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Affordable housing, mixed use building coming to Lexington Parkway site

Posted on 14 June 2019 by Tesha Christensen

By JANE McCLURE
Mixed-use redevelopment is eyed for a long-vacant Lexington Parkway property, with first-floor retail and up to five stories of apartments. Discussions are underway involving residents in four planning districts – Hamline-Midway, Union Park, Frogtown and Summit-University.
The site just southwest of the Lexington and University Ave. intersection, which until recently held a giant dirty snow pile, is likely to affect all four neighborhoods when it is developed.
The project by Minneapolis-based developer Alatus LLC is becoming part of the larger discussion around St. Paul about how and where to provide affordable housing. While the Monitor area has had many projects open their doors, start construction or go through the city approval process, the two most recent projects are market-rate and have few if any affordable units. Those projects, which are just south of the Snelling and University intersection, won needed city approvals this spring.
At two community meetings this spring, the cost of new housing has been debated. Union Park District Council’s land use committee hosted the meeting. The district council is among several councils around St. Paul starting to look at development projects through the lens of equity. A group of district councils is meeting later this month to discuss equity in community development and how they can create scorecards to evaluate projects. Issues including providing affordable housing units, avoiding displacement of area residents, environmental sustainability and promotion of transit use are among ideas that could be used to evaluate and determine community support for projects.
Union Park has seen a number of housing and mixed use development proposals in recent times, but all have been for market-rate or luxury housing. At a time when affordable housing is scarce, many at the meeting pushed for affordable housing, and larger units that families can occupy.
Currently city officials face limits on when they can demand that a developer add affordable housing. Affordability is most often tied to different types of public subsidy.
St. Paul doesn’t have inclusionary zoning or inclusionary housing, which refers to planning ordinances that require a given share of new construction to be affordable by people with low to moderate incomes. But that could change.
Housing equity is under scrutiny for the St. Paul Planning Commission, which is looking at ways it could require developers to add affordable housing in development where a zoning change or conditional use permit is needed. The commission and its Zoning Committee have debated that issue in recent weeks.

Plan includes 250 units
The site at 411-417 N. Lexington Parkway is expected to be the next area development where affordable housing is debated. Alatus would like to build about 250 units, in a mix of unit sizes. The price point of that housing is still being discussed.
Alatus has 15 years’ development experience, mostly in the Twin Cities. Its recent projects range from market-rate to affordable housing, including apartments in New Hope and 63 new affordable single-family homes in North Minneapolis. The company has also rehabilitated about 500 homes throughout the Twin Cities.
“This is a very interesting area,” said Chris Osmundson, Alatus director of development.
It is in Lexington-Hamline area of Union Park but borders Frogtown, Hamline-Midway and Summit-University. Area residents are a mix of ethnicities and economic backgrounds. It’s also part of the old Rondo neighborhood, a predominantly African-American neighborhood that was partially destroyed when Interstate 94 was built in the 1960s.
The 2.05-acre site is just south of TCF Bank and White Castle. It is owned by Wilder Foundation, which has its headquarters west of the property. A new development would finish the southwest corner of Lexington and University Ave. The site was home to the St. Paul Saints ballpark, but was redeveloped as a strip mall more than 50 years ago. High-profile battles were waged over redevelopment in the 1990s. Neighborhood groups called for a dense, mixed-use urban village. City officials saw the site as being ideal for big-box retail. It since has been redeveloped with an Aldi grocery store, TCF Bank, Wilder headquarters and an Episcopal Homes senior living building. One original retaining wall for the old ballpark is still in place.
The site is also one block south of Green Line light rail and in an area with other bus lines, making it attractive for people who wish to use transit, Osmundson said.
It’s also in an area long eyed for bike improvements. City plans call Fuller Ave. as a bicycle and pedestrian connection to extend east through the site and connect to Midway Peace Park on Griggs St. The extension was an unsuccessful Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) proposal more than a decade ago.

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