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{ Monitor in a Minute } January 2020

Posted on 10 February 2020 by Tesha Christensen

By JANE McCLURE

Como going from 4 lanes to 3
The St. Paul City Council in December asked for a lane configuration change on Como Ave., which is needed to implement a larger project.
The city is asking that the Ramsey County Department of Public Works implement a four-lane to three-lane conversion on Como Ave. between Canfield St. and Snelling Ave.
Como Ave. in that area is a county road. The change sought would be meant to tie into planned city-county improvements on a longer stretch of the street between Raymond and Hamline avenues this year.
Como is part of the city’s Grand Round citywide system on bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, including sidewalks, bike lanes and trails. The Grand Round plans have been in place for several years.
The project scope includes construction of an off-street trail along the north side of Como between Raymond and Hamline, narrowing the street to encourage slower traffic, construction of bump-outs, installation of wayfinding and placemaking elements, and installation of street lighting to improve safety for all roadway users. It also includes the lane conversion between Canfield and Snelling.
A traffic speed study conducted in July 2019 identified 85th percentile traffic speeds at 39 miles per hour in the eastbound direction and 41 miles per hour in the westbound direction, well in excess of the posted 35 mile per hour speed limit.
But the conversion also includes prohibiting on-street parking on both the north and south sides of Como between Canfield and Snelling. Parking counts were done, and meetings were held in the community.

Fewer billboards?
Outfront Media’s efforts to relocate a billboard near the Interstate 94-Highway 280 interchange will be in the hands of the St. Paul City Council, as a result of an appeal by St. Anthony Park Community Council.
The St. Paul Planning Commission unanimously approved a non-conforming use relocation Dec. 20. The billboard would also be converted to a dynamic display, with a lighted message that will regularly change. The billboard would be visible from the highways at its location at 2516 Wabash Ave., just west of Highway 280 and north of Interstate 94.
Billboard relocation and conversion ordinances would require Outfront Media to remove as many as 35 smaller billboards throughout St. Paul neighborhoods.
Which neighborhood billboards eventually come down would be determined in negotiations between Outfront Media and city staff in the Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI), said Senior City Planner Anton Jerve.

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Monitor In A Minute December 2019

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

by Jane McClure

Dale Street Bridge schedule unveiled
The $14.7 million Dale Street Bridge over Interstate 94 will bring improved walkways and bike access when it is completed in 2020. But the project will bring months of disruption to area neighborhoods. More than 70 people joined the Ramsey County Department of Public Works Nov. 21, 2019 for a preview of construction timing and one more look at bridge plans.
The project goes out for bid in February, with work starting after that. The bridge is to be fully open for traffic in fall 2020, although some landscaping and other work could extend later.
The new bridge will provide 16 feet of pedestrian, bike and plaza space on either side, two 11-foot lanes of motor vehicle traffic in each direction, and 12-foot turn lanes. Dale between University and Iglehart avenues will be rebuilt, with new sidewalks, new street lighting and corner bump-outs added.
A former service station property at the northeast corner of Dale and St. Anthony will be open space, with a direct sidewalk and a winding “switchback” walkway to allow for easier access of what is a steep slope.
The $14.7 million project is covered with a mix of federal, state and local funding. The only assessments for adjacent property owners along Dale will be for above-standard street lighting. Those costs haven’t been calculated.
Those at the meeting had questions about detours, cut-through traffic, access for buses, snow plowing and access to homes, place of worship and businesses. County officials plan to post a question and answer section on the project website. The project will also have a dedicated community engagement worker to help get the word out about detours and other issues.
Bridge planning and community involvement in bridge design have taken place over the last few years, with several community meetings, said Ramsey County Project Engineer Erin Laberee. Much of the historic Rondo neighborhood was wiped out during freeway construction, and one goal is to have a new bridge’s public art honor that community.
“The original bridge was built in 1961, and expanded in 1983,” said Laberee. “It’s time for it to be replaced.”

Fate of BP station up in the air
It will likely be early 2020 before the fate of the crime-ridden BP gas station at 1347 University Ave. W. is known. The troubled business was the focus of an administrative law judge hearing in mid-November. St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI) officials contend that the business should have its operating licenses revoked. Owner Khal Aloul has fought the city’s actions and is trying to keep the business open.
A homicide in the parking lot and ongoing allegations of drug dealing, fighting, loitering, city license violations and other crime have area residents and business owners demanding change. Incidents at the property have been live-streamed.
In one Police Department video shown at the hearing, an employee explains how scouring pads and glass tubes were used to make kits for smoking crack. The employee also admitted selling single cigarettes and cigars in violation of city ordinances.
At the hearing, Hamline Midway Coalition presented testimony that included more than 280 survey responses. The focus was on how behavior at BP impacts neighborhood residents, businesses and commuters. DSI and the City Attorney’s Office have focused on a long history of license violations and crimes.
St. Paul has used an administrative law judge process in license matters since the 1990s when facts in a case are in dispute. Attorneys for the city and the business have until Dec. 20 to submit their first round of closing arguments, with further filings possible until Jan. 10. The judge then has up to 30 days in which to make a ruling, which then goes back to the St. Paul City Council for action. That is expected in February, where there will be another public hearing. No date has been set.

Trash rates to be reduced
St. Paul’s 2020 residential trash disposal rates will decrease, over protests from the six-member garbage hauler consortium serving the city. The St. Paul City Council Nov. 13 voted unanimously to approve 2020 rates. The total decrease is $1 million for the $27 million contract, and not the $2.5 million increase haulers initially sought.
Nor would the city agree to freeze rates at the 2019 level for the first six months of 2020, another request the haulers made. The rates go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
On average, property owners will see about a $10 per year decrease.
At public hearings in November, an attorney for St. Paul Haulers LLC spoke against the rate package, as did Sue Stewart of Highland Sanitation. Both cited increased costs.
Organized collection, which is entering its second year, serves one to four-unit residential buildings. Council members and Department of Public Works staff said that with one year’s data on hand, they have actual garbage tonnage to factor in. The tonnage collected for the first year of the program is 56,000 tons.
Council members and Department of Public Works staff stood firm, saying that if tonnage went down, so should rates paid.

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Monitor in a Minute October 2019

Posted on 17 October 2019 by Tesha Christensen

by Jane McClure

* Online only article
Business could lose licenses
Steps are underway to revoke city licenses for a troubled Hamline-Midway convenience store and gas station. The Midway BP Amoco at 1347 W. University Ave. has been a trouble spot in recent years, with crimes ranging from shootings to loitering. One person died in a shooting this past summer.
A licensing hearing is planned for Nov. 11 at City Hall. Staff from the city’s Police Department and Department of safety and Inspections have called the business uncooperative, as city requests for surveillance tapes and other information have gone unanswered.
The latest effort is to take away the tobacco sales and gas station city licenses, which is driving the upcoming hearing process. A recommendation on the licenses would eventually go to the St. Paul City Council, which would then hold another hearing.
Business owner Khaled Aloul, who owns other twin Cities area gas station-convenience stores, is fighting the city’s plans. Aloul in recent years has tried to do a major renovation of the business. if those plans are thwarted the business could be in jeopardy. Under a sweeping University Avenue rezoning plan adopted by the city in 2010, a new gas station-convenience store at the property likely wouldn’t allowed.
Aloul has a long history of battling with city officials. Illegal tobacco sales, shots fired calls, property code violations weapons and large late-night and early-morning gatherings outside of the business are among the many complaints about the business.
Hamline Midway Coalition is collecting comments on the business in preparation for the hearing, athttps://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XRNTL5Z?fbclid=IwAR1e8EEhbcs6Ic1rYPbagsCbyIkOzh3-UnbJf4UvBRxI-nf-UhpUS8aAjhk
The survey asked respondents eight questions, including what if any activities they have witnessed at the business and what they’d like to see in the area there in the future. Comments are due by early November and as of late September more than 200 comments had been logged.

Peddler license dispute resolved
A Minnesota State Fair peddler license dispute dating from 2018 has been resolved. The St. Paul City Council Sept. 25 took final action on an issue involving a vendor violating city regulations on where to sell products.
Vendor Todd L. Grosklags was seen in August 2018 selling fair tickets at the corner of Snelling Avenue and Midway Parkway. That violated a regulation that sales not take place within 25 feet of a corner. Two instances of improper sales were observed within a six-day period. Grosklags got a warning for the first sale and was cited for the second sale.
The case went to the City Council but was then sent to an administrative law judge at the state level. A hearing was set for July but Grosklags never showed up. that brought a default ruling in favor of the city.
City officials in recent years have cracked down illegal instance of peddling around the Minnesota state fair, in response to neighborhood complaints.

Tobacco regulations must wait
Activists who want St. Paul retailers to raise the legal tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 may have a longer wait to get such a restriction enacted. Following a September 3 public hearing Council Member Dai Thao amended his proposed ordinance.
One change Thao made, which would remove penalties against underaged purchasers of tobacco products, is considered to be a substantive change. That means renotification of affected store owners and a second public hearing are needed. That will be held in mid-October.
More than three dozen people attended hearings on two Thao proposals. One would raise the legal minimum age to enter a liquor store from 18 to 21. That ordinance won approval Sept. 11. The second, more controversial ordinance, would raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco, tobacco-related devices and similar products from 18 to 21.
More than 40 people, including youth activists and e-cig store owners, attended the hearing. Several young people said that strict regulations are needed especially against vaping. Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device.
Central High student Hayat Fathi described to the council how one of her schoolmates became very ill from vaping. Fathi said vaping is widespread at her school and among her peers. She described how pencil bags are used to conceal the small devices.
“Every bathroom at my school has a subtle fruit smell” because of vaping, she said.
Half a dozen people who own or work at stores that sell vaping equipment and supplies spoke against the ordinance. While agreeing that criminal penalties against minors should be removed, speakers said the ordinance unfairly targets their stores. They said online sales, with supplies that make users sick, should be the focus.
Jacob Bernstein is a co-owner of Imperial Vapor, 227 N. Snelling Ave. he said vaping is a way for people to stop smoking tobacco products and that has to be considered. He and other speakers described starting smoking as teenagers and then switching to vaping.
Bernstein and other store owners and employees said they don’t sell products to people who are underage. They also questioned why vaping products are regulated in the same way that tobacco products are.

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Monitor In A Minute

Posted on 27 July 2019 by Tesha Christensen

by JANE McCLURE

Organized collection fight goes on
Some Allianz Field neighbors will get residential permit parking, but others saw their request rejected June 26 by the St. Paul City Council. While that helps Snelling-Hamline residents who say their streets are full on game days, it frustrates Merriam Park residents who will continue to deal with spillover parking from soccer games.
Both requests had the support of Union Park District Council. Ward Four Council Member Mitra Jalali Nelson opposed both districts. She and other council members agreed that they’d like to see something other than a year-round permit district in place to deal with game parking.
Nelson also said that there have only been nine games.
On a 6-1 vote the council OK’d expansion of a permit district that includes Concordia, Carroll and Iglehart avenues between Asbury and Pascal streets. That district in Snelling-Hamline was created years ago to deal with commuter park and ride issues. Street, east of Snelling Ave.
Longtime neighborhood resident Daniel Jambor told the council that game day employee and attendee parking has affected the tiny neighborhood. He said that all neighbor want is reasonable access to their homes. Snelling-Hamline residents also tire of speeding and illegally parked motor vehicles, trash strewn on boulevards and noise after games.
Ward One Council Member Dai Thao represents Smelling-Hamline. He sympathized with neighbors.
Nelson cast the lone vote against the Snelling-Hamline request and led the charge against the Merriam Park request. She said that permit parking is too “broad and overreaching” to address the game day issues. She wants other solutions tried first.
Council President Amy Brendmoen supported the Snelling-Hamline request but shared Nelson’s concerns about the overly broad impacts. One suggestion raised during the council meetings was to see if game day only restrictions could be posted.
Snelling-Selby Area Business Association and commercial property owners opposed both requests.
Merriam Park neighbors in the area southwest of I-94 and Snelling Ave. had worked on their permit request for more than a year, in anticipation of soccer. They were unhappy that the request failed on win approval, on a 2-3 vote. Council members Kassim Busuri and Jane Prince voted for the district, with Nelson, Brendmoen and Chris Tolbert against. Thao and Rebecca Noecker had left the meeting before the hearing and vote.
Restrictions in Merriam Park would have included Concordia between Pierce St. and Snelling and on Pierce and Fry streets from Carroll to Concordia avenues. Neighbors there have also struggled with spillover game day parking, along with fan behavior and traffic issues. Neighbors after the meeting said they haven’t decided next steps.
Nelson has called for a more comprehensive parking plan, rather than what she calls a “piecemeal” approach. Allianz Field has 400 parking spaces, most of which are reserved, and 20,000 seats. Fans are urged to use transit or off-site parking.

Bonding requests set
The city of St. Paul will submit four of its own bonding requests to the 2020 Minnesota Legislature, the St. Paul City Council decided June 12. The council and Mayor Melvin Carter’s administration will also work with several St. Paul nonprofit organizations that are submitting bonding requests, to determine what level of support the city can provide.
2020 is a bonding year for state lawmakers.
The state will issue general obligation bonds to pay for the fixed asset, brick and mortar projects. St. Paul will be up against other cities, counties, colleges and universities, state projects and other needs when it makes its requests. The 2020 lists were due at the capitol June 14. Review will start soon, with decisions made during the 2020 legislative session.
The preliminary priorities approved June 12 are, in order, Third Street/Kellogg Boulevard Bridge – $55 million; eastbound Kellogg Boulevard Bridge at River Centre – $10 million, the River Learning Center at Crosby Farm Regional Park – $3 million and planning funds for the Como Zoo Orangutan Habitat and Energy Efficiency and Asset Preservation.
The top three requests have been on the city’s wish list for several years. The bridges are both in deteriorated condition. The Third/Kellogg Bridge is considered to be most critical because it will carry future transit vehicles on the planned Gold Line.
Ward Four Council Member Mitra Jalali Nelson said she and other council members have been hearing from nonprofit groups that will be seeking state bonding. Nelson said there are several entities in her ward seeking critically needed legislative support, including the International Institute on Como Ave.
The council member agreed that it is important for the city to review and determine support for the nonprofits’ requests. That review will be done at a later date.

No more “opt-outs”
It’s official – streets will be reconstructed whether St. Paul property owners like it or not. Without discussion, the St. Paul City Council June 12 rescinded its longtime street reconstruction opt-out policy.
The policy has been on the books since 1994 and was sparked when a group of North End homeowners asked to not have their street rebuilt. That led to the opt-out policy. The policy was amended over the years to indicate that residents who successfully petitioned for an opt-out would have their projects moved to the end of the residential street paving projects’ list. The opt-out was also clarified to indicated that an entire project area had to opt out, not just one street.
The current street program is meant to address very old paved or oiled streets that have never been formally built. Streets get new surfaces curb and gutter, sidewalks, driveway aprons, boulevard trees and new streetlights.
Streets with sanitary and storm sewers that required separation were rebuilt in the 1980s and 1990s under a separate program.
Council members Amy Brendmoen and Chris Tolbert introduced the resolution eliminating the past opt-out policies. They contend that delaying work creates high costs later and adds to ongoing street maintenance costs. The city often hears from new residents in areas that opted out in past years, who question why their street hasn’t been rebuilt.
The most recent opt-out was in Macalester-Groveland neighborhood, for the second phase of the Woodlawn-Jefferson project. Residents complained that street reconstruction would mean adding sidewalks and losing more than 50 trees. They said residents don’t need sidewalks and can walk in the streets.

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Monitor In A Minute

Monitor In A Minute

Posted on 11 April 2015 by Calvin

Compiled by Jane McClure

Green Line access still a concern

IOC11_14_GreenLineGreen Line light rail is a welcome transportation option for people with disabilities, with easy boarding of trains and space for wheelchairs and mobility scooters. But cracked and pothole-ridden sidewalks, steep slopes, views blocked by tall plantings and gaps between rails and concrete make getting to and from the trains a challenge. In a few places, fire hydrants and light poles placed in the middle of sidewalks make traveling a challenge.

Ways to address those concerns were outlined Mar. 11 in a report released by the District Councils Collaborative (DCC). More than 40 people reviewed the report and saw a video, “The First: Last Mile”, demonstrating the difficulty of accessing some rail stations.

The DCC, which is made up of St. Paul district councils and neighborhood organizations along the rail line, studied walkability in 2011-2012. The walkability studies covered north-south streets several blocks north and south of rail stations. Reports were done for each station area. DCC Executive Director Carol Swenson said that evolved into a more in-depth study focused on access for people with disabilities.

“We received sharp criticism from the disability community, that the studies hadn’t done enough to address access,” Swenson said. About 9,050 people with disabilities live within a few blocks of the Green Line. Many live downtown and others live in the seven Public Housing Agency buildings in adjacent neighborhoods. Studies for September 2014 showed that more than 1,000 people with disabilities use five of the stations, with 2,000 using Central Station in downtown St. Paul.

Kjensmo Walker, a person with disabilities, helped with the study. She said access needs to be broadly understood and that meeting federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines “only scratches the surface” in terms of what accommodations are needed.

One issue the DCC will work on is that of having a place where accessibility complaints can be made, so that those issues can be responded to quickly. Another is to tie into city, county and state plans for transportation and accessibility, and to work with Metro Transit on proposed transit and transit shelter improvements.

Snelling detours set

When Snelling Ave. mill and overlay work, as well as Interstate 94 bridge redecking, gets underway, traffic will be detoured. The St. Paul City Council voted unanimously in March to approve detour routes and road wear and tear compensation from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). MnDOT is involved because Snelling Ave. is a state highway.

Construction gets underway this spring and motorists should watch for signs. The construction area is from Pierce Butler Rte. to Selby Ave.

St. Paul will be compensated $17,315.29 for the “consumption of road life” caused by the detours. The routes posted for detours will be Minnehaha, Prior, and Cretin Ave./Vandalia St. The routes total less than three miles.

Truck weights of up to 9-ton axle loads will be permitted on the detour routes.

The state will handle signage, put up and remove any needed traffic control devices, paint roadway markings and take other steps to control traffic on the detours. MnDOT will also do any street patching as needed during the detour

Brake noise regulated

Noisy “jake brakes,” or compression release engine brakes, have long drawn complaints throughout St. Paul. The devices are used to slow down large trucks, but their noise is disruptive. The St. Paul City Council voted Mar. 18 to ask the Minnesota Legislature to to give St. Paul the authority to prohibit the use of air compression engine brakes on all city freeways, highways, and streets.

The name “jake brake” is used because many of the systems are made by the Jacobs Company. The brakes are used for slowing down on steep grades, or for quick stops. Use of the brakes means being able to shift from highway speeds to a complete stop and back very quickly.

There have been complaints in area neighborhoods about the brakes, along truck routes and the freeway. State Sen. FoUng Hawj, DFL-St. Paul, is revving up the issue at the capitol. Hawj’s district includes I-94, where the noise has drawn complaints.

The City Council resolution states that according to one manufacturer of compression release engine brakes, the decibel level is between 96 and 100 decibels. As a comparison, in St. Paul, rock concerts are limited to 85 decibels.

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Council eases parking requirements

Posted on 15 July 2012 by robwas66

This summer more St. Paul restaurants will be able to seek wine, beer and liquor licenses without having to add off-street parking. On a 5-1 May 23 vote the St. Paul City Council eased its parking requirements for restaurants and bars.

Other business owners, community groups and City Council members continue to debate the ordinance change’s impact. Ward Two Council Member Dave Thune, who cast the lone vote against, said the changes are “a solution in search of a problem.” He said restaurants wanting to add alcohol could apply for parking variances if there is a lack of onstreet parking available.

But Ward Four Council Member Russ Stark, who sponsored the ordinance, said it provides a compromise. He hears from restaurant owners wanting to add wine and beer, who cannot meet the current parking requirements. Stark said the approach taken provides flexibility for businesses while also protecting neighborhoods from noise and behavior issues.

The restaurant and bar parking changes were originally proposed in 2010 as part of a citywide package of off-street parking changes, but were laid over for more study at the council’s request. In June 2011 the Planning Commission asked that the changes be considered again.

Most community groups support the changes, with Union Park District Council, Highland District Council’s Community Development Committee, Hamline Midway Coalition, Grand Avenue Business Association, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Midway Chamber of Commerce and the nonprofit community development group Sparc supporting the changes. Summit Hill Association (SHA), a few restaurant and bar owners and several Grand Avenue area residents oppose the changes.

The city has a per-ward cap on the number of on-sale liquor licenses, so those could only be added where licenses are available. It’s expected that most requests will be to add wine and beer to menus.

Currently restaurants require one off-street parking space for every 100 to 125 square feet of total floor area. Additional parking is required for beer, wine and liquor licenses, based on floor space. If a business has an entertainment license, that ratchets up the parking needs.

Under the changes, an establishment with wine, beer or liquor that closes by midnight is a restaurant. Restaurants will need one off-street parking space for every 400 square feet of gross floor area in their establishment. That is the same standard for restaurants that don’t sell alcohol, and for the city’s office and retail uses.

A bar is defined as an establishment that serves alcohol past midnight. Bars will need one offstreet parking space for every 150 square feet of floor area.

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University UNITED plans to downsize

Posted on 15 July 2012 by robwas66

Facing a tough fundraising climate, University UNITED is moving ahead with a plan to downsize and have a virtual office. Community partners were notified of the decision to close the office last month. UNITED, which has led various University Avenue initiatives for more than 35 years, will focus on creation of living-wage manufacturing jobs. UNITED will become a virtual office, shutting down its storefront at 712 University Av. this summer.

According to Board Chair Stuart Alger, budgetary constraints and a challenging fundraising environment are driving the change. The organization will be less dependent on grant funding and more dependent on revenue it generates through development projects. It will operate for a time with volunteers.

The UNITED Board is seeking feedback and suggestions on its new role, and has been contacting community partners to discuss the changes. Area district councils that have long been members of UNITED’s boards have been discussing the proposed change since last year.

Over the past several months UNITED has shut down its various initiatives, including the University Avenue Business Association (UABA) and U-Plan, an urban planning services office. While UABA could continue as an all-volunteer group, the end of U-Plan was seen by many neighborhood groups as a huge loss. U-Plan was involved in a number of initiatives along the Central Corridor light rail line and in community planning processes, including work on plans for Merriam Park in conjunction with the Union Park District Council Parks and Recreation Committee. While the U-Plan documents and resources may go to the Asian Economic Development Association, UNITED has had to find homes for files accumulated over decades.

“It’s the end of one era and the beginning of another,” said UNITED Executive Director Brian McMahon. He and the UNITED Board are working on environmentally friendly or “green” manufacturing proposals for properties in the West Midway, working with the St. Paul Port Authority, property owners and community groups.

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