St. Paul’s historic cap on on-liquor licenses continues to vex prospective bar operators and city officials who want to encourage more nightlife. Three requests for West end and West Side locations won recommendations of approval Jan. 24 from the St. Paul Planning Commission.
Several similar requests have been studied for University Ave. for several years. Those requests, which have been placed on hold, should move forward again in the future, according to city staff.
St. Paul has a cap of 215 on-sale liquor licenses citywide. The number varies by council ward. In some cases, business owners have waited for years to get a license. In 2016, the city council changed liquor ordinances to allow full-service restaurants to obtain on-sale liquor license outside of the cap. But that doesn’t help businesses wanting to offer liquor and not provide full food service.
Commercial development districts were created under the city charter in the 1980s to set up entertainment districts and promote nightlife. The charter outlines six districts – downtown, Selby Ave./Cathedral Hill, University Ave. and Dale St., Energy Park, Hamline/University avenues, and the area near the former Amtrak Station on Pierce Butler Route.
But for many years business owners have sought additional commercial development district designations to obtain a single on-sale license for one location. The city has about 20 districts, most single sites.
Commissioners questioned why the Planning Commission and planning staff are involved in what should instead be a licensing process. “This seems like a weird use of our time,” said Planning Commissioner Kristine Grill. She and other commissioners said the districts seem more like a licensing issue than something tied to land use planning.
That is being discussed between city planning and licensing staff, said Planning Director Luis Pereira. City staff is looking at whether commercial development districts properly. “We review for consistency with neighborhood and the city comprehensive plan, but is there ever going to be a case where one of these is inconsistent with those plans?” Pereira asked.
Pereira said more commercial development districts are in the works, including a long-discussed proposal for several sites along University Avenue and Green Line light rail. That proposal has been on the drawing boards for several years but was last the subject of city action in 2018.
Alcohol allowed on Great Lawn
Attendees at Allianz Field events will be able to purchase and consume alcohol on the Great Lawn green space outside of the stadium. On Jan. 22, the St. Paul City Council approved the area as an entertainment district.
No one appeared at city council to speak for or against the district’s creation. Area district councils didn’t weigh in on the change.
The Great Lawn is a park area north of the stadium, proposed as part of a master plan proposed for the Midway Center superblock. Not all of the proposed park space has been built. Plans for call green space to eventually extend to University Ave.
The change winning council approval allows for beer and wine to be sold and consumed in the park area. The city’s parkland agreement with MUSC LLC keeps the green space open to the public as part of the city park system.
Similar agreements have been used in other city parks, including Harriet Island, when there are events.
Other uses at churches
Faith-based institutions often house other uses, including childcare centers, offices, food shelves and other community programs. How those uses are regulated is the topic of a study underway by the Sty. Paul Planning Commission.
A public hearing will be held in the future on possible zoning code amendments. No date has been set. Changes to a city ordinance won’t affect existing uses, which are grandfathered in. But the intent of the study is to establish a better process for land use applications for religious organizations.
The religious accessory uses zoning study is court-ordered, said Senior City Planner Bill Dermody. It arises from the dispute when the Listening House drop-in center relocated from downtown St. Paul to First Lutheran Church in Dayton’s Bluff. Listening House serves low-income and homeless adults. It was in Mary Hall for several years before its space was needed for Catholic Charities meal programs.
The Planning Commission denied Listening House’s request to relocate to the church, a decision reversed on appeal to the St. Paul City Council. But church leaders objected to conditions the council placed on the approval and the matter wound up in court.
A February 2019 U.S. District Court ruling in the church’s favor included the condition that the city amend its zoning code to change processes for religious organizations to make land use applications.
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