Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Posted on 12 February 2016 by Calvin

Bank obtains sign variance
Bank of America logoA new Midway Center business has obtained a variance for its signs. The St. Paul Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) voted unanimously Jan. 20 to approve a variance request from Bank of America.

The bank will open a small branch in the shopping center area facing University Ave., just west of Pascal St. But a major variance was needed to the city’s sign code before the new bank could put up its sign.

The Midway Shopping Center currently has 2,180 square feet of signage. The property was rezoned in 2011 to traditional neighborhood, and as such, the amount of signage allowable was reduced to 1,398 square feet.

The applicant is requesting a variance for a net signage increase of 18 square feet.
The request drew no letters in support and none in opposition. Mike Lawrence of Lawrence Sign explained that the sign request isn’t large, but that the bank does need its own signage.

City staff recommended approval of the variance.

Settlement approved
People with disabilities will have an easier time crossing St. Paul streets as a result of a settlement agreement announced Jan. 25 by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Minnesota Disability Law Center. The city has agreed to upgrade curb ramps on some of its busiest streets. Curb ramps are short ramps that connect the sidewalk to the street and provide individuals with disabilities access to the sidewalk.
The settlement affects curb ramps on streets that were rebuilt in 2014. It also affects all future street reconstruction and mill and overlay projects.

The St. Paul City Council, which signed off on the settlement Jan. 13, voted that same day to approve changes to the St. Paul Department of Public Works Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan. The city is now required to comply with the accessibility requirements of the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act when it completes alterations of city streets.

The change means that curb ramps will be replaced with legally compliance ramps, or installed where none exist, during mill and overlay as well as street reconstruction projects. The policy change calls for the city to identify all intersections lacking ramps, or older noncompliant ramps that don’t comply with the accessibility standards in place at the time of the alteration. New ramps will then be installed and older noncompliant ramps replaced.

In the past, Public Works hasn’t considered mill and overlay projects to be the same as street reconstruction. In a mill and overlay project, the top few inches of the street are milled off and then replaced with new pavement. Ramps weren’t replaced as they are when streets are rebuilt with new curbs and gutters, unless the ramps were in poor condition. Public Works spokesman Joe Ellickson said that had changed with the new ADA policy’s adoption.

Disability Law Center attorney Steve Schmidt said that while getting legally compliant ramps retrofitted on the streets done in 2014 is important, the more significant win is that compliant ramps will be part of all future projects. The three plaintiffs initially wrote a letter to the city, then submitted a draft legal complaint when that didn’t get the desired response.

Schmidt said the case had triggered interest from other communities. He said the hope is that other communities will bring their ADA policies in line with the law.

Flavored tobacco banned
Chocolatey cigarillos, bubble gum flavored chewing tobacco and other flavored tobacco products will be gone from most St. Paul retail outlets in April. The St. Paul City Council voted unanimously January 6 to ban flavored products from all but tobacco stores.

City Council members and ban advocates hailed the measure as a way to keep youth away from flavored tobacco products, which range from fruit punch-flavored cigarillos to chocolate-flavor e-cigarette juice. But retailers and the trade groups contend that the ban will mean a loss of retail sales of $50,000 on average for each retailer, as shoppers go elsewhere to buy tobacco products and other items such as food and beverages. That figure goes higher if gasoline sales are factored in.

Convenience stores, gas stations, grocery stores, drug stores and other retailers must now make plans to remove the products from their shelves in 90 days. A similar ban in Minneapolis took effect Jan. 1.

The ban doesn’t cover menthol, mint or wintergreen flavors.

Sale of flavored products will be restricted to tobacco shops, which are only open to patrons ages 18 and older. Tobacco stores are defined as stores that do 90 percent or more of their business in sale of tobacco products. Those include cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, chewing tobacco, electronic cigarettes or e-cigs, and the liquid used in those cigarettes.

The council also set a minimum price for cigars, for the second time in two years. Stores must charge at least $2.60 per cigar for packages containing three or more cigars, or $10.40 for a package of four cigars. Cheap cigars and cigarillos are seen as a temptation for youth wanting tobacco.

At least one area business will likely have to relocate or close as a result of the ban. Vape Pros, an electronic cigarette or e-cig shop housed in the Love Doctor adult novelty products store at 1607 University Ave. The two businesses share a tobacco license.

Cap O’Rourke, lobbyist for the Independent Vapor Retailers of Minnesota, noted that 95 percent of e-cigarette juices have some flavoring. “This business will have to remove all of its products, and it will have to close,” he said.

O’Rourke argued that minors aren’t allowed in the business. But because the Love Doctor and Vape Pros are within 500 feet of another tobacco shop, staying open as a separate entity will likely mean moving. Council President Russ Stark and other council members said the city is willing to look at the situation and see what can be done.

The ordinance change has been championed by Ramsey Tobacco Coalition and some medical and youth groups.

“Monitor In A Minute” is compiled and written by Jane McClure

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