Linden Hills rezoning advances through city approval process

A proposal to rezone portions of Linden Hills to allow more density has passed the city Planning Commission, with a final Council vote pending in March.

The changes would allow up to four stories or 56 feet at sites including the northeast corner of 46th & France, a childcare facility at 44th & Drew, and the north side of 44th Street between Xerxes and St. Thomas the Apostle Church.

The proposal would also replace the current “Linden Hills Overlay District” with guidelines in the “Pedestrian Oriented Overlay District” used citywide. If adopted, the new district would reduce parking requirements. Linden Hills has a higher parking requirement than anywhere else in the city, according to Principal City Planner Brian Schaffer. The new district would also require 10-foot setbacks on the top floor of commercial buildings as well as buildings more than three stories. Other Pedestrian Oriented Overlay Districts exist in Uptown and spots like 54th & Lyndale, 58th & Lyndale, and 48th & Chicago.

City staff said the rezoning follows Linden Hills’ adopted “small area plan,” which was designed with neighborhood input to guide future development.

In written comments, some residents said they worry that more density could lead to parking and traffic issues, and said they don’t want to see cars circling to find parking spots.

Linden Hills resident Sally Mars said she hears a lot opposition to the “R4” zoning proposed near 44th & Xerxes, which would allow heights up to four stories. She said residents would prefer to see zoning at “R3,” keeping heights at two-and-a-half stories. 

Linden Hills resident Constance Pepin suggested that city officials zone the area R3 and consider granting conditional use permits for additional height, rather than starting at R4 and seeing developers request to build higher.

“You have that power tonight to do it at R3 instead of R4 and save us a lot of grief,” Pepin said. “…You can achieve the goal of medium density without ripping people off and pushing up over the four story limit.”

City staff said they recommended “R4” zoning based on language in the small area plan that allows three- or four-story buildings. That language was added late in the small area planning process, and is much debated in the neighborhood.

“The height is just a straight interpretation of the policy of the plan saying three or four stories is appropriate,” Schaffer said.

Another proposal would rezone three pieces of land into commercial property. They include a city parking lot at 44th & Beard, which is part of the old trolley right-of-way across from Turtle Bread; the France 44 Wine and Spirits lot at 4351 France Ave. S. where residential and commercial zoning is currently split through the parking lot; and the Wild Rumpus building at 2718 W. 43rd St., which also has split zoning.

Such a change would normally trigger the consent of two-thirds of property owners within 100 feet, impacting more than 50 property owners in this case. City staff asked the Planning Commission to rule such consent impractical, as staff time is limited and state statute mandates consistency between adopted land use policy and the city’s zoning.

Planning Commissioners discussed whether obtaining consent would be impractical.

“Knocking on a few doors is not hard,” Commissioner Rebecca Gagnon said.

Commissioner Alissa Luepke Pier said if the threshold for consent wasn’t reached, they would find themselves in conflict with state statute and would spend a lot of time going back to square one.

Commissioners voted 7-1 in favor of the zoning changes.

The city’s Zoning & Planning Committee is scheduled to take up the Linden Hills rezoning proposal on March 3, followed by the full City Council on March 18.