Reading the Highland Villager #185

[A Villager stuck in a fence.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]

Headline: Light rail scratched as transit option for Riverview line
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The technical advisory committee [which I am on, but missed this meeting] voted to narrow the options on the Riverview transit corridor, which could connect downtown Saint Paul to the airport in a few different ways. They have eliminated a “light rail” option from the set of choices, and now the only rail option is a “streetcar.” [The difference is largely semantic, but does involve some likely distinctions involving how the right-of-way looks, how many barriers there are, sizes of vehicles, etc. The big difference is of course the smaller section of dedicated right-of-way, but the planning team says, though I find it hard to believe, that the time difference will not be that significant between the smaller section of dedicated ROW -- and note that I said "smaller section" because there will be dedicated ROW on much of the route regardless, and that's something important to keep in mind -- and some of the other choices.] Article lists the six choices, which are bus or rail, Ford site or Highway 5 bridge, and CP Spur or West 7th only.  Article includes maps showing ridership for Ford and not-Ford, the latter of which is slightly higher. The CP Spur will cost $40 million to purchase from CP [estimated, using worst-case scenario guesses]. The Ford Site option is more expensive and takes longer. Article quotes former CM Thune: “Most businesses could live with some form of bus rapid transit or modern streetcar. There’s interest in streetcars because they would provide West Seventh with a unique form of transportation, and it might be an attraction for some people.” [Encouraging quote from him, which means a lot given the long legacy of neighborhood opposition to transit improvements here.] Quote from neighborhood business guy disagrees: “There are a lot of unknowns about what a modern streetcar means and whether or not we would be losing on-street parking.” [SPOILER yes you would but not all of it.]

Headline: Council seeks compromise at St. Clair-Snelling
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City council voted to not vote on whether to rezone a property that might become an apartment building with a small coffee shop in it and also lots of parking. The developer is in court for some reason [involving a title dispute]. The Planning Commission had voted to approve the rezoning, to T3 zoning. The buildings are currently a largely abandoned strip mall. [Though there was apparently a “for lease” sign outside the old coney bun bakery now, which suggests that the owners are now not so interested in developing the property, does it not? If so that is really really unfortunate for Saint Paul, and optimists like myself should take note of it, I suppose. Though given the state of the property I doubt it will lease anytime soon.] The Planning Commission voted against the site plan [though, as I stated at the time, for reasons that had more to do with its pedestrian-unfriendly design and excess of parking, not its height]. There is a study going on right now that would recommend rezoning the property to a mix of T2 and T3. [The differences are minimal here, for the most part, in my opinion. Whether half the site or all the site is T3 is hardly something that will change the world, but might make a difference for a developer I suppose. As I said at the Commission, I want this site developed and am hopeful that it will happen.] CM Tolbert is quoted saying “We all want quality redevelopment at that site.” Article explains some of the rezoning plans, including difference in height between T2 and T3, which is about 20 fee without a conditional use permit [those permits, which by the way, are based on conditions that are clearly stated in the zoning code]. Neighbors are concerned about aesthetics, density, “towering”, traffic, and parking. Quote from the developer on the legal matter: “Settlement discussions are underway; we regret having to halt our efforts to improve this blighted property.” [That quote makes me still optimistic that some good development proposal will appear for this great property.]

Headline: Council OKs purchase of Schmidt Brewery office building
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An cool building that was part of the old brewery and was potentially controlled by the neighborhood group can be sold now to a developer. The developer is going to build a restaurant and offices. There will be a “market” nearby with many kinds of food and beverages for sale. The building comes with $1.2M in TIF funds. There is a gigantic old safe inside also. [Are the TIF funds inside the safe?] The developer will restore it and including lots of cool things. [This is good. The neighborhood group was never going to really do anything with this building, it did not seem to me.]

Headline: TIF shift to aid in Midway project
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The now-under-construction soccer stadium at Snelling and University is getting a bit more money for environmental cleanup, shifted around from a few other industrial sites. There is going to be a meeting about it.

Headline: Mini-storage could affect Ayd Mill in big way
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old [city-owned, unnecessary, and super expensive-to-fix] freeway might not get “connected” to I-94 like some people had planned years ago because a self-storage facility is going to build a new building where the “freeway” might be. Article quotes PW Head Lantry: “The city doesn’t have any plans in the works that would impact the proposed building.” [“Fixing” Ayd Mill Road involves not connecting it, and reducing the number of lanes, and adding neighborhood amenities and also traffic calming further the way that it runs into Selby Avenue. A more bold option would be simply removing the road altogether, which is something I’d like to see put on the table and kept there and stared at until the aroma of the flavors become irresistible and you finally eat what’s in front of you like a good little girl or boy. Funny to me that the great decision in front of us here in Saint Paul is a choice between an intentionally empty building full of people’s stuff and an old expensive falling apart wasteful and environmentally destructive freeway that nobody really needs. These are the days of our lives.] The last time an Ayd Mill Road connection as studied was 2005. [That’s a long time ago. See also more history about this. SPOILER the connection will not be included in the upcoming Comprehensive Plan changes, not if I can help it anyway. Also SPOILER, any potential connection would be hugely expensive, like many tens of millions of dollars expensive, and the city would be on the hook for it and would not likely get a grant to pay for it, and the vast majority of the "benefits" of the project would go to people driving through Saint Paul from the Dakota county suburbs rather than people who live in the city and pay taxes here, in fact, the project would decrease livability and property values for people in the city because nobody wants to live next to a freeway, you see.]  Article quotes head of neighborhood group: “There’s been a push from the community to see what can be done to resolve the traffic issues.” [You could resolve then really quickly with a few cheap concrete barriers.] Interesting bit at the end: “MnDOT cautioned that because AMR is a city street and not a state highway, there are limits on what his department can do… the connection is not on the table at this time.”  [AMR is a “city street” in much the same way that Donald Trump is a “President of the United States.” Technically true…]

Headline: Marshall gets jitters from Starbucks drive-thru traffic; Idling customers block bike lane and sidewalk [Villager Headline Pun Award Winner!]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A new Starbucks with a drive-thru is causing people who want coffee without getting out of their car to act like jerks and screw up lots of street-type things like turn lanes and bike lanes and U-turns. The city has installed a “camera.” [This should be a live stream. I would watch it!] The neighborhood wants the drive-thru closed until someone figures out what to do. There have been meetings about it but Starbucks “has not commented.” Quote from head of neighborhood group: “City staff made it clear that the obstruction of the right-of-way is violating the conditions of the coffee shop’s site plan and drive-through permit.” [Little bit of history: When this Starbucks was approved at the Planning Commission, I made a short but determined speech against the drive-thru portion of the plan. I also voted against it, but got out-voted. It’s unnecessary, will screw up traffic, and should not be part of a walkable neighborhood like this one, I said. We don’t need to build any more drive-thrus in Saint Paul, I said, or something like this. I asked around and the main reason Starbucks wanted a drive-thru is because it increased their store profit by something like 25%, I was told. "It's an awkward site to redevelop," I was told. Also note that they had had a Starbucks two blocks away without a drive-thru and everything was fine. Now apparently it’s crazy. One of these days I’m going to go down there and document some of the craziness. I am curious about how crazy it is. No more drive-thrus please. Get out of your car or go home.] Article includes some of the details about the drive-thru including how it has a “right turn only” exit. [People ignore this all the time. All the time.] People also apparently enter through the exit lane and exit through the enter lane, and also drive through the lane in reverse, according to the article. [The obvious solution is to configure the Ayd Mill Road connection to link straight into the Starbucks Drive-Thru and then have it loop around back into the outbound Ayd Mill Road lane, sending people back to Dakota County where they came from, but with fresh and delicious Saint Paul coffee.]

Headline: Pelham to get city’s first 2-way separated bikeway
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A new protected bike lane is being installed between the river and the Raymond Avenue area. It is part of the “Grand round.” [This is a good plan and an obvious link that is easy to construct, relatively, because the street is so wide. Really, the street is really wide.] Neighbors are concerned about parking and safety. One neighbor would also like his street repaved. [It is currently unsmooth concrete. The only think I worry about is that people will take the turns too wide and quickly here and maybe kill someone on a bike coming down the hill. I hope the city makes the bollards very obvious and traffic calm-y.]

Headline: Five-story apartments planned for students at Marshall-Moore
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A guy wants to build a ten-unit apartment building. Also, some college students are “rowdy.” There will be an 18-space parking garage with a “car elevator.” [The parking minimums say 17. In general, I would like minimums lowered in walkalble, transit-friendly areas.] Quote from the developer, re: the students: “I know you’re concerned about students, but students are already in the neighborhood. It’s like chickens. You’d rather have them in a coop than running around your yard.”  [This is the best thing that’s ever been said about the Great Tommie Problem.] Neighbors are concerned about parking and aesthetics.

Headline:  Building manager continues push for earlier skyway closing
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A woman who owns a few buildings in historic Lowertown will continue to lock her doors to the skyway through her building even though city ordinances state they must stay open until 2AM. [She sounds like a real peach. Maybe a similar situation to the Surdyk’s snafu? Like take away her liquor licenses or something. See also everything I’ve ever written about skyways.] Quote from CM Bostrom: “The number of miscreants … cause trouble." Quote from CM Prince: “We’ve marketed downtown as a residential community and this is an amenity that makes it work.”  There is a committee studying changes to the city ordinance. [Just take them down. Problem solved, and public space and architecture improved at the same time.] Quote from downtown neighborhood group guy: “The purpose of this request is so the building owner doesn’t have to pay for security.” The last line is the kicker: “Brooks [the building owner] has estimated that it would cost $50-100K per year to provide extra skyway security.” [Maybe just hire a guard? How hard is that? Why are we talking about this? Real headline should be "rich person too cheap to hire a guard, craps all over city instead."]


Anonymous said...

Nice. This is a really optimistic take on the current issue and goings on in Saint Paul generally. Ayd Mill might be blocked by a storage company expansion! Light Rail situation on W-7th might not be so bad! etc ...etc. That's some good news.

The Starbucks problem could be solved by placing concrete jersey barriers to protect the eastbound bike lane, preventing cars from queuing up in it, with additional concrete barriers that block drivers from turning into or out of starbucks from/into the westbound lane of Marshall. Public Works has lots full of jersey barriers and seem to have no problem using them when they're reconstructing something. New York City uses them more creatively to solve problems like Starbucks.

You da man!

Anonymous said...

Wow, proving I wasn't a robot was super difficult! It made me go through 4 or 5 photos picking things out that were rather ambiguous. It's weird having to prove I'm not a robot to an actual robot (the computer) ...and it's a little scary when it refuses to believe you and demands you evaluate more photographs.

Matt said...

Regarding the Starbucks at Snelling and Marshall...

My wife and I made a visit back to our old Merriam Park neighborhood last week, and the first thing I said to her was "Good gracious, why the heck does that Starbucks have a drive-thru and a huge parking lot in this neighborhood??" The contrast between that and the Whole Foods development is pretty stark. When we'd walk around the neighborhood, we usually avoided that intersection, and adding the drive-thru doesn't change that.