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St Paul City Council votes to eliminate single-family zoning laws

The St. Paul City Council voted Wednesday to rewrite the city’s zoning laws in an effort to reduce housing costs and diversify housing options.

The new zoning laws allow for duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and townhomes to be built in every neighborhood in St. Paul.

City Council member Mitra Jalali says the change will create a more diverse St. Paul, and that it is long overdue.

“So what this is about to me is, let's try to expand the type of homes that people can enjoy all throughout neighborhoods, let's make it easier to build homes at a local scale, to the point about just who can build now, I think this actually allows like local developers to have more projects in St. Paul,” Jalali said. “To me, this is about helping our community grow, and grow in a sustainable way, all throughout our neighborhoods.”

However, other council members have reservations about the ordinance. Council members Jane Prince and Chris Tolbert said that they are concerned developers will favor larger constructions, buying lots that are typically reserved for single-family homes, and instead build larger rental units on them.

“I do think there are – if it's about units – I do think there are much easier and wiser policy choices that this Council could make any day,” Tolbert said. “I believe homeownership is very important. And I think it's important for all levels of income in the city of St. Paul.”

Tolbert likened the change to “a blanket,” and said that a wiser approach would involve more targeted changes to zoning laws.

Prince was also concerned about the environmental impact of the proposal, saying the city council did not take into account how the zoning changes could affect stormwater management, nor the impact on air and light quality.

“In our 2018 memo, it was duplexes, triplexes and higher density along transit routes and their commercial nodes. If we had done that, which are time honored, neighborhood housing types that increase opportunities to build generational wealth, and maintain the fabric of our cities, beautiful neighborhoods – I would have been all over it,” said Prince.

Minneapolis became the first city to eliminate single-family zoning in the United States in 2018. However, a court order last month September blocked the implementation of the city’s zoning ordinance pending further environmental review.

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