City, District 12 continue to study accessory dwelling units

A proposed residential zoning change along the Central Corridor would affect the southern portion of St. Anthony Park, but there are some residents who think it ought to apply to the entirety of District 12.

City planners, at the direction of the St. Paul City Council, are studying the feasibility of allowing what are called accessory dwelling units on single-family lots within a half-mile of University Avenue.

These units would be separate living quarters added to the back of a house, over a garage or built as freestanding structures.

“Accessory dwelling units are only one of the many housing options that could be provided along the corridor,” according to planner Sarah Zorn, of the city’s Planning and Economic Development Department. “They might appeal to seniors, renters or family members. They’d also allow current residents to stay in their homes or neighborhood, while generating income to supplement housing costs.”

It’s a concept with considerable appeal for the District 12 Land Use Efficiency action group, one of several working toward the Community Council’s goal of reducing the neighborhood’s carbon footprint and strengthening the community overall.

In addition to the Central Corridor, the group sees the accessory units as potentially helping stabilize the broader community, enabling houses and property to stay in the same hands longer, said its chair, Phil Broussard.

“We have a lot of residents who, over the course of the next five to 10 years, will either have to figure out how to remain in their homes or move out of the neighborhood,” he said.

To provide information and assess support for accessory dwellings, Land Use Efficiency group members met, one-on-one, with several dozen area residents. The group also conducted two public meetings, one in November and most recently on Jan. 28.

The Park Bugle checked with two nearby suburbs that permit accessory dwelling units, but neither experience would seem predictive of what St. Paul could expect.

Roseville’s city code has permitted accessory dwelling units, both attached and freestanding, for the past three years, according to Bryan Lloyd, associate city planner. However, none have yet been built and Lloyd theorized it was because of stipulations built into the code, such as a requirement for separate entrances and walkways and maximum heights for detached structures.

Since the early 1990s, Shoreview has allowed what it calls accessory apartments, but only when they are incorporated into existing homes, according to Rob Warwick, senior planner.

“Over 20 years, there have been fewer than 20 permits issued and only one of those has been contentious,” he said. “That was due to an increase in vehicle traffic over a private easement serving the property.”

The Land Use Efficiency group’s Broussard noted that of the 50 or so residents who attended its November meeting, only about five expressed reservations or were outright opposed to the accessory dwelling concept.

“People are cautious about change and some worry about how accessory units might alter the appearance of the neighborhood,” he said. “Two-thirds of north St. Anthony Park currently is zoned for single-family residences only, but that restriction became part of the code in 1975. Prior to that, two-family homes or duplexes had been permitted. Many of these were built and fit in very well.”

For now, it is only in the Central Corridor that accessory dwellings are being considered and City Council action would be required to change that. But Broussard thinks that such units eventually will be permitted citywide and feels that zoning will need to be tailored to the needs of individual neighborhoods, with lot size and house size being among the variables.

City planner Zorn said that Planning and Economic Development staff would update the City Council soon on the study’s progress, and then meet with the district councils along the Central Corridor. Next, the matter will be considered by the City Planning Commission, probably in the spring, and ultimately brought back to the City Council for a final determination.

Como Park writer Roger Bergerson is a regular contributor to the Park Bugle.