By JANE McCLURE
Billboard can go up
OutFront Media will be allowed to erect a large digital display billboard near Highway 280 and Interstate 94, as a result of St. Paul City Council action Feb. 19. On a 6-1 vote the council rejected a citizen’s appeal and upheld a Planning Commission decision allowing the new 14 by 48-foot digital billboard.
Ward Four Council Member Mitra Jalali, who represents the neighborhood where the new digital sign will be located, said that while she understands the emotions around the billboard issue, she also didn’t find that the planning commission erred in its decision. Upholding the appeal would have meant finding that the commission made a mistake.
“I do understand the concerns,” Jalali said, noting that she lives near the sign in question. But she didn’t see enough evidence to warrant overturning the planning commission decision.
Ward Seven Council Member Jane Prince voted against denying the appeal, citing the potential distraction and public safety concerns a digital sign could create. That was among the arguments made by sign foes. OutFront Media has countered with studies stating that digital signs haven’t been found to create traffic hazards.
The planning commission in December 2019 approved a change in nonconforming use relocation to allow one of two sign faces to be moved slightly and converted to digital use. The new sign will be visible from the highways at its location at 2516 Wabash Ave., just west of Highway 280 and north of I-94. Billboard relocation and conversion ordinances mandate that OutFront Media remove six square feet of illuminated billboard space or eight square feet of non-illuminated billboard space, for each square foot of dynamic display space created. City and OutFront Media staff negotiated the list of smaller billboards to be moved, of about 5,500 square feet.
The planning commission decision was appealed by St. Anthony Park resident Keith Hovland.
The appeal was supported by Scenic St. Paul and the St. Anthony Park Community Council.
In exchange for the new digital sign face, New York-based OutFront Media will take down 38 smaller billboards. Twelve will be in Ward Four, where the new digital sign will be erected. Numbers vary in other wards.
Some city council and planning commission members expressed support for the taking down of smaller, neighborhood sign faces. But Jeanne Weigum of Scenic St. Paul said it isn’t much of a trade in some cases, showing the council pictures of neglected sign faces and even one instance where only a sign support posts, and no sign face itself remained. A peeling billboard she showed was surrounded by trees and bushes.
John Bodger of OutFront Media said the company believes the Planning Commission didn’t err. He disputed contentions that digital signs distract drivers, saying that snow and ice create bigger problems.
The sign faced to be moved will be only moved about one foot, Bodger said. “Every ward gets at least two sign faces removed. He described the signs to be taken down in the exchange as smaller, older signs.”
10 Minute Walk grants
The Trust for Public Land has given five St. Paul nonprofits $10,000. Each group is to use the funds for parks access.
The 10 Minute Walk grants will allow five district councils to work on parks planning and public engagement focused on parks. Union Park District Council, Hamline Midway Coalition, District One Southeast Community Organization, District 3 West Side Community Organization, District North End Neighborhood Association each received $10,000.
The grants are meant to help the councils connect residents to existing parks resources. Outreach to underrepresented and marginalized communities is also required. A third aspect of the grant process is that recipients are expected to empower people to become advocates for parks and green spaces.
Another focus is to make parks safer and more accessible to people of all cultures, and to raise awareness of parks funding needs.
Another area park goes a boost in February when the city council accepted $250,000 in Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Land and Water Conservation Fund Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership dollars for the Midway Peace Park on Griggs Street between St. Anthony and University avenues.
Permits allow, bike, ped trail
The city of St. Paul and Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) have reached agreement on a small piece of a bike-pedestrian trail. On Feb. 26, the St. Paul City Council approved the limited use permit with MnDOT for use of right-of-way on Snelling Ave., which is also Trunk Highway 51, at Snelling and Como avenues.
The city plans to build and maintain a bike and pedestrian trail along Como between Raymond and Hamline avenues. A short portion of the trail is within the Snelling right-of-way. That means the state permit requirement kicks in. The permit requires that the city indemnifies the state from all claims for injury to or death of persons or loss of or damages to property occurring on the trail, or connected with the city’s use and occupancy of the area, except when such injury, death, loss, or damage is caused solely by the negligence of State of Minnesota.
The permit is for the street segment of Como below the Snelling overpass.
On Feb. 19, the city council approved a similar permit with the University of Minnesota, to allow for temporary construction activities to take place on U of M property.
Clean-up, development funds approved
In Febuary, the city of St. Paul accepted state and regional funds for redeveloping several sites around the city. The sites include proposed development locations in the Monitor coverage area.
Metropolitan Council recently approved a Livable Communities Demonstration Account Development grant of $392,500.00 for 262 University Ave, the Springboard for the Arts/SpringBOX; a $100,000 Livable Communities Demonstration Account Pre-Development grant of $100,000.00 for Little Saigon Plaza at 365 University Ave. and a Livable Communities Act Tax Base Revitalization Account grants of $49,200 for 1222 University Ave. The site at 1222 University Ave. was built as a casket company. It has housed a wide range of retail uses and is eyed for affordable housing development.
The city applies for the funding, through Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. It then must formally accept the funds and amend the city budget. The city then works with developers to utilize funds in the project.
The funds are used for site cleanup and transit-oriented developments.
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