A real plus for Summit Hill

It was very disappointing to see the display of negative opinions in the last issue regarding the development proposal for Grand Avenue and Saint Albans Street (Villager Viewpoint, April 28). I for one think it is a terrific idea and will be a great addition to both the commercial viability of Grand and the housing options for Summit Hill residents, especially empty-nesters who want to stay in the neighborhood but not in the large houses where they raised their families.

Frankly, I am amazed by the willingness of the development team to accommodate neighborhood concerns and wowed by the patience they show in explaining options and answering questions. The careful oversight by the Summit Hill Association Zoning and Land Use Committee is comforting as well.

While I totally understand the opposition of those who live on Saint Albans as they will certainly bear a negative impact from the building, the overall benefits to Grand’s eroding commercial health by adding 79-plus new residents must not be minimized. I wish that we could see the addresses of those who are commenting at the public meetings. That would give us all a better sense of the geographic breadth of the opposition. As I talk to my neighbors, they seem very open to the proposal if not yet fully supportive as I am. 

Thanks for the good and careful work everyone is doing to make 695 Grand a real plus for Summit Hill. 

Ellen Brown
Summit Hill

Neighbors’ rights are limited

The guest editorial and letters opposing the planned development at Grand Avenue and Saint Albans Street (Villager Viewpoint, April 28) call to mind the opening sequences in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which Arthur Dent struggles vainly to prevent the destruction of his home world. You would think that is what is at stake at 695 Grand Ave., given the hyperbole.

Grand Avenue, which was as desolate a spot as Saint Paul has seen back in the 1960s and ’70s, rose from the ashes of a once-thriving commercial district to become yet another one of America’s quaint neighborhoods catering to the young, more affluent members of our society. Many of those establishments were gone a few decades later, replaced by high-end retailers which have themselves left. We are in the midst of the next phase of Grand’s evolution.

Two of the three restaurants currently occupying 695 Grand were part of the resurgence in the 1980s. At least one, Dixie’s, has decided to end its run. The building it inhabits is an uninspiring bit of masonry. It is unclear what use the building might have were it to remain. It’s highly unlikely that its current use is among the highest and best to which it could be put. So what is to be done with it?

The current owners have presented a proposal, one that has drawn objections from a great many residents interested primarily in protecting what they see as their own interests. They forget that all property owners have rights, but that those rights traditionally end at their property lines. It is not the city’s place to ensure that the backyards of a few Summit Avenue homes remain outside of the shadow cast by a neighboring building. Nor is it the city’s or the neighbors’ place to dictate the architectural elements of another’s property. 

Oppose the project if you wish, but please keep in mind the limits of your rights and of the city’s power.

James M. Hamilton
Summit Hill

Homeless clients deserve respect

I found your article, “Freedom House’s homeless clients troubling West 7th businesses” (Villager, April 28) to be offensive and ill-informed. Instead of approaching the very real challenges facing members of our community from a position of partnership and compassion, you used othering language and painted a picture that “the homeless” are a problem and should be feared.

The intent of your article was clear from the first anecdote about Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub having a guest who tried to enter the establishment with, gasp, a backpack! The guest, who I guess we are to infer was homeless, reacted poorly to being asked to leave. It’s funny, because I’ve been to Tom Reid’s with a backpack and I wasn’t asked to leave. While I was there, I noticed a couple who likely checked out of a nearby hotel and stopped for a drink on their way to the airport. They had two roller suitcases. They weren’t asked to leave.

How about instead of treating human beings who are experiencing homelessness as a problem that we need to eradicate, we take responsibility for these fellow members of our community? What responsibility does Tom Reid’s have to the community in which it is situated?

Your article omitted any mention of how the community is supporting the efforts of organizations like Freedom House to assist folks who are struggling, instead opting to focus on the negative effects that the people using Freedom House’s services have on the aesthetics of the neighborhood. Your article failed to mention that individuals experiencing homelessness are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of crimes. You didn’t mention that homelessness often goes hand in hand with substance use disorders, trauma and other mental health issues.

These people, who you referred to as troubling, are our family members, friends and neighbors. But for the grace of God, they are you or me. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, which your article failed to do. In a time when we regularly hear about people being murdered just for being homeless, this piece felt particularly tone deaf. Please, do better.

Casey Schultz Bruning
West End

Editor’s note: Villager reporter Casey Ek contacted Freedom House, but representatives of the day shelter declined to comment for the story. He spoke to one of Freedom House’s clients, who in the story praised the services the shelter offers. Saint Paul City Council member Rebecca Noecker also spoke in support of the services provided by Freedom House. Rhonda Otteson of the Minnesota Coalition for Homeless was quoted in support of current state legislation that would provide $50 million in capital funding for programs serving homeless people.

A dangerous mix on river road

Arrogant, ignorant or just doesn’t care. However you characterize Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s recent proclamation that selected streets would be one-way to allow for more bicyclists and pedestrians, you cannot deny that it’s dangerous for both. For example, without consultation nor advance notice, Mayor Carter made Mississippi River Boulevard (MRB) a one-way, north-only street from Ford Parkway to Pelham Boulevard for the next few months. Did anyone ask about the experience of regular users of MRB last summer when this was done?

As a multiple-times-per-week runner and bicyclist of a good section of this stretch of road, I can tell you it didn’t work well. Walkers and bikers share an 8.5-foot-wide path with a number of blind spots. Add walkers and bikers to the southbound lane of the road, and it creates no safe place for pedestrians. Common sense would be to follow the example of Minneapolis and separate the two groups.

Based on the speed and habits of bikers, the best solution would be to restrict the southbound lane of the road to bikes and reserve the shared path for pedestrians. This could easily be addressed with some changes in signage. When I contacted the mayor’s office with this suggestion, I received a polite response: “Both the temporary closed lane and the existing trail along MRB are meant to be shared by both bikers and pedestrians, and making the temporary road closure bike-only is not feasible at this time.”

Not feasible? It would take a roll of black duct tape and an hour to change the signage. Maybe incompetent is the best adjective.

Thomas Romens
Highland Park

An echo chamber at City Hall

I was invited to Saint Paul City Council member Mitra Jalali’s April 19 Zoom meeting to discuss neighborhood preparations in advance of the Derek Chauvin trial verdict. After multiple attempts to get a hold of her regarding an increase in crime in the neighborhood with no replies, I was excited for my voice to be heard. Unfortunately, what ensued was an echo chamber of people opposed to Governor Walz’s use of the National Guard. The Zoom meeting was an opportunity for consenting opinions to be voiced, not community discussion.

I encourage dialogue on better ways to fight systemic racism in our community. Something has to change. If our elected officials are advocating for a reduction in police and opposition to the National Guard protecting us, I expect a detailed plan for how we keep our neighborhoods safe. I’m extremely disappointed that I’ve seen nothing in the way of a plan, and when I reach out to Mitra I’m unable to even get a response.

Thank you, Governor Walz, for investing to protect us in preparation for the Chauvin verdict. Our city is at risk of losing many residents if we don’t fix our crime issue. How do we do that without police?

I would welcome an opportunity to review your plan, Mitra. Feel free to reply to any of my emails sitting in your inbox to schedule a time to talk.

Pat Archbold
Merriam Park

To park or not to park

The city of Saint Paul is playing games again. That’s something I learned after attending an April 26 Zoom meeting with the Macalester-Groveland Community Council Transportation Committee. This time it’s about eliminating or reducing the minimum requirements for off-street parking.

If the city completely eliminates the parking requirement, it will mean that new developments will no longer have to build in a minimum number of parking spots. Free market forces will be unleashed. Will developers build in enough parking on their own, or will the neighbors have to fight for on-street parking? That is the question.

No one has the answer, but when has that ever stopped the city of Saint Paul from doing whatever it wants?

Regina Purins
Highland Park

Spur to action with CP Rail

Major railroad mergers like the one proposed by CP Rail and Kansas City Southern typically need state and local government support to secure federal approval. That support usually commands a price. In this case, the price for Minnesota’s and Saint Paul’s support must include the vacant 4.5-mile, 100-foot-wide right-of-way owned by CP Rail.

The CP Rail Spur once carried thousands of freight cars each year to and from Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant in Highland Park and the long-shuttered Schmidt Brewery on West Seventh Street. The real estate underlying these and other West End industrial properties is finding higher and better uses, making it most unlikely that freight will ever again move over these tracks.

It would be a modest request, therefore, to ask CP Rail to part with $10 million to $20 million worth of idle real estate to help secure a business venture worth $200 million per year in operating profits. The community can figure out later what to do with the property. It just needs to secure the resource now, as there will likely never be a better opportunity.

If you agree, tell your elected officials to press the Walz and Biden administrations to include the CP Rail Spur in any merger settlement with CP Rail. Tell them the Highland Park and West End neighborhoods can live without the railroad, but not without the spur land.

Jerome Johnson
Summit Hill

Editor’s note: The writer is a retired transportation economist who specialized in the sale and acquisition of freight rail corridors.

Retain distance learning option

I’m a junior at Highland Park High School and have been doing distance learning since last spring because of the coronavirus. Recently, for the final quarter of the year, the schools said we could learn in-person if we wanted to. I opted out of this and, if given the option, would opt out for the rest of my time in high school.

For most students, distance learning is not a good thing. It lets them slack off, and 60 percent of the students at my school failed at least one of their classes. However, I have never done better. Distance learning allows me the flexibility to get the sleep I need and do my work on my own time. If kids are doing better at home, then they should be allowed to stay there. 

Also, schooling is expensive, and doing online classes is significantly cheaper. All you really need is an iPad, which the schools already give us. If a certain percentage of students opt out of most school services and are doing better because of that, then there is more money to go around for the students who want to use those services. 

Oliver Kelly
Highland Park

A solution in search of a problem

Republican state legislators are once again attempting to impose voter ID restrictions. Proponents argue that because an ID is required to drive, fly or go to a ball game, why object to requiring an ID to vote? This is a false equivalency. Admittedly, my law school days are 30 years in the past, but I don’t recall the right to drive, fly or go to a ball game being enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Voting, however, is. In order to restrict a fundamental constitutional right, the Legislature must show that the restriction furthers a compelling governmental interest and be narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. Voter ID laws fail on both counts.

There is no evidence whatsoever that widespread voter fraud exists or has ever existed in this country. Furthermore, voter ID does nothing to address widespread voter fraud. Massive voter fraud would by necessity occur, not at the ballot box where an ID would be shown, but by the systems that count those votes. There is zero evidence this has ever occurred anywhere despite the big lie promoted by our former president and his minions.

Voter ID laws are a classic example of a solution in search of a problem. That is, unless the problem you are addressing is that Republicans tend not to do well at the ballot box when more people vote. 

Mark L. Greiner
Highland Park


The Villager welcomes comments from readers. Please include your full name and the neighborhood in which you live. Be respectful of others and stay on topic. We reserve the right to remove any comment we deem to be profane, rude, insulting or hateful. Comments will be reviewed before being published.

Leave a Reply