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 does the North Concord Mixed-Use (NCMU) District Need an Update?

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.

The goal of this code update project is to get community consensus on a vision for what Concord Street North should look like. The City will then update the NCMU district code to match that vision. The updated code will be tailored to Concord Street North instead of being a copy of the Concord Exchange zoning rules.

Q: Why do 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 about to commence 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: Could the North Concord Mixed-Use (NCMU) 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.” 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 NCMU zoning district 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 planned update will potentially help many businesses and is unlikely to hurt existing businesses.

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 is launching on March 16, 2021. The City anticipates that this project will conclude in October. The grant requires all consultant work to be completed by no later than October 31, 2021.

Q: How Can I get Involved?

A: The City will be reaching out to individual property owners on the corridor to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to share comments, questions, and concerns with City Staff and the City’s consultant. You can submit written comments or you can speak to City Staff to share your comments. There will also be some amount of general community outreach during the “visioning” portion of the project. The City is tentatively planning to host an open house for the project in July 2021. You can sign up to receive updates relating to this project on the project website.

The updated code will be reviewed at televised meetings during the fall and a formal public hearing will be held by the Planning Commission at that time. The City Council will review the revised ordinance at two separate meetings before voting on whether to approve it.

Q: How do I Learn More about the Existing North Concord Mixed Use (NCMU) Zoning Rules?

A: The full text of the existing NCMU zoning district rules can be found here. It is Section 118-127 of the City Code. Additionally, an electronic version of the 2003 Concord Grand Avenue Gateway Streetscape and Redevelopment Plan is available here

Q: I own a single-family home or other small residential building that is zoned North Concord Mixed Use (NCMU). What does this code update mean for me?

A:  The 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.” The NCMU update is not expected to change this.

Because of the special protected status, existing small residential buildings can continue to 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.

If you have questions that were not answered by the FAQ, you can reach out to the City Planner, Michael Healy, by phone at (651) 554-3217 or by email at mhealy@southstpaul.org