Politics and Government

St. Paul City Council votes unanimously to boost EV-readiness

The zoning ordinance mandates new surface parking be EV-capable

A paved parking lot
The proposal only affects surface lots, such as this one pictured in downtown St. Paul, because other parking structures follow state building codes.
Lisa Ryan | MPR News

Updated 6:09 p.m.

The St. Paul City Council unanimously passed a zoning proposal Wednesday that aims to prepare new surface parking lots for a future with more electric vehicles.

The proposal says new surface parking lots with more than 15 spots would have to be EV capable, meaning the wiring and panel spacing would be ready for chargers, but none would be mandated or built just yet.

“You won’t see a great change overnight. But hopefully in the next decade or two to come, we’ll look back at this and see a real change and see the foresight and all the money saved as we help people get involved in the EV revolution,” city planner Bill Dermody said ahead of the vote.

Current industry projections predict 30 to 50 percent of new vehicle sales will be electric by 2030 or soon after. St. Paul has set a city operations carbon neutrality goal for 2030 and citywide goal by 2050.

The proposal looks out for the capital city in the long term, Dermody said, with a specific eye toward the growth of multi-family residences.

The proposal applies to 80 percent of future multi-family residential lots and 20 percent of other future surface lots, which would primarily mean parking in commercial areas.

Multi-family residences make up 44 percent of St. Paul housing units, Dermody said. And multi-family units are the majority of 11,000 housing units anticipated to be added by 2040.

“This is both an environmental and an equity issue,” Dermody said. “When more people own EVs, it’s important that it’s not just single-family property owners who can participate … multi-family is where a lot of the residential growth will be.”

Part of the need for charger-capable commercial lots still goes back to drivers from multi-family units, Dermody said.

“A lot of our multi-family is here already, and it will be expensive to retrofit those situations for EV charging,” he said. “So people are going to need other places to charge their vehicles. Maybe their place of employment, maybe a fast charge while they’re at a retail store or a restaurant … it’s important that other types of land uses in the city help with that.”

The proposal only affects surface lots because other parking structures follow state building codes — and only a few new surface lots are built annually, Dermody said. But he thinks the rule could end up saving the city and developers millions down the line. It costs about $600 to make a parking spot EV-capable, he said, but thousands to actually install a charging station.

“And this amendment would allow the flexibility for the newest technology to be put in whenever the demand is there, rather than putting in something now that just doesn’t make sense in five years,” he said.

Dan Collison, the senior director of business development with Sherman Associates, said the real estate development company had already set a general practice of all new construction to be 50 percent charger-ready.

“We believe removing fossil fuel cars from the road will improve everyone’s health and remove gas emissions and make our world more carbon free and sustainable. We believe in that,” he said. “And we also practically want to plan ahead to get the right size transformer and have the technology pre-installed.”

Sherman Associates was one of the development companies invited to provide input in the planning of the proposal. Collison said he had not heard much pushback from other companies — although that could have been different if the proposal applied to existing parking lots.

“When we have the federal government and the state government, and now cities and counties wanting to set net zero carbon free goals, they have to flow with it,” he said.

Although the proposal won’t make a huge splash in the near future, Collison said, one tangible change would be at The Heights, a St. Paul housing redevelopment project. It’s expected to bring about 900 units of affordable multi-family housing to the former Hillcrest Golf Course. More than 1,000 new parking spots for the multi-family units could be affected if built as surface lots, he said.

Collison added about 64 percent of the Twin Cities units that Sherman Associates operates are income qualified. And of those, “we haven’t had any requests for electric vehicle charging.”

“We need more affordable EV cars, especially for those who are more resource strapped, who are qualifying for the income-qualified units. We just want to see [everybody] be able to drive cleaner cars,” he said. “That’s something we’re concerned about.”

An earlier version of the proposal mandated 80 percent of both commercial and multi-family residential lots be EV capable.

If signed by Mayor Melvin Carter, the rule for new surface lots could take effect in about one month.

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