A former Sam’s Club site would become a mix of business park and high-density residential uses under changes supported by the St. Louis Park City Council.
The council voted 6-0 Sept. 3 in favor of comprehensive plan and zoning changes for the site at 3745 Louisiana Ave. Additionally, the council voted in favor of defining self-storage facilities as permitted with conditions in the city’s industrial park and general industrial zoning districts, which would prevent self-storage facilities from being allowed in the business park section of the Sam’s Club site. Final votes are scheduled Monday, Sept. 16.
“Self-storage facilities would be allowed with certain conditions in industrial areas only, and not the business park zoning district, and not on the former Sam’s Club site,” Sean Walther, the city’s planning and zoning supervisor, clarified.
The change would prevent a use that city officials consider to be undesirable in a business park district near a light rail station, Walther added. The proposed ordinance distinguishes between warehouse and storage uses allowed as accessory uses in business park districts and self-storage facilities.
The site is the subject of a moratorium, which the city council voted last month to extend by 120 days after a yearlong period in which city staff and consultants conducted a study.
Laura Chamberlain, a consulting planner with Hoisington Koegler Group Inc., noted before the Sept. 3 council votes that members had directed staff members to find changes that would promote transit-oriented development at the site, which is located near the planned Louisiana Avenue Station along the Southwest Light Rail Transit line. The council also provided direction that it wanted a mix of uses that encouraged high-density residential and high-intensity employment opportunities near the station.
Under the changes council members voted to approve, the comprehensive plan for the 13-acre site will change from commercial to transit-oriented development, allowing the creation of at least 500 housing units and 98 jobs at the location, according to a city staff report. Forecasts that are a part of the comprehensive plan would be adjusted to add households, population and employment as a result. The comprehensive plan change would also include a mid-block road connection between Louisiana Avenue and Monitor Street across the site.
The zoning would change from general commercial to business park on the northern half of the property and high-density multiple family residence on the southern half.
The new zoning would allow the greatest mix of uses on the site available through districts that are a part of the zoning code, although ultimately the council likely would approve a planned unit development for the site tailored to a specific proposal, according to Chamberlain.
She also noted that the changes before the council that would prevent self-storage facilities on the site. The industrial areas in which self-storage facilities would be allowed tend to be located along railroad corridors and freeways, Walther said. The city has changed some other areas from industrial zoning to business park “to prevent some of the least desirable uses from going into these areas and encouraging a greater mix of uses in the existing buildings or in new construction,” he said.
He added, “We identified in the land use study that self storage was allowed in the business park district because it was grouped in with warehousing and storage, and so our desire here is to eliminate that use from the business park district and limit that only to industrial areas.”
Councilmember Tim Brausen supported the change, noting he had reservations about a self-storage facility built near the West End.
“Personally, I didn’t feel that that was one of the highest and best uses, but it was permitted by our code so there was no way to stop it,” Brausen said. “It’s a very lucrative way for some property owners to make money on it, but I don’t know that it necessarily promotes the uses we want to see in the business park area.”
At a neighborhood meeting about the Sam’s Club site, South Oak Hill Neighborhood residents expressed concern over environmental contamination on the site and potential traffic along Louisiana Avenue, Chamberlain noted. They also sought more direct communication about projects in the area. At a planning commission hearing, representatives of SLP SEEDS asked city leaders to consider a civic land use designation on the site that would allow options to increase food security, including potential reuse of the building as a food bank and urban agriculture on the site.
However, the planning commission and city staff both recommended the designations that council members voted to support.
With the changes, the current owner of the property can use the site to house a Sam’s Club or similar use if desired but the changes would guide future use if the property owner wanted to make a change.
At attorney representing Walmart and Sam’s Club had objected to the moratorium on the site last year, but the owner did not weigh in on the extension of the moratorium or the proposed changes at public hearings.
The new zoning would still allow the building to be reused for any purpose allowed in the business park zoning district, Chamberlain said.
Although Councilmember Thom Miller voted to support the staff and planning commission recommendations, he questioned the division of the property’s zoning.
He said he could be “overly concerned” that “we aren’t fully realizing what could happen on that entire parcel.”
Chamberlain said, “We wanted to make sure ... with the tools that we had available to convey in the best way that we could the intention for mixed-use on this site. And showing the business park to the northern portion would allow for that reuse of the building.”
Saving the former Sam’s Club building would have less of an environmental impact than demolishing a building that had recently been built, she added.
Alluding to the SLP Seeds suggestion, Councilmember Margaret Rog asked about the ability for the council to change the zoning if a partnership formed that could fund food security initiatives on the site.
Walther said the business park zoning allows some flexibility in uses but that a zoning change could be a possibility in the future as well.
“If they’re doing a production facility of some sort, they may actually fit in that business park,” he said. “I think there are possibilities that this district could serve that purpose, or certainly we could come back with an amendment.”
After the council’s final vote, St. Louis Park will submit the comprehensive plan changes to the Metropolitan Council for review. The Met Council can accept or reject such amendments.