Join me for a Saint Paul Coney Dog Bike Ride Next Wednesday, October 4

It's time once again for an official Coney Quest. This will be the 4th such culinary / urban adventure, and (thankfully!) this year we can leave the so-called "Minneapolis coney" in the rear-view mirror.

(Farewell, Washington Avenue.)

No, we return to the heartland of the vernacualr meat-topped hot dog, Saint Paul, home of the Saint Paul coney.

This year's ride fulfills a years-long dream: to scale the heights of the East Side and find the mythical Dari-ette coney dog. The Dari-ette is the last of the drive-in restaurants, where you can still order food from your car window (!). (Note: this is not a fake reproduction drive-in like Sonic or some crap like that... this is the real deal.)

They serve an affordable, delightfully compact coney dog, which we will consume.

Note: The Dari-ette also has MORE BIKE RACKS than any other Saint Paul establishment, including any sports arenas.

The Dari-ette coney will be sandwiched by coney dogs from Dar's Double Scoop and Pizza in the North End, and winding up at the Saint Paul Saloon in the Mounds Park neighborhood. From there, it's an easy gravity-induced ride back to downtown Saint Paul.

Q: What is a coney doge?


Q: I mean, what is a coney dog?

A: Explainer.

[Facebook invite here. Please RSVP so I can call ahead this time.]

[Ordering thingy at Dari-ette still works.]

What: Bike ride to eat three (3) Saint Paul coney dogs
When: 6:20 on Wednesday 10/4, for approx. 2 hours
Where: Meet at Dar's Double Scoop for Coney #1
Who: Anyone with cash for coneys
Why: Because it's there


Signs of the Times #130


[Garage. New Orleans, LA.]

Law Offices

[Shingle. New Orleans, LA.]

"I Will heel you"
"I Will save your sole"
"I Will EVEN DYE for you"

[Cobbler wall. New Orleans, LA.]


[Pole. New Orleans, LA.]

You Tacos
For Lent

[Sandwich board. New Orleans, LA.]


[Stairs. Stillwater.]


[Parking pole. West Bank, Minneapolis.]

Framed Photographs
Unframed art
60% off

[Location forgotten.]


8-80 Cities versus 16-80 Drivers

[7-yr-old and 91-yr-old, hit by cars on the same day this month.]
I have been driving more often lately, borrowing my girlfriends' car to run errands. As I’ve described on this blog before, whenever I'm driving in a city, I try to actually drive at-or-below the speed limit.

(Yes, you read that right.  That means, that I drive 30-35 miles per hour on Cretin Avenue or West 7th Street, for example. Or below 30 on my own George Street.)

As you can imagine, thanks to our too-wide and too-forgiving city streets, I almost always find someone riding my bumper.

The other day, driving around the West 7th Street area it happened again.  I’ve gotten kind of used to tailgating at this point, and I ignore the social pressure of the car behind me. (Or "the flow", as LarsChristiensen once called it.) It’s rather a mild annoyance, less annoying than when you’re bicycling down Rice Street and someone throws their garbage at you, but about equally annoying as the construction signsplaced in the middle of the bike lane on the Wabasha Bridge.

At any rate, I was surprised the other day on West 7th Street when I caught a glimpse of the tailgating driver: it was a the proverbial little old lady, peeking over the steering wheel, hair as pure white as an audience at a Trump rally.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose, but I found the sight depressing. In Saint Paul, even the little old ladies are speeding as fast as possible through the neighborhoods.

8-80 Cities and Driving Culture

One of the best bandwagons that Saint Paul ever jumped upon was the Gil Peñalosa “8-80 movement”, a call-to-action for cities to take street design seriously, and to focus attention on people at the youngest and oldest parts of the aging and mobility spectrum. Peñalosa’s key argument is that, if we design streets where 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds can safely walk, bike, and get around, then we have a city that will work for everyone.

That’s why it’s frustrating to see the proverbial octogenarian speeding, driving dangerously, and riding my ass. We’ve created roads and an entire urban landscape that revolves around driving, all throughout one's life from 16 up to age 80. But I worry about a future that combines aging, diminished perception, and our drive-everywhere culture with attempts to promote active living.

Designing streets that allow people with a wide range of capacities to drive everywhere comes at a cost.  If we make it easy for a distracted teenager or mostly-deaf grandfather to speed around, it makes it impossible for your 10-year-old kid or your great aunt to walk to the store. The same wide streets, big parking lots, and turn lanes designed for tailgating make it all-but-impossible to cross the street. In short, streets that are forgiving for “16-to-80 drivers” come at the expense of “8-80 cities.”

To make matters worse, often during street design debates, the proverbial “little old lady” is raised up as an excuse for not building safer crosswalks or keeping parking spots. This happened during the Ramsey County debate around a 4-3 road diet on Dale Street, for example. From what I heard about the conversation, the "little old ladies" going to church needed once-a-week parking, so the county didn’t improve a deadly 4-lane death road through a walkable neighborhood. Instead of a safer road that would have had slower speeds and fewer conflict points, we kept the one without safer intersections and without shorter crossing distances.

Especially given how important staying active is to staying healthy, particularly as we get older, can’t there be another solution?

I am really interested in hearing from older Saint Paul folk about whether they see this as a problem, and what the solution might be. In Saint Paul’s ongoing comprehensive planning process, there are a bunch of ideas for how to adapt the city over the next decade to be a better fit for older people.

Note: I learned that “aging in place” is no longer the best way to phrase this; “aging in community” is better, because it gets at a more active, social, and vital sense of what it means to be aging.

Here are a few slides from a recent presentation to the Planning Commission with some of the idea from the draft chapters of the upcoming Comprehensive Plan. (See also, a recent Saint Paul study entitled "Reframing Aging: Opportunities for Aging in Community" that covers all of this!)

To me, the transportation components are particularly important. Can Saint Paul figure out a way to create streets that allow people to walk safely, no matter their age? Can we change our assumptions about driving at the same time? Or is there no way to reconcile “8-80 cities” with “16-80 drivers”?


All hope is lost.


Red's Savoy, Last Bastion of Greater Lowertown, Finally Crumbles

When my cat died a few years back, after I had held her as she was put down, I got pretty sad. Afterward, for some reason, the only place I wanted to go was Red's Savoy on East 7th. There was something about the place, the combination of pizza and atmosphere, that offered cozy comfort I needed. If there's an American version of hygge, the Danish/Norwegian concept of "snug", it would have been abundant at Red's.

This is to say that I was very sad to see the closing of the old place. I liked the original Red's Savoy for many reasons, and the pizza wasn't even one of them!

[Super snug.]
First, it seemed to me that it was the one place in all of Saint Paul that was most trapped in the 1970s. As I wrote in my "Saint Paul By Decade" post:
Walking into Red’s, which was founded in the mid-1960s, does feel like what I imagine the 70s to have been, all weird color palettes and urban dystopian vibe. I’m sure the pizza hasn’t changed much, either, nor have the sometimes-questionable bar conversations about East Side crime or the struggling economy.
It turns out, I was right. The pizza, and indeed the entire situation at the OG Red's Savoy, was synonymous with Red himself. (The place even had a vaguely racist vibe that matched the time... or maybe that was all in my head... [Thanks Eric!]) According to the recent restaurant eulogies, Red was always there, either back in the kitchen making pizzas or sitting at the bar.

Here's the Pioneer Press report:
Schoenheider, 82, died Aug. 21 after a brief illness, and many of the restaurant’s customers knew him well. The imposing 6-foot-4-inch man often sat at the end of the bar with a beer and a shot, shooting the breeze with customers, after he was done working for the day.
His children said that in 52 years, he never took a vacation, and worked 365 days a year, even on Christmas, when he would open the restaurant to do inventory and give some of his less-fortunate buddies a place to come on the holiday.
I suppose the 1970s had to come to an end someday, but I wish it hadn't.*

The second reason I loved Red's was for it's parking lot, home to one of the most ignominious tales in recent Saint Paul lore. The parking lot, always visible on the black and white closed circuit monitor, was famed for one thing: the famous sting that caught former Mayor and Senator Norm Coleman's octogenarian dad in a car with a prostitute.

Here are some excerpts. From the City Pages:
What's this nation coming to when the unbridled passions of an 81-year-old man are scorned and not celebrated? St. Paul Police were called to Red's Savoy Inn and Pizza on East Seventh Street last July to find Norman B. Coleman Sr., the father of U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, canoodling with 38-year-old Patrizia M. Schrag in the parking lot. Coleman Sr. received a citation when he deserved a medal of valor. Dig, if you will, the picture: A lady by his side, the smell of oregano and pepperoni on the warm summer wind, the hum of the nearby traffic racing—quite a romantic moment for the senior senator's senior. Then came the tsk-tsking, the pearl-clutching, the head-shaking by the muckety-mucks. Coleman's own son practically labeled him a degenerate when he mourned, "He clearly has some issues that need to be dealt with, and I will encourage him to seek the necessary help." Coming soon: the Norm Coleman Sexual Rehabilitation Center and Shaming Annex. We suggest a commemorative plaque outside the pizzeria instead.
And from the Pioneer Press:

St. Paul police cited the 81-year-old father of Sen. Norm Coleman and a female companion after officers reported seeing them engaged in a sex act in the parking lot of a popular pizzeria.
A person passing Red Savoy's Pizza at 421 E. Seventh St. called police about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and said two people were "having sex in a vehicle," a police report said.
Beverly Coleman, the elder Coleman's wife and the senator's mother, said she was shocked to learn of the citation.
"I can't believe that is true," said Beverly Coleman, who lives in New Jersey.
Her husband has emphysema, she said, and suffers from symptoms that could be the beginning of Alzheimer's disease.

Well it was true. There was something about Red's Savoy that was mana from heaven for old right-wing Saint Paul. I wish that plaque had been erected. [sic]

The third and greatest reason Red's was important, though, was that it was the last bastion of the old neighborhood that used to connect Lowertown to Railroad Island and the East side. Back in the early 20th century, there used to be a whole industrial area of the city, a mix of industry and warehouses and bars, that was erased in favor of freeways and parking lots during the 1960s.

Red's represented the last stand of the old neighborhood.

Here's what I wrote about it a few years ago, after another story about cars crashing into the sides of historic buildings.

In Saint Paul, Red’s Savoy Inn offers the extreme case. Red’s Savoy is an old school Italian bar and restaurant, chock full of character. It’s also an island in sea of freeway interchanges, nearly the last remnant of an old industrial neighborhood that was folded into the old rail yards that used to dominate the east end of downtown Saint Paul.

During the 1960s, almost all of the neighborhood was torn down as three freeways were rammed through the neighborhood (Interstate 35E, 94, and US Highway 52 all come together here). As locals are fond of pointing out, because of one badly designed on-ramp, so many cars have gone through the front of the building that they built a permanent concrete barrier on the sidewalk.

That Red’s Savoy is still standing is a testament to resilience, not just to the economic tides, but to the literal violence of cars smashing upon its bricks like waves. Saint Paul’s Gibraltar.

That's how things stood a few years ago, but things change. Here's another line from the Pioneer Press piece:
The restaurant’s closure comes after the completion of the reconstructed Lafayette Bridge, which fixed the problem of vehicles careening into the building.
Over the years, several semi trucks and vehicles and at least one motorcycle ended up in the dining room.
Well, I guess time, erosion, and automobiles will always win in the end. Not even Gibraltar will stand forever. (Take note, Prudential Insurance!)

Rest In Pieces, Red's Savoy Inn. You were a symbol of obstinacy, for better and for worse. Saint Paul is a lesser place without you.

* The whole ADA angle is upsetting, given what I have heard about the lawyer behind it, who is basically using disabled people to operate a shakedown scam. The guy has used ADA threats to get settlement money from over a dozen of the historic older businesses in Saint Paul, many of which have thin margins and very old buildings. Note: if he had wanted to actual help businesses get to be ADA accessible, often in ways that might or might not be legally required, he would have filed a complaint under state and not Federal law, which allows for some compliance time and sometimes also even provides funding.

No, this is / was a simple scam.

Update: In what Tad Vezner calls "cruel and unusual punishment," Coleman Sr. was banned from Red's for a year after the incident!


Sixteen Ways of Fixing Saint Paul's Tax Base (That Aren't Raising Taxes)

[As a "religion", Scientologists pay no taxes on their downtown buildings!]
You all know the problem… Saint Paul has a $32M budget hole that make even its potholes look small! The way the story is told: there is a big percentage of non-taxable land – like parks! – and, more importantly, non-taxed organizations in the city. These include the non-profits, schools, churches, and state governments that do not contribute to the property tax rolls. It places an extra burden on the tax-paying properties.

That’s why, about 15 years ago, the city developed a system where these institutions would pay for road maintenance. But the city screwed it up, got sued and lost, and now has to do without $32m in revenue. Thus the “taxes going up by 25%” headlines that you might have seen…

Meanwhile, important things are being left by the wayside, like street paving, streetscape improvements, street safety, basic maintenance, and rec centers, etc.

I am nothing like an expert in city budgeting and revenue policy. I’m barely knowledgeable, but I recently read an entire book about how cities can rethink how they raise money. (I didn’t learn much from it, and instead spent $10 to “purchase” the book as a .pdf.) But I might have some good ideas anyway, having been around a while and listening to people talk about taxes and economic development and being sorta intelligint.

That said, take these with grains of salt. I don't even endorse these, necessarily. It's just what I could brainstorm. The point is that if Saint Paul wants to fix its revenue problems without raising taxes, these are some ways to do that.

[Flashback: East Side, 1975.]
1.    Property Tax Assessment Reform

[Dig around in here and see for yourself.]
fiscal impact: large
time horizon: short

I was recently digging around a bit in the Ramsey County tax database, looking at property tax bills. I was struck repeatedly by how disparate assessments can be for houses that are in every other way similar. (I have also heard this from others, who shall remain nameless.)

In other words, if you have two relatively identical houses, one might pay many times the property taxes of the other depending on when it had most recently been sold. Partly this is because assessors are very conservative, and don’t look at home interiors or even speculate on potential values until they are sold.

It would be possible to assess properties at least partly based on their potential value (see also: a land tax) instead of their last-having-been-sold value. The downside is that the proverbial little old lady would have to pay more in taxes. The upside would be a far more accurate and fair valuation of property, especially between generations and between newer and older housing stock. This would thus de-incentivize things like vacant lots and/or surface parking lots.

2.    Reduction of Parking Minimums

fiscal impact: medium
time horizon: medium

I wrote a whole post on this kind of thing a while ago at streets.mn, the effect of parking and especially parking requirements on the tax base. There is no less valuable land than the land used for car storage. Requiring businesses, homes, schools, etc. to build un-valuable parking lots is a bad move, fiscally speaking. This goes double when many of these lots could be developed into actual space for people, rather than empty cars or (worse) just sitting there without even empty cars!

3.   Boosting and Expanding Downtown Density

[Potentially valuable land next to downtown on the West Side flats.]
fiscal impact: large
time horizon: medium

Downtowns are the cash cows for any city, as a whole bunch of value-per-acre analysis from smart people shows. I’m sure that policy people are trying to do this – see the recent marketing of the former West Publishing site, for example – but growing Downtown Saint Paul needs to be a top priority for the city’s bottom line. Downtown could and should be a lot more valuable, and could and should generate many more tax dollars for the city. Growing downtown should be a huge priority, and this means up and out.

One interesting angle is “growing out.” Stay tuned for a future article on this topic, but downtown needs to be geographically larger. That means that we need downtown-like development on the West Side Flats, the former Lafayette Park area and Railroad Island, by the Rice Street Sears, and along West 7th. All of these parts of the city should be huge boons to the city’s bottom line, part of a “downtown Saint Paul” full of people, jobs, and diverse activity.

4.    Teardowns (yikes tho! …)

[New home in Mac-Groveland.]
fiscal impact: medium 
time horizon: short

Teardowns are are hugely unpopular, but from a tax-base perspective, they are a big boost for the city for reasons that are similar to Point #1 above. I mean, if you want a larger tax-base, building fancy homes in fancy neighborhoods is a way to do it! The alternative -- not building larger more expensive homes in fancy neighborhoods -- is a recipe for tax base stagnation.

I’m not saying Saint Paul should encourage teardowns, but I am saying that people concerned about revenue growth and fiscal sustainability should think carefully about things like moratoriums or strict regulations on teardowns. These kinds of policies absolutely impact the city’s bottom line.

5.    Public Works fee structure

fiscal impact: small
time horizon: short

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the legal opinion about now-defunct street maintenance fee was that it lacked specific ties between the fee structure and city services. There was a debate about whether to shift all or part of the fee-based system over to the regular property tax, only paid by non-non-profit properties.

Well, I’d be curious to see just how much of the Public Works budget could be set up as a strictly fee-for-service model, which would presumably be legal and would allow the city to have non-profits pay for street maintenance. I am quite skeptical that the pilot PILOT program will amount to much, and there might be a kind of transparency in having a simple street fee model in place that would allow the city to charge governments, schools, Scientologists, etc. for snowplowing, curbs, street sweeping, or basically anything that it does in a transparent manner.  PS. I am not a lawyer.

6.    Charging for parking at Como Park (and maybe other places)

[Fixing this sign at Como Park comes out of the general fund.]
fiscal impact: small
time horizon: short

I was at Como Park the other weekend, and what a mess! What percentage of people are driving around looking for free parking while simultaneously blocking the road for others? How much money is the city leaving on the table by refusing to charge a basic small fee for parking at a basically-free regional museum, where many thousands of non-Saint Paul residents visit all the time? How much money is the city spending doing things like building new parking lots and subsidizing a little-used shuttle when it could have a larger impact by simply creating incentives?

Minneapolis charges for parking at its parks (especially Wirth and Minnehaha, its two massive regional parks) and it works fine.

Charging a basic fee for parking is a fair and also environmentally and fiscally sustainable practice. This is true downtown, and also when setting up a fee structure for a popular parks, especially the regional ones.  The way it would work seems fair to me: the parks are free, but you have to pay if you want to drive yourself there and store your car on valuable land… that’s eminently reasonable, and what a city that actually cared about climate change would do.

7.    General Infill and Density

[New buildings, finally, along East 7th Street.]
fiscal impact: medium
time horizon: medium

Swapping out a vacant lot, surface parking, or a half-empty strip mall for mixed-use density is a huge improvement for the tax base. The city should be supportive of these kinds of infill developments as much as possible, if it wants to build a strong tax base. TN-type rezoning, as with the recent changes to Snelling Avenue, are a great kind of policy. I’d love to see Saint Paul get more aggressive about working with neighborhoods to get more of the city re-zoned with its TN zoning. Huge parts of town -- like the West Side or Payne Avenue, just to name two – are still zoned using the antiquated and fiscally unsound R- and B- districts.

8.    Promoting walking to help small businesses

[Payne Avenue: great sidewalks.]
fiscal impact: medium
time horizon: long

The more that people walk, the easier it is to do the kinds of things listed above, especially the points listed above: growing downtown, charging for parking, reducing minimums, and promoting denser infill. Also, the nicer the sidewalks, the more valuable the businesses are, generally speaking.

There are probably other tax-base benefits to great sidewalks, like fewer crashes, better public safety, etc. This is one that has a lot of secondary effects, but is hard to make a direct case.

9.    Riverfront Development

fiscal impact: large
time horizon: long

I wrote about this before, but Saint Paul is not taking advantage of its riverfront. Think about great the Upper Landing homes are, or the new City House café. If we had more riverfront development on the West Side or elsewhere along the Mississippi corridor, it would certainly be an easy way to help the tax base. Saint Paul is way behind on this. I am thinking about things like building the "riverfront balcony," reducing Shepard/Warner road to a boulevard-type footprint through downtown, etc.

10.    Getting rid of / developing part of Ayd Mill Road 

[Fixing this street will cost a fortune AND devalue St. Paul land.]
fiscal impact: medium
time horizon: long

I wrote about this before, but Ayd Mill Road is a big drain on city resources already, and spending any city dollars to rebuild it would be a mammoth mistake. It would be possible to turn this from a space that devalues the surrounding neighborhoods into one that could be partially developed

11.    Organizing Garbage (and maybe other things)

fiscal impact: medium
time horizon: long

I’m glad the city is doing this, and saving money by reducing road maintenance is the big reason why.

(Q: Are there other opportunities like this sitting out there?)

12.    TIF Reform
[Pretty sure the Schmidt is still in a TIF district.]

fiscal impact: medium

time horizon: medium

I think cities should absolutely use TIFs, but with a thriving tax base, a city like Saint Paul might not have to rely so heavily on this funding model. It’d be awfully nice to phase out a TIF ahead of schedule sometime. Instead, they tend to stay around a long time after their initial purpose has been achieved.

13.    Downtown parking lot sales

fiscal impact: medium

time horizon: short

The city of Saint Paul owns a bunch of downtown parking lots. If subsidizing parking was a great economic development strategy, downtown Saint Paul would be thriving today. Instead, it’s way behind its peers.

Why not get these lots into the hands of the private sector? Subsidizing parking is not the way to create a thriving downtown. Let the market handle that.

14.    Expand parking meters / direct fund for “property tax relief”

[Pasadena parking revenue is tied to local business improvements.]
fiscal impact: mediumtime horizon: short

Just sayin’.

What if we created a neighborhood parking fund and said all the revenue would go directly toward property tax relief? Or, perhaps a mix of property tax relief and some sort of NRP-type fund that could be spent in whatever way a neighborhood group / district council might like?

In a place like Grand Avenue,  essentially you’d have people from all over the metro area coming, paying a small fee to more conveniently park, and then helping local folk pay less in taxes and/or have nice things. If done well, this could be a great fund for neighborhoods that also promote sustainable transportation.

15.    Sell / develop golf courses

fiscal impact: medium
time horizon: short

I wrote about this before, but golf is not as popular as it used to be and uses a tremendous amount of valuable land. I have written about this before, but it seems like the writing is on the wall for Saint Paul’s lesser-used golf courses. Someday, they will be losing so much money each year, someone will have to do something.

Why not rip the band-aid right off? Golf courses occupy valuable land that could be a mix of parks and tax-base-boosting mixed-use.

16. Great bike lanes downtown

fiscal impact: medium
time horizon: medium

It turns out, attractive employers love this kind of thing. Saint Paul started but hasn't finished the job.

In Conclusion, this is why the Ford Site is Great

I am not saying any or all of these things are good or that Saint Paul leaders should do them. Just that these are the kinds of things that a city like Saint Paul can do if it wants to solve some of its recurring problems. Along with straight-up raising taxes, these are the choices it has.

And a lot is at stake, because the list of great projects that the city could fund it it had more money is a long one. Each year or so, the CIB committee ranks everything and has all the great ideas in the city (and some bad ones) compete for a small amount of funding. Lots of great stuff does not make the cut.

That's why the Ford Site is such a basic litmus test of one's understanding of urban fiscal policy. People that are against higher property taxes but also against the Ford Site plans confuse me. People that claim to be concerned about the tax base but are against the Ford Site plans also confuse me. It’s not often that you get the chance to solve so many problems in one fell swoop, at so little perceived cost. The Ford site checks a lot of these boxes and is a great opportunity to fill another big hole in the city’s tax base

The Ford Site is a one example of a big project that will, in one fell swoop, boost the city’s tax base without stepping on anybody's toes. The Snelling/University site (if we can move past the horrid “surface parking lot” phase), the Hillcrest golf course, and the long-vacant West Side Flats are three other large opportunities for tax-base-boosting development.

Supporting dense mixed-use development - hopefully with jobs! - at these sites is critical to Saint Paul’s fiscal sustainability and its ability to act in accordance with other shared principles. These are some of the alternatives, and not many of them are easy to accomplish, because they often come at the expense of easy driving or perceptions about “neighborhood character.”

And yet, some of them are very worthwhile policy changes that would move Saint Paul toward a fiscally sustainable future.

[Penfield generates about $1M a year in property taxes.]


Reading the Highland Villager #190

[A couple Villagers lurking in the periodicals.]
[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: Council is poised to rezone Snelling for higher density; Change raises concern about congestion, pedestrian safety [Pedestrian safety?]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There was a study to change the zoning of properties along Snelling Avenue from 70s-era single-use zoning to mixed-use TN zoning [which is much better at improving pedestrian safety, by the way]. More density would be permitted. There was a hearing at the City Council. Neighbors are concerned about traffic and pedestrian safety. There is a aBRT transit line along Snelling now. There would be a mix of densities allowed. Neighborhood groups and the Planning Commission support the plan. Some people think Saint Paul needs more housing. Others thing that TN zoning will “lead to increased traffic congestion … greater hazards for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles and the loss of the neighborhoods’ character.” [More density is good for pedestrian safety. Dangerous places are ones that are completely auto-oriented and encourage speeding.] One man said he wanted it all to be TN3 [the highest density zoning]. A woman in a wheelchair liked the plan also. One man is worried that Snelling has no medians. [This is fairly true! Also it has little to do with the zoning.] One man is worried about speeding on side streets. [Lots of solutions for that! Note: it passed on a 6-1 vote with CM Thao voting against, for some reason.]

Headline: Controversy over Ford site plan coming to a head
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council will finally take up the Ford site zoning and public realm plan. There will be testimony at Council Chambers. There was a meeting at a church, and there were both red and green signs.  CM Tolbert got an amendment passed to reduce some heights, probably. Neighbors are concerned about traffic. One man quoted saying: “I don’t know how many of you pay rent, but it keeps going up.” [This is true.] Others are happy with the planned-for parks, or would like even more parks, depending. Quote from one woman against the plan: “It’s like frosting a cake before you bake it.” [Cake metaphor! Only cake metaphors from here on out, please. "Cake eaters." "Let them eat cake." "If I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake."  "Three-layer cakes." "Can't make a cake without breaking a few eggs." "That's a-spicy cake-ball!" "There is no 'I' in C-A-K-E." &c.]

Headline: Bike-pedestrian trail plan progresses; New trails would provide a safe link to parks and trails in West End and Highland Park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An unused railroad spur could become a bike/ped trail. There will be drawings. More study is happening. There might be transit on the corridor also. The trail corridor is sometimes wide but sometimes not as wide.

Headline: BZA denies variances for 19th unit at Sannah’s apartments on Grand
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Board of Zoning Appeals said that a guy who owns an apartment, and who used to play soccer, can have a parking variance but cannot add one more unit to it because he could not “prove practical difficulties.” [What about impractical difficulties?] If the property had TN zoning, it would be another story. [This is an example of why the Snelling rezoning seems wise.]

Headline: Council looks at midnight closing, other changes for city’s skyways
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council is debating whether or not to let skyways closer to the public earlier. There was a public hearing. There is a list of new rules about what you cannot do in the skyways, which includes a lot of things that were probably already against the rules. Quotes CM Noecker: “We really need to raise the bar in our skyways.” People with disabilities are upset. People who own buildings are also upset but for different reasons. Quote from one owner: “The absurdity of the plan is breathtaking. It won’t work.” He would like more police in the skyways instead of security guards. One owner is locking their doors even though they are not supposed to. Young people hang out by the train station. There is a debate about whether “leaning”, “lounging”, or “kneeling” should be against the rules, or whether only "laying on the floor" should. [Oof da. These property owner quotes are not good. This is a truly depressing situation. Do the building owners simply want to privatize the skyways like in Minneapolis? Probably they do. That seems wrong given the public funding. I still would prefer having the skyways systematically and gradually removed. I would like this whole issue to go away and be replaced by one that had centered on the improving of actual public spaces. The new rules passed 5-2, IIRC.]

Headline: St. Paul seeks to restrict menthol tobacco sales
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city might ban sales of flavored and menthol smokes like they just did in Minneapolis. Guy who owns a Frogtown gas station is upset. There is a coalition of convenience stores and gas stations that is upset also. [This is right up there with the all-powerful plastic bag lobby, except they are not all-powerful. When I was on Hennepin Avenue earlier this summer I saw this same group handing out fliers at the gas station with city council phone numbers listed on it. It had no effect.]

Headline: Selby-Victoria, Selby-Milton mixed-use projects gain support
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A group is going to try and build buildings on the long-vacant lots on Selby now. Neighbors are concerned about parking. Two restaurants opened up recently near there that are popular. The new building has a parking variance but whether it is needed depends on whether the building develops as “live/work” or not.

Headline: Committee discusses options for revitalizing Selby’s streetscape
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There is some money for trying to improve the street along Selby between Dale and Lexington.There will be renderings. Ideas include lighting, murals, rain gardens, hanging baskets, spaces for the jazz fest. [Seems good. But meanwhile a few blocks away neighbors are concerned about parking.]

Headline: Planning begins for new play areas at Expo, Obama schools
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Two schools will get some new playgrounds.

Headline: Work finally set to begin this fall on Snelling Ave. medians
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Snelling will get medians between Randolph and Ford Parkway. [See also, crossing the street on Snelling Avenue.] They will be 8’ wide, and be done by spring. A funeral home will get a turn lane / curb cut. [I bet the guy who runs the other funeral home that did NOT get a curb cut by the Charles Avenue bikeway median is pissed.]

Headline: UPDC requests zoning study of Marshall west of Snelling
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A neighborhood group wants to look at zoning on Marshall because they are worried about “the loss of historic homes and the development of taller infill buildings.” [Personally, I am not aware of much / any Marshall development except for right along the river? And those buildings seem great.] Some people want a development moratorium. CM Stark has to make the request.

Headline: Council approves license for Alchemy health, fitness club
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A person can open a health club on Cleveland Avenue now. Neighbors are concerned about parking, noise and vibrations. [Like people grunting really loudly?]

Headline: City strives to renovate its rental stock by offering no-interest loans
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is going to create a loan fund for fixing up rental properties, from single-family to four-plex. Many small rental properties are run down. The program comes with a commitment from the landlord that they will keep the buildings affordable for the next ten years. [This is a good example of the paradox around affordable rental housing. Fixing up buildings is simultaneously bad because it leads to rent increases and good because it is obviously better. This seems like a program that gets around that dilemma.] 

Headline: Cinema’s on a roll; Renovated Trylon foresees growing interest in Hollywood movies of old
Author: Bob Gilbert

Short short version: Trylon is expanding and will re-open in any day now! [I remember with such fondness the old days of art cinema in Minneapolis, watching movies at Oak Street for example. Trylon is doing exactly that. They are great. Go there and watch movies you’ve never heard of. Now with comfy seats!]