Frequently Asked Questions About the NCMU Update Project
Q: What is the North Concord Mixed-Use (NCMU) District?
A: The NCMU district is a mixed-use commercial and residential zoning district that is in place primarily for properties located along Concord Street North between Grand Avenue and South St. Paul’s northern border with Saint Paul.
The NCMU district is what is known as a “form-based code.” While traditional zoning codes are mostly focused on the use of each building, a form-based code is primarily concerned with the physical form of the building, meaning its visual appearance and site design. Cities often use form-based codes in areas where they are trying to achieve a specific look and feel with new development.
Q: Why did the City Create the North Concord Mixed-Use (NCMU) District?
A: In 2003, the City embraced a vision to transform Concord Exchange into a walkable mixed-use downtown that would be inspired by traditional early 1900’s main street architecture. The City adopted a small area plan called the “Concord Grand Avenue Gateway Streetscape and Redevelopment Plan” and created a new mixed-use zoning district that was put in place along Concord Exchange (this did not affect Concord Street North).
In 2004, the City enacted a moratorium on new development on Concord Street North to study the area. It was decided that this corridor should also be a mixed-use commercial/residential area. The City organized a citizen task force who looked at the corridor and recommended that the City essentially copy the zoning rules for Concord Exchange and put them in place on Concord Street North. The City Council accepted the task force’s recommendation and created the North Concord Mixed Use (NCMU) district.
Q: Why is the North Concord Mixed-Use (NCMU) District Being Updated/Replaced?
A: Concord Street North is a very different street than Concord Exchange. On Concord Street North, the parcels are smaller and narrower, there are bluffs on both sides of the street, and there are railroad tracks on the east side of the street. The existing zoning rules are specifically tailored to Concord Exchange and, consequently, many of the performance standards do not work well on Concord Street North. It is very difficult, and in many cases impossible, to improve properties on Concord Street North in a manner that satisfies the current NCMU code requirements. This means that variances are usually needed, even for small projects. This is very challenging for property owners and discourages investment in properties along Concord Street North.
One goal of this code update project was to get community consensus on a vision for what Concord Street North should look like. That task was completed in June 20201 when the City Council approved a vision for the North Concord corridor. The City is now creating a new zoning district to implement that vision. The new district, the Mixed Markets and Makers District, is specifically tailored to Concord Street North instead of being a copy of the Concord Exchange zoning rules.
Q: Why is the City Doing this Zoning Update Now?
A: Until recently, Concord Street North was a State Highway owned and operated by MnDOT and the City had little control over the design of the road. For many decades, the road has been set up as a low-amenity industrial highway. The City of South St. Paul, MnDOT, and Dakota County recently completed a “turnback” which transferred the jurisdiction of the street. The City now owns and controls Concord Street between Grand Avenue and our northern border with Saint Paul and Dakota County now owns and controls Concord Street between Grand Avenue and Interstate-494.
The City, in partnership with Dakota County and MnDOT, is currently undertaking the Concord Street Improvements Project. This major road project will overhaul Concord Street and transform it into a multi-modal corridor that is safe and useable for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. New sidewalks and bikeable shoulders are being added to the roadway and the street design is being beautified and improved. Once the road project is complete, the corridor will be much more attractive to investment. The City wants to ensure that the right zoning rules are in place to encourage that investment.
Q: What is the Mixed Markets and Makers Zoning District?
A: The Mixed Markets and Makers (MMM) district is a new zoning district that is being added to the City Code to replace the NCMU district. The MMM zoning district will cover all of the properties that are currently zoned NCMU which are north of Wentworth Avenue. The main goal of the new zoning district is to make it easier for property owners to invest in the corridor by having more flexible regulations. The new code will allow property owners to use a variety of different building materials when constructing new buildings or remodeling their existing buildings and the district will have flexible setback regulations to make it easier to build improvements on North Concord’s challenging parcels. The new district will also give small business owners a larger say in how they provide parking for their customers. The existing code requires most small businesses to petition the City Council for a parking variance before undertaking any significant new construction project that expands their building. The variance process introduces uncertainty to projects and makes property owners less likely to plan for large investments.
The corridor study that was completed earlier this year included a thorough analysis of properties on Concord Street North. It was determined that the existing built environment along the corridor consists of four different “character areas” which are groups of properties with similar topographical conditions where existing development has a distinct look and feel. The MMM district will have four different subdistricts, one for each character area, and the zoning regulations in each subdistrict will be carefully tailored to support specific goals that are unique to each subdistrict.
Like the existing NCMU district, the new MMM district will allow traditional “mixed-use” development such as commercial retail buildings, residential buildings, and buildings that contain both commercial retail and residential uses. In addition to traditional mixed-use development, however, the MMM district will also allow a wide range of other uses that can peacefully coexist alongside mixed-use development. For instance, the MMM district will also allow “craft production” which refers to light manufacturing uses that have a customer-facing component such as breweries with taprooms, glassmaking operations with retail shops, and production bakeries which have a retail sales counter.
Q: How Can I Learn More About the Mixed Markets and Makers District?
A: The project team presented an initial draft of the proposed MMM ordinance to the Planning Commission on September 1st and to the City Council on September 13th. The memos from these two meetings, which includes the draft ordinance as an attachment, can be found on the “Staff Memos” tab on the project’s webpage at www.southstpaul.org/NCMU.
The project team is making modifications to the draft ordinance based on feedback that was received from the Planning Commission and City Council at their meetings in September. A more polished final draft will be presented to the Planning Commission for formal review at a public hearing on October 6th. The meeting packet will be available for download from the agenda center on the City’s website the Friday before the meeting: https://www.southstpaul.org/agendacenter.
Q: Why are Properties South of Wentworth Avenue Not a Part of the Mixed Markets and Makers District?
The Mixed Markets and Makers District is tailored to meet the needs of the Concord Street North corridor. Properties south of Wentworth Avenue have an entirely different character than the properties north of Wentworth. South of Wentworth, parcels are much larger and construction projects are not constrained by the bluffs in the same way. Additionally, the City has a completely different vision for most of the properties that are south of Wentworth Avenue. The basics of this vision are laid out in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan and the Hardman Triangle Plan which can both be found on the City’s website. The City does anticipate updating the zoning rules for the properties south of Wentworth Avenue in the near future but this is beyond the scope of the current project.
All properties that are south of Wentworth Avenue which are currently zoned “North Concord Mixed Use” are going to be zoned Concord Gateway Mixed Use District 1. Because these two zoning districts are almost identical, the properties in this area will essentially have no change in the way that they are regulated.
Q: I own a single-family home or other small residential building that is currently zoned North Concord Mixed Use (NCMU). What does this code update mean for me?
A: The existing NCMU zoning district allows new residential buildings as long as they have at least four units. All existing residential buildings that have less than four units, such as single-family homes and duplexes, are given a special protected status under City Code Section 118-8 and its definition of “Nonconforming, Use, Lot, or Buildings.” Because of the special protected status, existing small residential buildings can be enlarged, extended, reconstructed, or altered as long as no additional dwelling units are being added. All improvements must meet the minimum requirements of the R-2 Single- and Two-Family Residence zoning district. The code update will not change any of this.
One of the MMM subdistricts will actually allow single-family homes, two-family homes, and three-family homes so property owners in this area will gain the right to build these types of buildings instead of being required to build fourplexes as the existing NCMU zoning requires.
Q: Could the North Concord Zoning Update Hurt My Business?
A: One of the major goals of this zoning update is to make the City’s rules for Concord Street North more “business friendly” to make it easier to improve properties. The existing NCMU zoning rules are unusually strict and contain detailed rules regarding the use of buildings, the architecture of buildings, and the way that buildings and parking lots can be laid out. It does not appear that any existing buildings on Concord Street North meet the current standards. Many of the existing businesses on Concord Street North are types of businesses that are not allowed in the NCMU zoning district and are considered lawful nonconforming (also known as “grandfathered”). Under State Law, existing buildings and existing businesses that are ”grandfathered” are allowed to be maintained, repaired, replaced, and improved but ARE NOT allowed to be expanded unless expansion is specifically allowed by the City Code.
The goal of this zoning update is to create a better zoning framework on North Concord, one that will give property owners more options to use their properties without needing variances. The update will potentially help many businesses. Any existing business that is currently operating lawfully will be protected as a lawful nonconforming (“grandfathered”) business even if they are not an allowed use under the new MMM zoning rules.
Q: Who is Overseeing this Project?
A: This project is being overseen by City Planner Michael Healy. The City has contracted with a local land use planning consultant, Michael Lamb Consulting, LLC, to manage the project and provide technical expertise.
Q: Who is Paying for this Project?
A: This project is being funded with a generous $30,000 grant from the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) and the Dakota County Public Health Department. Consultant expenses will be entirely paid for using funds from the grant.
Q: What is the Timeline for this Project?
A: The project launched on March 16, 2021. The grant requires all consultant work to be completed by no later than October 31, 2021.
The Planning Commission will be holding a public hearing for the new ordinance at their meeting on October 6th. The City Council is tentatively scheduled to hold a first reading for the new ordinance on October 18th and a second reading on November 1st.
Q: How Can I get Involved?