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The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a set of zoning code changes that will make it easier for residents to build tiny homes, accessory dwelling units and cottage clusters.

The rule changes aim to allow more medium-density housing throughout the city, which officials say is facing a shortage of units to serve its growing population. The ordinance — which city staff described as a set of minor tweaks to streamline planning and remove barriers to building certain types of housing — paves the way for conversations about more significant zoning changes later this year.

"People have talked about 'missing middle housing' as being something that American cities could provide more of or support," St. Paul Planning Director Luis Pereira said in a presentation to the council earlier this month. "We're talking about the lower-density scale of that — duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, cottage or courtyard housing options. They typically are smaller in scale and … fit in well with pretty much all of our predominantly residential areas."

The amendments approved by the council include:

  • The removal of a clause requiring homes in residential districts to be at least 22 feet wide.
  • A change that will allow multiple principal residential buildings on one lot.
  • The deletion of a 5,000-square-foot lot size requirement for accessory dwelling units. Another code tweak changes the maximum permitted size for an accessory dwelling unit from 800 square feet to 75% of the principal unit.
  • The removal of a requirement that an accessory dwelling unit can only be built on a lot occupied by its owner.

Starting next month, the city will host virtual engagement sessions for the public to hear about next steps and offer feedback. Those conversations, each of which will focus on a different sector of the city, will be held Feb. 1 and 10 and March 2 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Links to attend sessions will be posted the day they are held on engagestpaul.org/1to4housingstudy.

The second phase of St. Paul's examination of its land-use rules will look at the possibility of allowing duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in more parts of the city. Nearly half of St. Paul's land area is currently zoned to allow only single-family homes, according to the city.

Some residents called Wednesday's vote a good first step, but urged council members and city staff to hasten more sweeping policy changes.

In Minnesota and across the country, a growing number of lawmakers and housing experts are pushing cities to drop rules that restrict areas to only single-family housing to make neighborhoods more accessible to diverse populations and affordable. Minneapolis drew national attention in 2018, when it became the first major city to eliminate single-family zoning.