that are community-created and then adopted by this body. … The community has said we specifically don’t want this parcel to be RM2.”

Council Member Anika Bowie inquired if the same degree of construction could be accomplished through a zoning variance, but city staff noted that variances are generally granted based on a hardship outside of the developer’s control, such as an abnormally small lot. Planning staff noted the lot in question is normal size.

Jalali and Council Member Saura Jost voted to support the rezoning, but were overruled by Bowie, Cheniqua Johnson and Noecker. Council Members Nelsie Yang, who is on maternity leave, and Council Member HwaJeong Kim were absent.

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