The changes of land use in the works on the Luther Seminary campus and Healy Building site along Como Avenue in north St. Anthony Park appear to be the first major projects opened up by Como 2030, an addendum to St. Paul’s city plan that altered zoning along some stretches of Como Avenue to “traditional neighborhood” uses.
Adopted by the city in 2011, Como 2030 was requested and proposed by the St. Anthony Park Community Council (District 12), then revised by city leaders before final approval. It guides zoning, traffic, streetscaping and other development choices for properties along Como Avenue, from just west of Eustis Street to the point where Como Avenue meets the state fairgrounds at Cathlin Street.
The idea of Como 2030 was to envision a change of direction for the aging infrastructure of “downtown” St. Anthony Park—and the aging population that went with it—and to revive the neighborhood with denser housing and more vibrant business uses. The plan also calls for improved transportation options, emphasizing walking, biking and public transit.
Other aspects of the plan include environmentally sustainable architecture, preservation of wetlands and the inclusion of public gathering places.
As a result of Como 2030 (and the subsequent enactment of its zoning), the Healy Building site at the corner of Doswell and Como avenues, where a 24-unit market-rate apartment building will be constructed starting soon, is now zoned Traditional Neighborhood 2 (TN2), which allows a mix of single- and multiple-family housing, retail, services, and limited production and processing. The Luther Seminary parcel, which Ecumen has proposed developing parts of, is a Traditional Neighborhood 1 zone, with mixed uses but more restricted options than TN2.
John Seppanen, who serves on the community council’s Land Use Committee, said that when owner Ned Wesenberg approached the committee with a plan to build an apartment building at the Healy Building site, Como 2030 guided their recommendation that the city accept the proposal.
“They were asking for variances,” Seppanen said. “We used Como 2030 as reason to give those variances.”
The St. Anthony Park Community Foundation, business leaders, residents and city planning staff worked with the community council to draft the plan. Community council committees continue to refer to Como 2030 while debating proposals that come before them.
Seppanen, who has served on the community council since the Como 2030 process began, said the plan grew out of neighborhood priorities but reflects changes made by City of St. Paul staff and council, as well. “It’s a city document that we helped infuse with the character of the neighborhood,” he said.
Parties responsible for carrying out various aspects of the plan include the city’s departments of planning and economic development, parks, public works, and safety and inspections.
City planner Allan Torstenson, who lives in the neighborhood and worked on the plan, said many details in the plan require more than rule enforcement. He said Como 2030 includes “community character strategies and commercial vitality strategies … ongoing things that regularly affect many individual efforts and little decisions,” such as the work of attracting new businesses to complement those already on the block.
Seppanen cited the Transition Town movement as a neighborhood project that is separate from the plan but is a similar “outgrowth of the community” that “expresses Como 2030.”
Land Use Committee member Roger Purdy said that while it’s hard to pin down particular projects as effects of the plan, the existence of Como 2030 as a city document might help move some projects forward. For example, he said, Como 2030 “was part of the impetus to getting the bike lanes striped” on Como Avenue.
Another item from the plan that he’d like to see happen is a shuttle bus, now that the Green Line light rail is running, that would connect neighbors with the trains and perhaps also “make it easier for seniors at the [proposed] Eustis/Como [senior housing] site to get to downtown St. Anthony Park.”
Anne Holzman is a former resident of St. Anthony Park who visits frequently from Bloomington.