Zoning studies can take years to complete. In the interest of making some immediate changes while also looking into longer-term options, the City decided to break the study up into two parts occurring simultaneously: Phase 1 identified barriers that could be more easily removed to allow for the creation of additional homes without requiring large policy changes, while Phase 2 is broader in scope, including reviewing changes to zoning that allow more flexibility and support greater housing diversity.
In 2018, the City Council passed Resolution 18-1204 stating the need to create and preserve affordable housing, address disparities in housing, and create infrastructure to stabilize housing for all in Saint Paul. Among a number of other initiatives, the resolution called for Planning staff and the Planning Commission to study the potential for allowing 3- and 4-unit dwellings in currently single-family zoning districts located in Neighborhood Nodes and/or along transit corridors.
Additionally, the policies in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan support environmentally and economically efficient, resilient land use development, offering opportunities for density in areas of high existing or planned transit capacity, and increasing housing choices for residents of all income levels. Specifically, policies LU-1, LU-30, H-48, and H-49 call for transit-supportive density and focused growth at Neighborhood Nodes, expanded housing types in Urban Neighborhoods, including duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, and small-scale multifamily to allow for broadened housing choices, and the consideration of zoning amendments to permit small single-family houses and duplexes to facilitate the creation of small-home development types.
The Phase 2 zoning text amendments:
- Create new residential zoning districts H1 and H2 to replace the existing R1-RT2 districts, and updates the semirural RL district, including revising dimensional standards regulating lot area, height, setbacks, and lot coverage for all of these districts
- Update the cluster development ordinance, modernizing it for greater flexibility in housing types and lot arrangements in exchange for an open space requirement
- Update regulations applicable to accessory structures and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) such as increasing the allowable ADU size and number allowed per lot (up to two ADUs per single-family home)
- Make available optional zoning density bonuses for ownership housing at 80% of Area Median Income (AMI) or rental housing at 60% of AMI; or a bonus of one additional unit for retaining an existing home; and/or a bonus for family-sized, 3- or more-bedroom units
- Incentivize keeping existing homes including the one-unit density bonus mentioned above, and greater flexibility to add two attached ADUs if the single-family home is existing (i.e., contrasted with a new construction single-family home that also allows one ADU that is attached and one that is detached, or instead, two detached ADUs/double ADU).
- Update zoning requirements related to site access (pedestrian and vehicular access, driveways and paving, parking areas, street addressing, utilities, and fire access) and porches and decks
- Clarify that Site Plan Review is required for developments with three or more total dwelling units and cluster developments
- Creates more and updated design standards including some that are tweaked from the popular, T zoning district design standards, and minor updates to a front yard fence height limitation, among others
- Update the subdivision regulations to reflect the above changes, including revisions to flag-shaped lots and the introduction of ‘’back lots’’ and ‘’reverse-flag lots’’
- Updates to land use tables and other minor zoning text amendments to improve the clarity and legibility of the Zoning Code
Yes, single-family homes will still be permitted!
These amendments would allow a greater diversity of neighborhood-scale and missing middle housing options in districts currently zoned exclusively for single-family homes (RL-R4), as well as in RT1, which currently allows up to a duplex, and RT2, which currently allows up to a 4plexes and townhomes. In addition to single-family detached homes, the amendments would allow other types of small-scale housing styles such as cottage homes, twinhomes, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes that are clustered around a common courtyard or greenspace, and on some lots within certain districts, townhomes and residences containing up to six units.
The proposed zoning districts H1 and H2 would not make existing single-family homes illegal or nonconforming under the zoning code or discourage the production of new single-family homes in the areas currently zoned RL-RT2. In fact, H1, H2 and the updated RL are actually ‘’pro-single-family housing’’ in that the districts encourage infill development behind (in the backyard), and to the side of, existing single-family homes and two- to four-unit homes. Subject to minimum dimensional standards like lot size and setbacks and other important provisions such as adequate utilities and fire access, new infill housing development might consist of an additional single-family home, accessory dwelling unit (ADU), duplex, or double ADU behind or to the side of an existing single-family home. A lot with plenty of unused space may see a triplex or fourplex developed in a way that is sensitive to existing homes.
Also proposed to be permitted in all residential districts is the redesigned Cluster Development, a unique land use that has additional standards on top of the base zoning district requirements that would allow for the arrangement of diverse housing styles around a common open space with other shared amenities. Modestly-sized homes and other dwellings units under 600 square feet, affordable to a greater range of people, could be developed if permitted by the Planning Commission following the updated cluster development regulations.
In addition to new infill development, proposed zoning districts H1 and H2 also call for "the reuse and/or conversion of existing homes ... without having to demolish existing viable housing." This regulatory approach is consistent with Saint Paul Comprehensive Plan Policy LU-34: "Provide for medium-density housing that diversifies housing options, such as townhouses, courtyard apartments and smaller multi-family developments, compatible with the general scale of Urban Neighborhoods." Given the high cost of construction, it is likely to be much easier financially to adapt or convert all or a portion of an existing residential structure to add one or more new dwelling units if permitted by the zoning district; additionally, a conversion approach may be a strategy for providing additional housing options that is sensitive to the existing neighborhood context, consistent with Comprehensive Plan policies LU-42, H-47 and H-50.
Given the current state of housing scarcity, conversion and reuse of existing homes and infill new construction will both play an important role in providing more neighborhood-scale housing in existing neighborhoods. Depending on details, such homes might be considered principal dwelling units that are subject to dimensional standards such as minimum lot area per unit, or accessory dwelling units developed in conjunction with a single-family home, either as one single attached unit, or a detached structure with 1-2 accessory dwelling units.
Additionally, the impacts of the proposed zoning changes will be mostly long-term, but some short-term impacts may be seen. The draft ordinance aims to strike the right balance of encouraging more neighborhood-scale housing to be developed over the long term on lots throughout the city, while also managing change and minimizing displacement pressures on existing neighborhoods and residents today and over time. Some ordinance features to support growth but still manage change include:
- Special zoning incentives for the development of 3+ bedroom homes, ownership homes affordable at 80% of Area Median Income, rental housing at 60% of Area Media Income, and retaining an existing home;
- Regulations that enable the creation (subdivision) of smaller lots for the development of 1-4 unit housing than is currently allowed, e.g., 25’-30’ wide lots in H1-H2 instead of the 40’-80’ wide lots required in today’s single family-only districts. Smaller lots will be comparatively less costly than status quo lot sizes and could lead to more affordability in ownership and rental housing, as well as simply a greater number of ownership opportunities over time; and
- Regulations that provide for a maximum lot size for cluster developments of 21,780 s.f (one-half acre), approximately the equivalent of four typical, 5,000 square foot lots. Limiting the size of cluster developments will support their sensitive integration into existing neighborhoods developed with predominantly 1-4 unit housing. To allow for cluster developments on existing larger lots, lots of record prior to August 1, 2023, that are larger than 1/2 acre are permitted.
Currently, the City allows an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) as a second dwelling unit, attached to or detached from a principal single-family dwelling on the same zoning lot. Phase 1 of this study brought minor updates to the City’s ADU ordinance, removing the requirements for owner-occupancy and 5,000 square feet of lot area in order to establish an ADU. It also changed the maximum permitted size for an ADU from 800 square feet to 75% of the floor area of the principal unit.
Phase 2 of this study is now recommending additional updates to facilitate the development of ADUs in Saint Paul. The text amendments would:
- Permit two accessory dwelling units (ADUs) for each one-family dwelling on a zoning lot.
- If two ADUs are developed, require that at least one must be detached from the one-family dwelling. The exception to this requirement is that two ADUs may be attached to the one-family home if the home is existing.
- Simplify and increase the maximum size of any ADU – internal, attached, or detached – to 800 square feet or 75% of the floor area of the principal dwelling unit, whichever is greater (replacing the simple ADU size limit of 75% of the floor area of the principal dwelling unit, and deleting internal ADU requirements for a minimum 1,000 square foot principal building and maximum ADU size of 50% of the floor area of the building).
- Increase the allowable height of an ADU to a flat 25 feet, regardless of the height of the principal structure.
- Exempt an accessory building that contains dwelling units from the three-building and 1,200 square-foot floor area maximums for accessory buildings.
A cluster development may also be called a courtyard cluster or cottage development. ‘’Cottage courts’’ are identified by Opticos Design as a ‘’group of small (1 to 1.5-story), detached structures arranged around a shared court visible from the street,’’ with the identification of the shared court as “an important community-enhancing element’’ and emphasizing the importance of ‘’unit entrances being from the shared court.”
The Phase 2 zoning amendments redesign Saint Paul’s Cluster Development land use to provide for additional neighborhood-scale dwellings on larger lots within RL, H1-H2, and RM1-RM2 districts if adequate common open space and pedestrian connections are built within the development. Other elements of the updated Cluster Development land use would:
- Require a minimum lot area of 9,600 square feet and a maximum of one-half acre (21,780 square feet) for the cluster development site (however, lots of record prior to August 1, 2023, that are larger than 1/2 acre are permitted);
- Require a common courtyard or green space within the cluster development, sized at a minimum of 150 square feet per principal dwelling unit and a minimum of 225 square feet, with buildings required to directly abut the open space or have direct pedestrian access to it. Twenty-five percent must be lawn or other pervious material; driveways and parking would not count as open space;
- Permit higher lot coverage maximums (45%-55%) compared to those permitted under the base RL, H1, and H2 zoning districts (40%, 45%, and 50%);
- Allow most cluster developments to be developed by right if they meet the above standards which modify the base zoning district regulations; and
- Provide a conditional use permit option that would allow a lower minimum lot area per unit for cluster developments with dwelling units of 600 square feet or less.
This study is not focused on larger-scale multifamily housing for a number of reasons:
- First, the City recently did a major update to RM multiple-family residential zoning districts in 2020 (Ordinance 20-28), which supported additional low-, medium-, and high-density multifamily housing options in the city. The RM Zoning Study was the first comprehensive review of regulations in the RM1, RM2 and RM3 Multi-Family zoning districts since 1975, and it in part increased density in the RM2 district, eliminated maximum lot coverage in RM districts and applied an affordable housing density bonus in RM1-RM2 districts for the first time.
- Second, there is already substantial policy and zoning support for additional larger-scale multifamily housing options in the city. Larger-scale multifamily housing types are guided to Downtown and geographies across the city including along major transit corridors, at Neighborhood Nodes, within Mixed Use-guided areas, within Urban Neighborhoods (particularly along arterial and collector streets), and in employment centers. In addition to this policy support, existing zoning supports larger multifamily options in many places, or a slight upzoning could support such types.
- Third, larger-scale multifamily options are not the focus of this study to enable a manageable scope. This study’s focus is mostly on single family-only zoning districts – RL-R1-R2-R3, and most commonly, R4 – and areas of the city predominantly developed with detached single-family homes, along with the RT1 duplex district and RT2 3-4plex/townhouse district. That said, this study’s survey and community engagement activities are designed to gear conversations toward the kinds of housing choices people may most gravitate towards apart from one single-family detached home on a single lot.
While focusing on housing up to four units is a strategy to make the scope manageable, there’s also financing synergy with up to four units, as typical homebuyer mortgages can support a buyer who intends to owner-occupy and rent out units within a 4plex building. While multifamily developers may benefit from the zoning changes proposed by this study, the changes may also empower homeowners with equity to utilize their lots to create additional homeownership and rental options.
Ultimately, this study makes recommendations about zoning districts and related standards that allow for a range of units on a site that exceed four units (e.g. townhomes, cluster developments, small multiplexes). The study scope allows for regulatory change for housing of more than four units.
This study puts its emphasis on greater housing production, and the ways that a supportive zoning code can enable a greater range of housing developers to develop additional, small multifamily options. More 1-4 unit housing would provide more options and less scarcity overall in Saint Paul by increasing housing supply on the rental and ownership sides of the market. More supply will lead to a market that is in better balance and housing prices that are more affordable over time. Many of these units may eventually become housing options that are naturally affordable to low and moderate income households, even if their affordability is not restricted through an agreement.
- Phase 1 of the 1-4 Unit Housing Study did not directly look into the creation of affordable housing, but rather removing barriers to allow for more housing overall. (E.g., options such as new single family homes located on lots next to existing homes, and additional accessory dwelling units).
- Phase 2 of this study considers the inclusion of a small, density bonus zoning incentive specifically to produce ownership housing affordable to households at 80% of the Area Median Income and rental housing affordable at 60% of the Area Media Income, as well as family-sized (3 or more bedroom) housing. Analysis has shown that at the low-density (1-6 unit) scale of housing development, developers are highly unlikely to be able to produce deeply affordable housing without significant subsidy.
The City of Saint Paul is currently conducting community engagement and a technical study on potential Anti-displacement and Community Wealth-building Policies, Programs, Regulations, and Financing Tools and Strategies (visit the project website).
The work scope includes a market feasibility study assessment of Inclusionary Zoning options and recommendations for potential implementation by the City. After selecting a consultant team at the end of 2021, the team began technical and community engagement work in early 2022 and is expected to produce its recommendations by spring/summer of 2023.
In mid-2022, staff created a summary of engagement feedback and findings.
Resident engagement has included:
- Activities at community events, beginning at the City of Saint Paul’s 2021 Safe Summer Nights events
- Virtual listening sessions, co-hosted by district councils, in spring 2022
- An online survey and other virtual activities on the engagement website
- A City project website
- Outreach to stakeholders including culturally-based or -serving community organizations including but not limited to:
- District Councils
- Advocacy groups
- Business groups
Technical expert engagement has included:
- Focus groups and interviews with:
- Nonprofit community developers
- Private developers and architects
- Financial professionals
- Real estate professionals
- Department of Safety and Inspections (1-2 unit plan reviewers)
- PED Housing team
- A Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) consisting of many of the above stakeholders was first convened in 2021 to assist staff, along with urban design and financial consultant team that was hired to complete technical analysis for the study. Staff has received preliminary input from the TAC on the draft Phase 2 zoning amendments.
Following Planning Commission release of the Phase 2 public hearing draft zoning text amendments for public comment in March 2023, staff held two webinars, presented at several community organizations’ meetings, and offered a Lunch and Learn to provide the community with an overview of the draft zoning amendments in advance of the April 14, 2023, Planning Commission public hearing.
Following the closing of the Planning Commission public comment period, staff reviewed all public comments received and developed amendments to the public hearing draft ordinance. Throughout the Planning Commission review process, zoning amendments were recommended by the Planning Commission to City Council on August 18, 2023.
The public can submit official testimony through written comments or verbally at the public hearing held at City Council, anticipated in October 2023.