Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Zoning study of Hamline University campus expansion undertaken

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Calvin


HamlineUnivLogoSome Hamline University neighbors have been concerned about the university’s purchase of properties outside of its city-set boundaries, and the demolition of homes. City officials have taken note.

How college, university and seminary campuses in St. Paul expand in the future could be affected by the results of a study launched Mar. 27 by the St. Paul Planning Commission. The commission, on recommendation of two of its committees, voted to launch a zoning study centered on the establishment and expansion of college, university, and seminary campuses. No timeline has been set for the study.

“We’d like to be able to better work with schools as they make their expansion plans,” said City Planner Josh Williams. “The intent is to make sure that campuses complement the neighborhoods they are in.”

“I would say we have heard a lot of particular concern about one campus,” Williams said, referring to Hamline University. But he also noted the controversy a decade ago over University of St. Thomas (UST) expansion, which prompted years of debate as well as a legal challenge. UST was able to expand its campus, but only after agreeing to several conditions, including selling properties it owned outside of its boundaries.

The study was initiated by city staff and affected institutions will be notified. “We want to make sure that we manage the impacts campuses can have on neighborhoods and help neighborhoods stay strong,” said Planning Director Donna Drummond.

Two schools, Macalester College and Hamline University, each own several properties outside of their boundaries. Macalester owns several homes and commercial buildings outside of its boundaries, and rents the properties out. Last year Macalester bought another commercial building in the “Mac Market” area of Grand Ave. and the former Immaculate Heart of Mary Church building on Summit Ave.

While the Macalester purchases have generated little attention and no controversy, Hamline University is in a high-profile fight with its neighbors over the purchase of neighborhood property. The university and neighbors are currently in a mediation process overseen by ward Four Council Member Russ Stark. Neighbors were angered last year when college-owned houses outside of the campus boundary were torn down with no notice to neighbors.

A staff report stated, “Over the past several years, a large number of single-family residential properties have been acquired by institutions of higher education in St. Paul. Some of these have been demolished and left as empty lots. The institutions undertaking these actions have done so in the absence of a clear plan for campus growth. This has raised substantial public concern over the potential for damage to the character and vitality of the residential neighborhoods surrounding these campuses.

“Since the 1980s St. Paul has used a conditional use permit process to regulate campus boundaries and growth. The conditional use permits are used to set campus boundaries as well as building heights and setbacks and other conditions on campus growth. Schools make annual reports to the city of information including enrollments, the number of dormitory beds and the number of off-street parking spaces.“…

Underlying zoning can affect whether a conditional use permit is needed. Nor does a campus have to have contiguous property to require a conditional use permit.”

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