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Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

June 2018 Monitor In A Minute

Posted on 11 June 2018 by Calvin

By JANE MCCLURE

Sidewalk to be built
A new sidewalk will be built on the west side of Wheeler St. between Thomas and University avenues, as a result of St. Paul City Council action May 16.

The project, which has a cost of $100,000, would provide a needed connection between neighborhood residents and destinations including the Midway YMCA and its daycare, Fairview Green Line light rail station, Dickerman Park and other destinations.

Photo right: From this satelite image image you can see that Wheeler St. has no sidewalk access. Streets on either side, Fairview Ave. and Aldine Ave. N. do. The cost to add sidewalks on Wheeler is approximately $400,000. (Satelite graphic from Google Earth online image).

“The need for the sidewalk is pretty clear,” said Reuben Collins. He leads bicycle facilities planning for St. Paul Public Works. “You don’t need to stand out there for very long before you see a lot of people walking in the street.”

The area doesn’t have a complete sidewalk grid, Collins added. Three property owners, who own four parcels, would be assessed for the costs. The Midway YMCA and Griggs Midway Building are two affected owners.

One property owner, representing HCI Acquisitions, spoke against the sidewalk citing the costs and poor condition of Wheeler. His company sees no need for the sidewalk and wouldn’t benefit from it.

Two Hamline Midway residents spoke for the project, saying that the lack of sidewalk means families must walk in the street. The route is extensively used to access the Y and its many programs.

Hamline-Midway resident John Bailey attended the hearing to speak for the project, calling the lack of a sidewalk “an accident waiting to happen.”

Ward Four Council Member Samantha Henningson said the project should go ahead, noting that it has been discussed for a long time and would rectify a safety hazard. Delaying the project until it was scheduled by the city would mean completion “when my son is 16.” He is a preschooler.

Accessory dwelling units advance to City Council
A proposal to allow accessory dwelling units citywide won approval June 1 from the St. Paul Planning Commission and is headed to the City Council for final action. The council will hold a public hearing before voting this summer.

The proposal would allow homeowners whose single-family residential properties are large enough to add an extra dwelling unit, in the form of a small house in a backyard, dwelling unit over a garage, or renovation or expansion of an existing single-family home. St. Paul has allowed the units in neighborhoods within one-half mile of Green Line light rail, and in places where historic carriage house units existed in the past. Only one unit has been built, on Sherburne Ave., since the Green Line regulations were passed.

Residents of several neighborhoods, including Hamline-Midway and the Union Park districts, had requested that the city consider expanding where the dwelling units can go. The units are touted as allowing families to stay together while maintaining some level of privacy, and for providing affordable housing. The units are not the same as so-called tiny houses or small portable houses, which the city is considering separately.

City Council members asked for the study last fall in response to constituent and district council requests. Since then city staff has met with staff or committees from 15 district councils where interest has been expressed in accessory dwelling units. While support was generally heard, concerns were raised about the potentially high costs of adding units, increased parking demand, and whether or not the units could be turned into short-term rentals such as AirBnBs.

Some district councils recommended the proposal go citywide. Other councils haven’t taken a position. A few other councils have had longstanding concerns about adding the dwelling units but haven’t weighed in this time around.

The Planning Commission held a public hearing on accessory dwelling units in April and is recommending to the City council that the units be allowed citywide in single-family residential zoning districts. Specific space requirements would have to be met for the total property and the added dwelling unit.

Como trail project moves ahead
Work on a section of the Como trail can move ahead. The St. Paul City Council May 23 approved allocating additional Municipal State Aid funds from the state to Como and to two other projects. The local project will receive $431,881.

The project is the off-street bicycle trail along the north side of Como Ave. between Raymond and Hamline. MSA funding will allow for the design process to start this year. The need for the trail has been discussed for several years, and it is in the cycle’s 2015 Bicycle Plan.

The project is one of three funded through an additional $1.2 million in MSA funding. The city sometimes receives more of the funding than anticipated so that projects can be added.

Capital budget process
A redesigned process for review and approval of St. Paul’s capital project process goes out to the city’s 17 district councils and the greater community for input starting in June. The redesign, reviewed May 14 by the St. Paul Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) Committee, will transform what has been criticized as a time-intensive, cumbersome and sometimes political process. But does it contain enough funding for neighborhoods across the city to justify spending time submitting projects? And will city staff have the time and resources to engage in additional community engagement?

The redesign, which has been in the works for several months, is meant to address goals of fiscal responsibility, strategic investments, and racial equity, said City Budget Analyst Abdiwahab Ali. It was reviewed this spring with the mayor’s administration and City Council and is underwent review in May with city department heads.

Committee members May 14 generally expressed support for the proposed changes. CIB Committee Chairperson Amy Huerta and several other committee members said the process needs much more outreach to include groups that haven’t participated in the past.

“Having the community come to us in the basement of City Hall may have worked 40 years ago, but it isn’t the model that works now,” he said.

Another change is in name. What St. Paulites have known for many years as CIB will become CIP—for Capital Improvement Plan. That reflects a longer-term focus on assets, maintenance, and needs, said Ali.

The changes would affect how the city as whole scrutinizes and spends money on its brick and mortar needs. One ongoing effort is to complete a five-year comprehensive capital plan for all city departments. This would focus on recently completed reports on city assets and their condition, racial equity, neighborhoods where there are concentrations of poverty, and community use and need issues.

City departments are to have their five-year capital plans done by this fall. Then everything would be wrapped into a citywide plan in early 2019. The comprehensive plan would be led by a working group of city staff and two CIB committee members. The plan would be reviewed, and project recommendations made by the committee for 2020.

The 2020 recommendations would be for city departments only. If the process is adopted, City departments will submit projects for review and approval only during the first year of the funding cycle.

Community-led submissions would come in for review and approval the second year, starting in 2021. Ali said that should level the playing field between big projects, such as a new fire station or recreation center, and a tot lot or small-scale neighborhood project.

Proposed is a $500,000 allocation in capital improvement bond proceeds. It’s not been determined yet how much in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding could be allocated. That funding would be earmarked for projects in low-income neighborhoods,
But some district councils and community groups have already questioned the $500,000 amount that is to be shared citywide for community-led projects, saying that isn’t enough funding for more than a few projects.

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