West St. Paul approves revised Robert Street Renaissance plan

After several years of work, West St. Paul has an updated Renaissance plan for Robert Street. 

On Monday, June 26, the city council approved a revised version of the plan — one that better addresses zoning and pedestrian accessibility; it also designates small “neighborhood” zones along the corridor. 

According to Jim Hartshorn, the city’s community development director, the original plan was created back in 2001 and work on its revision began in late 2013. The recent approval, he said, is a welcomed step forward for the future of Robert Street and West St. Paul more broadly. 

 

Addressing density and walkability 

Council member Dave Napier said the council had originally delayed approving the plan because council members were unsure how it would fit into the city’s larger comprehensive plan.

Napier said the Renaissance plan is like a roadmap for what the city wants Robert Street to look like, in all aspects.

According to Hartshorn, the plan addresses different types of businesses that might be desirable in different sections of the 2.5-mile stretch of roadway, taking into account market projections as well as different projects going in around the Twin Cities. 

The plan, which largely targets zoning along Robert Street, was first made about 16 years ago, though the original version didn’t fall in line with the vision of current city leaders, who were looking for a more modern approach to developing the area. 

“It did not reflect the current trends in development, what we’re seeing out there in the market,” Hartshorn said. “At least much of it didn’t.”

He said millennials and seniors have indicated they want more density, which translates to more convenience, walkability and rentability. 

As Robert Street road construction began in 2015, Hartshorn said it was a good time for city planners to look at what types of businesses should accompany the new roadway. 

According to Hartshorn, the approved plan allows for increased density in certain parts of Robert Street, in those more mixed-use areas. 

This means, for example, there could be retail space available below market rate apartments.

 

Changing the plan

Mayor Jenny Halverson said the update is not only important for the planning of the Robert Street corridor, but also for attracting and sustaining desirable development throughout in the city.

According to Hartshorn, a Project Advisory Committee was formed to help advise the council in regards to these changes. Made up of developers, business owners and residents, members of the committee came with differing perspectives, so it took some time for them to reach a consensus, Hartshorn explained.

“It was hard to believe at first,” he said. “When they came on board with all of this density and with four-story buildings, it had almost a too-dense look.”

Hartshorn said the advisory committee and the council needed to figure out how to “generate more density and keep our small town, walkable feel.”

Over time, the plan evolved and the council felt more comfortable with it. Part of what changed, Hartshorn explained, was that the plan incorporated more walkability and trails.

The Renaissance plan also recommends creating different “neighborhoods” along the corridor.

One such neighborhood, called North Gateway, would extend from Annapolis Street to Butler Avenue. The land use recommendation for North Gateway is a focus on retail and restaurants between Annapolis and Bernard streets, specifically. It would also target new housing to residents looking to move out of single-family homes or relocate.

Moving south, the second designated area would be Signal Hills, from Butler Avenue to Emerson Avenue. According to the agenda packet, land use recommendations for this area include working with property owners of the Signal Hills Shopping Center to create a mixed-use transit-oriented development, which would maintain retail towards Robert Street, but introduce medium-density housing on the west side of the street. 

There is also a recommendation for a Town Center between Emerson and Lothenbach avenues. Land use recommendations include gradually redeveloping retail buildings closer to Robert Street and move parking to the side of buildings. It is also recommended to redevelop and expand housing in the area.

The Town Center would use all assets including the nearby small bodies of water, YMCA, library and potentially a new city hall — all creating what would be a mixed-use center between Thompson and Wentworth Avenues.

 

A plan with flexibility

While the council accepted the plan, there is still built-in flexibility because it is considered an addendum to the comprehensive plan.

According to Hartshorn, down the line, there are going to be changes in the market, in turn sparking changes to the Renaissance plan. 

He said, for example, that if a developer presented a good idea to city staff or the council, they want the flexibility to consider the idea.

Hartshorn said he has already shown the plan to a handful of developers to develop certain parts of Robert Street. He explained that the first question they’ve asked is what the city wants in a spot, and now he has something to show them.

Meanwhile, according to Napier, if development doesn’t occur as the council and staff envision, they may need to revisit the plan.

“Right now, development should be at its prime with the completion of construction,” Napier said. 

If a resident has an issue with the Robert Street plan, Napier said the plan is not set in stone, and that they can make city staff or the council aware of concerns they may have as council and staff are still working on finalizing the broader comprehensive plan.

 

- Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.


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