Correctional community-residential facility not appropriate in area designated for future industry

by Hannah Dankbar and Gary Taylor

Volunteers of America- Minnesota v City of Saint Paul
Minnesota Court of Appeals, January 20, 2015

Volunteers of America- Minnesota (VOA) claimed the City of St. Paul was wrong to deny their application for a conditional-use permit, saying that the denial was arbitrary and capricious. VOA is a non-profit faith group, which operates a center in Roseville for adults transitioning out of the federal corrections system. The center is licensed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections and has a contract with the federal government. The center had to move because their lease expired in the previous center. The organization selected 1394 Jackson Street in St. Paul and signed a purchase agreement in 2011. The property is zoned I-1 “light industrial.” Even though the property had served as a correctional community-residential facility in the past, VOA had to get a conditional-use permit from the city. VOA had to satisfy the zoning code’s five general conditions and six specific conditions, found in Section 61.501 related to correctional-residential facilities.  The five general conditions are:

  1. The extent, location and intensity of the use will be in substantial compliance with the Saint Paul Comprehensive Plan and any applicable subarea plans which were approved by the city council.
  2. The use will provide adequate ingress and egress to minimize traffic congestion in the public streets.
  3. The use will not be detrimental to the existing character of the development in the immediate neighborhood or endanger the public health, safety and general welfare.
  4. The use will not impede the normal and orderly development and improvement of the surrounding property for uses permitted in the district.
  5. The use shall, in all other respects, conform to the applicable regulations of the district in which it is located.

Section 65.154(d) of the zoning code limits to 16 the number of residents allowed at a community residential facility such as VOA. VOA requested that it be allowed to have 74 residents – the number of residents needed to generate sufficient operating revenue. The planning commission approved a conditional use permit and granted a upward modification of Section 65.154(d) to allow 32 residents.  VOA appealed to the city council, but the permit was denied outright by the council – not because of the occupancy limits – but rather because the application did not satisfy subsections (1) and (4) of Section 61.501.

The city determined that the planning commission erred in finding that the center substantially complies with comprehensive and district plans. The district plan states that the area should be redeveloped as “a business center with light industrial and office-service uses.” VOA asserts that the center should be considered an “opportunity site” that either focuses on mixed use development or the creation of employment centers. Neither the city council nor the Court of Appeals agreed with VOA’s assertion.  The city had plans to redevelop that area for industry for over 30 years, and with several major road construction projects nearing completion, the court said it was reasonable for the city to conclude that VOA’s proposed project does not align with the plan.

The court also found that the city’s conclusion that Jackson Street center would impede normal and orderly development was not arbitrary and capricious. Allowing the center would impede a new industrial/office park that is likely to come to the area and be at odds with the type of industrial development that is a priority to the area.  VOA’s argument that its current facilities in other locations “show a successful track record and positive feedback from neighbors” may alleviate concerns about the proposed center, but it does not establish that the center would not impede future plans for industrial and commercial development.

The city’s denial of VOA’s conditional use permit application was affirmed.

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