Auto repair business can open
A former Frogtown creamery can be reused as an auto repair business, with approval of a conditional use permit Oct. 16 by the St. Paul Planning Commission. The commission approved the permit for Ebisso Uka, who wishes to open an auto repair business at 1033 Thomas Ave. Planning Commission approval is final unless there was an appeal to the city council within 10 days. No appeal was filed.
The property is zoned for business use and has two buildings. The oldest structure was built as a creamery in 1919. A large storage building was built later. More recently the property was a sign shop and then a transportation company. Rift Valley outgrew the site and recently moved to a larger location.
Rift Valley was allowed to repair its passenger vehicles on-site. But a new conditional use permit is needed for the new auto repair use. Planning staff determined Uka met all but one condition for the conditional use permit, except one requiring a 10-foot landscaped buffer at the property. The configuration of buildings on the property makes it impractical for Uka to meet that condition, so the Planning Commission and its Zoning Committee agreed it didn’t have to be met.
Uka plans to only use part of one building for an auto repair business.
Frogtown Neighborhood Association didn’t send a recommendation to the Planning Commission or its Zoning Committee. The commission received five letters, some in opposition and others asking that issues such as potential pneumatic tool noise and on-street parking of vehicles awaiting repair be handled properly.
Audit committee picks focus
A reconstituted St. Paul City Council audit committee has picked its first study focus. The council’s Performance Audit Committee will scrutinize city’s delivery of constituent and customer services across multiple departments chosen from more than 100 ideas submitted through a survey process. The intent is to help residents and businesses with such issues.
The original committee worked closely with city council Research staff to look at issues including the city’s half-cent sales tax program and how problem properties are addressed. Budget cuts have eliminated most of the council research staff over the years.
The committee includes five council members, with Rebecca Noecker and Jane Prince as chairs. It also includes three citizen representatives, with city staff in an advisory role.
Citizen members are Nou Fang, with a background in real estate accounting, financial reporting, budget analysis and auditing; Ellen Brown, retired public policy and expert and consultant, and Eric Zidlicky, with a background in business management and logistics, a district council member and neighborhood advocate.
“I’m very excited that we chose to audit customer service this year,” said Fang. “With all the unrest and challenges the city is facing in 2020, it is a great time to evaluate the call-in number and services we already have in place. We can find and address what barriers there currently are and how we can make the services better and more accessible to our community, in terms of language and channels of communication.”
“There’s a lot of great innovation in the area of traditional thinking around call centers,” said Innovation Chief Matt Larson, advisor to the committee. “There are new generation approaches that leverage technology to reduce cost and increase engagement. This is a great topic to drive equity for everyone,” he said, noting that getting a response shouldn’t depend on knowing who to call.
Watch for slower speeds
Slower is Safer and Twenty is Plenty are the slogans St. Paul and Minneapolis motorists must remember. Signs reminding motorists of the new speed limits began going up on major streets leading into both cities in October.
The speed limit changes are allowed under a 2019 state statute.
In St. Paul and Minneapolis, new speed limits are 20 mph for local residential streets, and 25 mph for busier, arterial city streets. All downtown streets are now 25 mph. That is a reduction from the longstanding speed limit of 30 mph.
Some speed limits are still above 30 mph for a few city streets, but this is on a case-by-case basis.
St. Paul has had 75 vehicle-pedestrian crashes in the first half of 2020 alone. Sixty-six people were injured and four killed. There have been 28 vehicle-bicycle crashes with 22 injuries.
“We know that lower speeds give drivers time to react and also greatly reduces the chance of serious injury to those involved in crashes with motor vehicles,” said Sgt. Mike Ernster, St. Paul Police Department spokesperson.