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Letter to the Editor
Neighbors Speak Out
Councilmember Dave Thune 2010
Letters to the Editor | 2.11Dear Editor:Recently I twice witnessed problematic actions of the City of St. Paul’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) that reflects a questionable attitude toward the zoning laws of our city, relationships with developers, and proper process for granting variances.On September 20 a first variance was granted to a developer despite unified opposition by neighbors and our District Council. Unfortunately, the process was flawed in several ways. First, neighbors were not notified, contrary to Open Meeting laws of our City. Second, the BZA never got several of the documents including the opposition of our District Council. Third, issues were not adequately researched, nor were plans presented of the development. The variance was granted. These objections were freely admitted to by the BZA at the second problematic hearing on the same issue on December 27.At this second hearing, BZA members freely discussed the fact that their first variance was based upon faulty procedure and violation of Open Meeting laws. The topic of this second variance request was needed since one requirement of the original variance could not be met. The BZA board acknowledged that they were ill-prepared to discuss the main objection of the neighbors. One might also say they were confused. No matter, they granted the second variance to the developer.As witness and occasional witness to this process of granting variances, I am often amazed that neighbors are often defenders of city zoning laws and placed in untenable positions in opposition to developers, their “experts” and lawyers. I understand that these matters are often contentious, but the role of the BZA is often viewed as not neutral and more sympathetic to developers than to neighbors who have invested their lives and livelihoods in making their neighborhoods “livable.”I suggest that in the future the following procedures be followed:
In summary, granting a variance should be considered a privilege, not an instrument of development projects, and not a rubber stamp of the BZA. If the BZA cannot meet these protections of our neighborhoods, the board should be replaced.-- Joe Landsberger, St. Paulback to top
- All hearings must follow open meeting laws of the City of St. Paul.
- If developers are able to refute objections of neighbors, neighbors in turn should be able to respond as well (rather than be told that they have had their one opportunity to testify).
- That participants, whether through writing or their presence, on both sides of an issue, be notified of any decision of the BZA, as well as the appeal procedure. (Often neighbors are not aware of this appeal process.)
- That in the case where not enough information is available, or there are issues unresolved, the de facto action is not approval of the variance, but rather a continuance of the matter.
- That the BZA be reminded that a critical approach to developers’ arguments and contentions is necessary, specifically requesting how many times they met with neighbors, and what options were presented.
- That the BZA’s role is one of neutrality, even of encouraging mediation.
Neighbors Speak Out | 2.11Dear Community Reporter, Recently the closing and overhauling of many St. Paul public schools was announced, one being right here in the West End, Four Seasons A+ Elementary School. I am a Four Seasons parent. I chose this school over our neighborhood school because it had all the arts programming I wanted that our neighborhood school did not have. It has proven to be the best community I have been involved in. My present students are 9 and 5. We have older children who are 26, 23, 22, 21 and 19, so have had experience with several schools.This school, though we live far, is our “neighborhood” school. My grandparents and great-grandparents settled here. My father grew up here, and worked at the Grain Terminal Association on the river. He sandbagged during some of the biggest floods.We shop at the grocery store nearby, we eat here, we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries at Mancini’s, date nights and kids’ birthdays at Keenan’s, DeGidio’s, Cossetta’s, McGovern’s, Glockenspiel and Supatra’s. We donate to The Salvation Army, Joseph’s Coat and St. Vincent de Paul.Four Seasons cares about our children. They are excited to go there. They love to dance and sing. They love to read, and they are learning their math. Everything about this school works.The culmination of every year is the school play at the end of July. It is the best production ever by a K-6 school you will find anywhere. Every class and all students are involved, not just a handful. Every student is a star on that day.It’s all accomplished by the awesome students who put their whole beings into it, and the very creative art, dance, drama and music departments and scores of volunteers.The recorded message we received explained that our projected fall student body of 300 was too low to justify staying open. Our regular capacity of students is 307. How can we have a projected student count when we have not even received intent to return forms? How can there be a projected student count when district wide applications have not yet even been sent out, the deadline for those to be returned being March?This school has much potential for growth: many students have younger siblings who would attend. Many students would stay in this school were it to extend to 8th or even 12th grade. Wednesday’s School Board meeting revealed that Bridgeview School, to which we are connected, is slated to take over our space. This school choice is not our school’s choice. Many of the other schools are being merged or moved — ours is one of the only ones being closed.We want to know why.Visit our face book page “Save Four Seasons.” Come to school and get to know us. Pick up a DVD of one of our plays. There is no other school that provides this kind of programming.School choice? Ours is Four Seasons.-- Michaela Gillespie-Burns
2010: Another Busy, Productive Year
| 2.11Postings from Council Member Thune’s Office
Part Two • 651-266-8621November, December 2010Pat met with representatives from Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association (SARPA), Ramsey Hill Association, Cathedral of St. Paul, Director of Parks & Recreation Mike Hahm, and Forecast Public Art about an idea from Bill Hosko to create a chain saw sculpture from the dead Chinese elm tree in the city park directly across the street from the Cathedral. Forecast Public Art is studying feasibility.The number of local advocates for creating a “Bank on Saint Paul” initiative grows with the recent addition of Westsider Deb Schlick. Already advocating for banking assistance for the unbanked are Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties (CAPRW), Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) and Councilmember Thune.Historic Saint Paul and homeowners from Ramsey Hill condos met with representatives from the City’s contract compliance office in Thune’s office to find out about contracting and minority outreach requirements of the City for recipients of city grants. Thune continued working with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) advocates on accessibility standards for sidewalk cafés. An ordinance was introduced on November 3, with public hearing on November 17. Many restaurant owners testified and several amendments were suggested. An amended ordinance was introduced, with public hearing on December 15. Six ADA advocates appeared to testify about their difficulties and dangers when sidewalk obstructions force them out into the street. A final public hearing was held on January 5 and the ordinance amending Chapter 106 of the St. Paul Legislative Code to clarify requirements for sidewalk cafés and sidewalk sales displays was passed unanimously on January 12.Thune and Pat attended an unveiling of a rare archeological find in the deep trench opened in the street outside the Black Dog Café as part of the summer-long LRT construction. A noted archeologist found some mysterious bones. Whose could they be? All was revealed – it was an ancient Boreas Rex from a long-forgotten Winter Carnival.Summit Hill resident Tony Vavoulis called to request a support letter from Thune for Hazelden Foundation’s environmental clean-up grant request to Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Thune’s letter was sent. Hazelden received a $535,000 grant from DEED to clean up the contamination on their Stewart Street property, left behind by Finn Roofing Company when they moved.Thune worked with West Side Safe Neighborhoods to locate some funding to train block club leaders. Leaders interested in training contact Carol Neumann, West Side Safe Neighborhood Council at 651-298-9727 or westsidesafe.org.Ward 2 continued working with Jeannie Wiegum, Gerry Mische, Andrew Hine, John Mannillo, and Rossie Anderson-Howze on regulating window signs and dynamic display signs in windows. They have attended district council to inform them of the proposal. The Planning Commission’s Neighborhood Committee voted to regulate dynamic display signs in windows at their December 29 meeting.A new developer is potentially interested in building market rate rental housing at Victoria Park. His architect has developed a plan that tries to follow the original Victoria Park plan design within the limits of affordability without additional city financing.REDA and several West Side block clubs are working with the St. Paul Police Department and Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office to explore the idea of a surveillance camera system on commercial corridors on the West Side.Thune and his staff met with the Commander of the FORCE unit (Focusing Our Resources on Community Empowerment) to learn about the changes made in FORCE and the easier access neighbors will have to suggesting a problem property for a FORCE file investigation.