LFL can’t go in boulevard

Residents ordered to move Little Free Library and planter box


One of the six Little Free Libraries installed as part of the 2021 “Love Letters for the Midway” project isn’t feeling the love. Matthew and Jamie Wright’s quest to keep their Little Free Library was rejected Nov. 2 by the St. Paul City Council. It had to be moved from the city boulevard in front of their Seminary Avenue home by Dec. 1, and placed at another location.
The Wrights also had to move a boulevard planter box where they had grown vegetables.
“Love Letters for the Midway” was a project led by Hamline-Midway Coalition Midway resident and artist Hawona Sullivan Janzen. The Minnesota State Arts Board-funded project was designed to show the neighborhood some love after 2020 civil unrest and many months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sullivan Janzen wrote a crowd-sourced 100-line love poem for the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, with each line posted on a yard sign and displayed in yards throughout the area.
The project also included six Little Free Libraries, placed throughout the neighborhood. One was at the Wrights’ home at 1155 Seminary Ave. The Wrights moved into their home in 2021, and found the library to be a good way to connect with neighbors.
After an anonymous complaint, a code enforcement officer visited the Wrights’ yard in October to inspect the library and planter box. The Wrights soon got a letter ordering that the planter box and library be removed.
The planter box was installed by a previous owner.
Matthew Wright told city council members that the library has led to “many conversations, connections, and good will.”
The Wrights appealed and took their case to legislative hearing, where they were told the library and planter box are property code violations. What surprised the Wrights is that they have seen many similar planter boxes and boulevard fixtures throughout their neighborhood and others.
The city’s regulations on boulevard plantings were first crafted in the 1990s, at the behest of Macalester-Groveland Community Council. The intent was to allow beautification and plantings, while at the same time making it clear to property owners that plantings would have to be removed if the city needed to dig up a boulevard for utility or street work. Permanent structures were not allowed. Over the years that restriction has been flouted with the widespread placement of planter boxes and even furniture on some boulevards. Enforcement is on a complaint basis only, and it is city policy that complaints be anonymous.
Vague language in city ordinances governing boulevard space was called out by the Wrights. They also questioned the anonymous complaint process, the presence of many other structures, planters and rain gardens in boulevards, and whether the benefits of such additions should be considered and current ordinances modified.
Legislative hearing Officer Marcia Moermond said she’s sympathetic to the desires to keep the Little Free Library, and the fact that it was placed as part of a nonprofit group. But the items cannot be in the boulevard.
Moermond also noted that the Little Free Libraries parent nonprofit, which recently relocated to Midway, makes it clear that the library boxes should be placed on private property.


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