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Zoning change hits rough patch

If the ground underneath a St. Paul Park neighborhood isn't exactly shifting, what the city calls it is about to.

Officials in St. Paul Park are considering rezoning a small residential neighborhood to a commercial designation, part of the city's plan for commercial growth laid out in the recent update of its 30-year comprehensive land use plan.

The change is one piece of a larger effort to align the city's zoning ordinances with the altered land use plan that is required every 10 years by the Metropolitan Council.

The decision would rezone an area close to the intersection of Hastings Avenue and Broadway Avenue, near St. Paul Park City Hall and the St. Paul Park Road interchange on Highway 61. City administrator Kevin Walsh said.

On paper, it's a seemingly small change: just a few sentences in the 128-page land use document describe St. Paul Park's intention to see the area between the city's main commercial district on Broadway Avenue and Highway 61 develop into an expanded commercial sector.

But it's a change that had residents worried enough to turn out in droves for the city's planning commission meeting last week, where they wondered aloud to planning commissioners why they hadn't received notice directly during the comprehensive plan process that city leaders had a different vision for their quiet neighborhood.

"As I understand it now, this was a done deal and we were not considered. And we're upset," said homeowner Rhonda Mann. Mann told commissioners she owns a vacant lot that she had hoped to subdivide and sell for residential development. Under the rezoning, new housing could not be constructed on the parcel.

Existing homes would be considered "legally non-conforming" structures. Homeowners wouldn't be forced out, and would be able to rebuild if damaged by fire, natural disaster or another cause, according to St. Paul Park ordinances.

City administrator Kevin Walsh said homeowners would still be able to sell their homes, too, and that their properties would continue to be assessed for tax purposes at a residential rate.

Council member Steve Hunstad tried to reassure the worried homeowners, telling them no development is imminent and that the city did not intend to push residents out of the neighborhood.

"It is purely market-driven," he said. "And at this point it doesn't look like anything is going to happen."