Payne Phalen District Five Planning Council Organizing Strong, Safe, Welcoming and Connected Neighborhoods †
Neighborhood: How Your District Council Is Involved
Payne Phalen and other St. Paul district councils play a
key role in determining how a neighborhood changes and develops.
Neighborhood residents and business owners can influence the land use
decisions made at City Hall. New businesses and dwellings can be
improved with your input, and existing businesses can operate in a way that is
better for neighbors.
In most cases land use changes don't just happen. Permission
has to be obtained from city officials. District councils work
closely with city staff and the St. Paul Planning Commission,
the Board of Zoning Appeals and the City Council. All
of these folks have a say in what happens in your neighborhood. They often ask district councils for community perspectives and recommendations on land use decisions. The
recommendations are usually made after a community meeting and vote by
the district council and/or its land use committee.
makes which decisions on land use?
key groups make decisions in St. Paul. The district council can
make recommendations to all of these groups.
The Planning Commission
makes recommendations on zoning changes and community plans to the
City Council. The Commission makes final decisions on a number of
land use-related issues including conditional use permits,
non-conforming use permits, determinations
of similar use, small area plans, district plans and variances.
The Commission may also conduct site plan reviews as requested.
Planning Commission decisions can be appealed to the City Council
within a 10-day period.
Every district council in the city is required to have a
long-range district plan. District plans spell out an array of
objectives ranging from long-term redevelopment plans to future
capital improvement needs, such as new or expanded recreation
centers and libraries. The city requires that district plans be
updated every 10 years.
Small area plans cover a smaller area than an entire district. For
example, Payne Avenue has been the subject
of specific plans. Small area plans and district plans are done
under the purview of the Planning Commission.
The Board of Zoning
Appeals or BZA makes decisions on building height and setback,
lot coverage and lot size variances. Variances for signs also
fall under the purview of the BZA. All BZA decisions are final
unless appealed to the City Council within 10 days.
The City Council has
the final say on zoning changes and on various community plans.
The City Council hears all appeals of BZA and Planning
Commission decisions. While it is unusual, City Council
decisions can be appealed to District Court or to the Minnesota
Court of Appeals.
City staff make recommendations
to the Planning Commission, BZA and City Council. In some cases,
such as in site plan reviews, city staff makes the decisions. In
other cases, the appointed and elected officials receive staff
recommendations, which they can accept, amend or reject.
Quick tip: Call your City Council
office or check the cityís website to find out which land use issues
are pending. Most of these agendas are regularly posted on the cityís
web site. Or you can ask to be notified about land use issues in your
planning district. Sign up here to get on the appropriate notification list(s) for the City of Saint Paul. You can also
sign up for free email notifications on some county-wide issuehere
district councils and the public weigh in on a land use issue?
City staff ask
district councils for recommendations on land use issues. District
councils are asked to recommend approval or denial of matters before
the Planning Commission, BZA or City Council. If approval is
recommended, the district council can also recommend conditions in
most cases. These recommendations can be submitted in writing or in
public testimony. Any citizen may also write a letter, send an e-mail
or make a phone call to weigh in on an issue. Citizens can also
testify at public hearings on these matters. Every land use decision
in St. Paul has a public hearing. All
public input is reviewed at the hearing. Your comments can make a
Quick Tip: Get your input to city officials as soon as
possible. Getting a letter or an email in sooner
rather than later allows more time for your comments to be considered
and studied by city staff.
if we think a land use change is good idea?
Even if something seems popular, it never
hurts to write a letter, send an email or make a call in support.
Many times when people testify in favor of a land use
change, they focus on issues not directly related to the land use
change. For example, you may believe the neighborhood needs a new
dog and cat grooming business, and that the business owner needs a
permit to allow her business to open. But thatís not what the
Planning Commission must consider. The Commission must decide
whether or not thatís a good use of land and whether that business
is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.
Quick tip: Keep your comments
focused on how a land use change fits in with other neighborhood
land uses, if you are in support.
if we think a change in land use is a bad idea?
Itís not effective to make an angry or
emotional argument against a land use change and what you may believe
that will mean for your community. For example, you may believe that
a new store or apartment building will cause more crime, but that is
hard to prove.
Yelling and pounding the table may make you feel better, but
it will probably put people off as wellĖ especially the decisions-makers
that you want to persuade to your position.
Base your arguments on what you can prove. Check the cityís
guidelines for a land use. For example, you may be able to argue
that the proposed variances for a building would create a structure
that is too large and would tower over its neighboring
businesses. Maybe allowing a single-family home to be
converted into a triplex would bring too many motor vehicles and
too much demand for parking on your already-crowded street. Maybe
the neighborhood already has a number of residential in group homes
and more would be a burden. What will a land use change potentially mean
for the neighborhood?
Consider traffic and parking, population
density, and the look and feel of the community. Those are the kind of arguments
you can make if you believe a proposed land use change is not a
benefit to the community. If you can, find out what a similar land
use has meant in other parts of the neighborhood or city.
Quick Tip: Avoid emotional
arguments. Base your arguments, as best you can,
on facts and anecdotal evidence.
How can we make sure a business operates in a way
that is compatible to a neighborhood?
may be placed on some land use changes, such as conditional use
permits. Conditions may be placed on how a business is operated and
maintained. Hours of operation may be set through conditions.
Conditions must be directly related to a proposed land use.
For example, all automotive-related businesses in St. Paul require conditional use
permits. An automotive body shop may be required to store auto parts
and tires inside a building or a fenced enclosure. A parking lot may
have to be paved, striped and fenced. The building exterior may have
to be lit in a way that provides security yet doesnít create lighting
glare into the surrounding neighborhood.
Landscaping may have to
be added to buffer the business from residential neighbors. There
may be limits set on how many vehicles can be parked there at any
one time. Hours of operations may be set through conditions. Thatís
especially important if a business could operate in a way that
affects neighbors late at night or early in the morning. If conditions
are not met, a land use permit can be revoked. Conditions cannot be
put on zoning changes. Those simply have to be voted up or down.
Zoning changes are granted carefully so that a changed land use is
not incompatible with surrounding land uses. An incompatible land
use is considered ďspot zoningĒ and is illegal.
Quick tip: If you can, see what
conditions have been placed on similar land uses in
Payne-Phalen or other St. Paul neighborhoods. While itís
not good to have a one size fits all with every
application, many conditions can be applicable from neighborhood to
there other ways to regulate businesses?
What kind of businesses come into a neighborhood and how
those businesses are regulated are also issues a district council and
community can have a say in, in terms of business licenses. The city
staff can recommend that licenses be denied,
be approved with conditions or simply approved.
Neighbors and district
councils can ask for a license to be denied, approved or approved
with conditions placed on the business license. The conditions can
include a variety of issues such as hours of operation, number of
off-street parking spaces, lighting, sale of certain types of
products, number of vehicles parked at a site. The conditions can be
similar to those in a zoning permit. In fact, some neighborhoods
ask that any BZA or Planning Commission conditions placed on a
permit also be included in a business license when applicable.
License requests have heard by a City
Council legislative hearing officer. It only takes one neighborhood
letter of complaint or concern to have a license hearing at City
Hall. At the legislative hearing, the district council and the public
can testify in support of or against the license. License conditions
can also be suggested.
District councils can also hold
neighborhood meetings on license requests, prior to action by the
Community Planning &
Economic Development (CPED) Committee 1st
Tuesdays of each month
Arlington Public Library, 1105 Greenbrier (Jessamine and
Call to confirm time and place at 651-774-5234.
If you want to get regular e-mail updates
on land use and development in District Five neighborhoods, join our
Neighborhood Leadership Network. E-mail us at