One of Hamline-Midway neighborhood’s most colorful and distinctive sites is changing, and many neighbors don’t think the change is for the better. Sherburne Avenue resident Iris Logan labored in the cold in late November to dismantle and remove her beloved boulevard garden.
“I removed everything I could but the weather caught me with the rocks,” Logan said.
Logan is 70 and has lived in her tidy yellow house for more than 30 years. She raised two daughters there as a single parent. She’s gotten to know her neighbors and enjoys greeting everyone who stopped to admire her handiwork while she gardened or picked up trash.
But after more than three decades of creation, the items Logan carefully placed on her boulevard had to go. Sixteen neighbors on her block, many of whom Logan created boulevard plantings for, also got notices from the city that their gardens must go.
Logan was expected before the St. Paul City Council Dec. 6 for a legislative hearing (past the Monitor press deadline). A hearing officer in November recommended that the council give Logan until Dec. 22 to move everything out of the boulevard area. But with rocks frozen into the ground, she will seek an extension from the council.
The council could approve the hearing officer recommendation, deny it or amend it.
Logan’s yard is a must-see in the neighborhood, with its beautiful mosaics, flowers and rocks. She often enjoys her boulevard bench, which also had to move.
She had already dealt with challenges including a neighbor who stole from her, and a recent domestic dispute that spilled over and damaged some of her property.
But the biggest challenge was the order to remove items. A complaint triggered a city inspection earlier this fall. While city regulations allow boulevard gardens, anything permanent is not allowed. That includes everything from benches to rocks to railroad ties.
The city ordinance that requires keeping boulevards clear of obstructions is meant to allow access for utilities and during street construction. It is also meant to protect the roots of boulevard trees. Boulevards are also places to store snow when it is plowed from the street or shoveled from sidewalks.
A proposed city ordinance amendment, which could be adopted as soon as Dec. 13, would allow raised planting beds. But it wouldn’t allow an art installation and rock garden for the kind Logan had. (See related story above.)
The Hamline Midway Coalition and many neighbors rallied to Logan’s side and started a change.org petition. The petition quickly gained more than 600 signatures. Justin Lewandowski, HMC community organizer, has worked with city staff and Logan on next steps and has shared updates online.
The petition states: “Given the boulevard art has been in place for close to 30 years without prior issues, we ask for consideration of a grandfathering provision that would exempt Iris’s boulevard from certain regulations. The quick support from our neighbors has been a clear signal of how much this art means to our community. It’s not just about aesthetics; it’s about our identity and how we, as residents, engage with each other and with city policy.”
HMC suggested ideas including seeing if Logan could get an exemption from the ordinance, or if there was a way to maintain the “artistic and aesthetic spirit of the installation” while being in compliance. Another idea is to see if some of what was on the boulevard could go to a neighborhood park, such as Midway Peace Park.
Logan started her gardening when city work on the boulevard made it difficult for grass to grow there. She began making mosaics and putting out rocks, sculptures and plantings. She also began creating rock gardens and plantings for neighbors.
After all of these years, Logan was shocked to learn her boulevard was in violation of the city ordinance. While she is resigned to losing what took years to create, she questions why other permanent structures have been allowed to stay elsewhere in the city, including many on boulevards.
“How can they make it good for the goose and not for the gander?’” she said.
While she’s taken many pictures of similar violations, Logan isn’t going to report anyone else. Instead she wants to see the city make changes that will help others. As for her boulevard, once the frozen rocks are removed, she’s done.