Business owners upset about narrowing of parking lanes, assessments nearing $20,000
Reporting and photo by TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
They dealt with three years of construction along University Ave. while the Green Line was built.
Now businesses at Snelling and University are facing another construction season.
This time Snelling will be torn up.
Although attorney Stephen Nelson is located several blocks north of the University intersection at 665 Snelling, he says his business suffered from the University construction. Clients didn’t want to deal with the hassle of the construction area, and so avoided his office, he said. It wasn’t uncommon to have traffic backed up all the way from University to his office building.
Nelson is very concerned about the effect another construction season will have on local businesses, and points out that there are already many vacant structures in the area.
But it isn’t just the plan to repave Snelling that has Nelson and other business owners upset.
It’s the decision to add decorative lighting on the sidewalks.
The decision to add double lantern decorative street level lamps brings assessments and the loss of street space because the sidewalk boulevard area will be widened. The parking bays will be narrowed from 11 feet to 9 feet.
When Nelson asked why the sidewalk had to be so wide, he was told it was to avoid car doors dinging the light poles. He thinks a few dents is worth the potential loss of life from someone stepping out of their car into the path of an oncoming semi.
“Is a life worth less than a car door?” he asked.
City “not business-friendly”
Nelson is concerned about how the narrowing of parking lanes will affect his older clients. He can only park three cars in his small parking lot, so most of his clients park on the street.
Nelson had purchased land next to his in order to expand his parking lot to 8-10 cars a few years ago, but the city denied his request, despite it being in a commercial zone.
“If they don’t want to give us parking lots, they need to give us street parking,” said Nelson. “They say they’re business-friendly, but I’ve never seen it.”
Nelson’s dad moved his law firm to Snelling Ave. N. in 1956. Nelson joined him in the 1970s.
Nelson has encouraged his council member, Russ Stark, to come down to Snelling and park two feet away from the curb in order to discover what it will be like when the street is reconstructed. “I never saw anyone come out and never heard from anyone that they did that,” said Nelson.
Nelson has asked the city to reconsider its decision regarding the street lights.
“It has been a frustrating experience,” he remarked.
Nelson isn’t the only one upset.
Midway Books suffering
Tom Stransky of Midway Book Store at 1579 University Ave. watched his business cut in half during the light rail construction. The shop has been there since 1965, and plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary this summer— during the reconstruction project.
Midway Books received a $2,100 assessment for the University Ave. project, and is now facing a $18,700 assessment for Snelling.
“Does that sound fair to you?” Stransky asked.
The city has offered payment plans for 20 years at 4.5% interest. “The city is going to make a lot of money off us,” noted Stransky, who has considered relocating.
Businesses say they were not informed about assessments
Nelson has polled most of the businesses near his location about what they think of the street lights and assessments. He discovered that many of them had no idea what was happening on their street and didn’t know they were facing assessments of $154 per linear foot.
While some knew about the street repaving, few knew about the street lights that were added to the project at the last minute, according to Nelson.
“It’s not going to improve anyone’s business,” Nelson stated, who noted that most businesses in the area close at 5pm.
What upsets him the most is how the city handled the project.
“They just jammed it down our throats,” Nelson said. “No one got a chance to have input or react.”
“Lighting we don’t want”
Nelson wants to know why the city isn’t covering the large price tag of the lights.
So does Brian McConnon of Metro Automotive (675 Snelling Ave. N.).
“They are making it harder on existing businesses, making it harder for customers to do business,” commented McConnon. “On top of that, they’re assessing businesses for lighting that we don’t want.”
McConnon believes that lighting is a normal part of a street reconstruction project and should be covered by the city. His assessment is about $8,000. Nearby, Great Fans and Blinds is being assessed $15,000.
“We weren’t consulted about whether we wanted it, but yet we have to pay for it,” said McConnon.
When he attended a meeting in February to complain, he didn’t feel like the city was listening. “The city said, ‘It’s a done deal. Nothing you can do about it,’” recalled McConnon.
“Kinda scary on Snelling Ave.”
There are 37,000 cars a day traveling on Snelling Ave.
“Sometimes it’s kinda scary on Snelling Ave.,” said McConnon, who has operated Metro Automotive since 1991.
McConnon added, “Basically, the city is putting pretty decorative lighting over safety.”
Nelson pointed out that Snelling Ave. is a major truck route. Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) operates a large unloading site on Pierce Butler Route, and trucks pick up trailers using Snelling.
He doesn’t see how narrowing the existing 11-foot-wide parking lanes to 9 feet will work with 8-foot-wide semi tractor-trailers driving by. In addition, there are emergency vehicles and buses on the street.
In fact, the reconstruction project along Snelling is being driven by Metro Transit’s new A Line bus rapid transit project, coming by the end of 2015.
The new line will connect the two light rail lines to the Snelling commercial area and to Hamline University, Macalester College, Highland Village, Rosedale Shopping Center, Minnehaha Park and Midway Shopping Center.
Touted features of the new line are buses so frequent riders won’t need a schedule, fewer stops, buses with wider aisles and additional doors, enhanced stations and fares paid before boarding.
The buses won’t pull over to board passengers, but will instead remain in the right driving lane.
Nelson questions the estimate that it will take just 10 seconds for the bus to pull over, load and resume traveling. “It will be just like the Light Rail line,” Nelson said, with a travel time much more than the initial projections.
He recently rode along a similar bus line in Washington D.C. while visiting his daughter, and it took between 45 and 60 seconds to load, especially if there were wheelchairs or bicycles to get settled.
Nelson envisions traffic backed up for some ways behind these rapid buses.
“Return to glory”
Kyle Mianulli of Hamline Midway Coalition/District Council 11 thinks this project will be a very good thing for the neighborhood in the long term.
“While not perfect, the project does incorporate many important measures to make the street a more pleasant place to be, shop, and explore,” Mianulli said.
He added, “Right now, Snelling Ave. is a pretty dismal place to be a pedestrian. More cars pass by the businesses and shops on Snelling Ave. than any street in the city. The problem, especially for the section in Hamline Midway, is that it is not a welcoming streetscape for people to stop, get out of their vehicle and spend time here.”
He believes that over time, this project will help to change that perception, which will translate into more foot traffic, customers, investment and overall revitalization of the area.
“Snelling Ave. was once considered Minnesota’s Main St.,” pointed out Mianulli. “I would like nothing more than to see it return to that glory, and I think this project is an important first step in getting there.”