Council rejects stiffer penalties for ‘party houses’

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The City Council on Friday rejected a proposed ordinance that supporters argue would streamline the process for dealing with so-called “party houses.”

The ordinance, championed by Ward 2 Council Member Paul Zerby, would require that landlords respond within 10 days to a police citation for excessive noise, attend a property owner’s workshop, and face stiff fines if they failed to respond adequately. The move was sparked by ongoing concerns over noisy and unruly behavior in rental property near the University of Minnesota, an area of the city Zerby represents.

Zerby and other city officials had hoped that a series of meetings with property owners would produce an ordinance that would be amenable to all parties, But despite having removed some of the more draconian measures in the original proposal—placarding the offending properties was the most significant—property owners remained less than supportive. They argued that the current ordinance was adequate, but the city rarely enforced it.

Council Member Dan Niziolek echoed those concerns Friday as he pushed to have the ordinance returned to the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee for further study. “We have an ordinance on the books,” he said. “Let’s enforce it.”

Zerby called the move a “bad mistake” that ignored the more than 20 meetings he and city officials held with interested parties on the issue. The ordinance that resulted, he said, “fairly addresses every concern of the landlords.”

Council president Paul Ostrow agreed. “It would be a huge, huge mistake to return this to committee,” he said, adding that Deputy Police Chief Sharon Lubinski had assured him that enforcement of the ordinance was not hampered by a lack of resources. Niziolek’s approach, which would keep the enforcement mechanism in the licensing department, he said, was short-sighted. “To suggest rental licensing can handle this is ridiculous.” Zerby’s proposal, “creates an immediate response to the issue.”

On a 6-5 vote, however, the council agreed to send the matter back for more study. Voting in favor were council members Niziolek, Scott Benson, Lisa Goodman, Barbara Johnson, Sandra Colvin Roy, and Dean Zimmermann. Voting against were Ostrow, Natalie Johnson Lee, Betsy Hodges, Schiff, and Zerby.

In other actions Friday, the council:
• Approved a 2 percent salary increase for themselves and the mayor, plus a $400-a-month automobile allowance.
• Approved developer Paul Klodt’s controversial apartment complex at 43rd and Snelling Avenue.
• Passed an ordinance requiring a Truth in Housing disclosure report for condominiums or first-time condo conversions.
• Authorized a Request for Proposals from developers interested in buying and retrofitting the city’s South Transfer Station for a biomass power facility. The move essentially sets up a competition between the Green Institute and Kandiyohi Partners, run by former Green Institute executive director Michael Krause (see “Eco-friends become foes in biomass bidding war,” 12/19).
• Officially transferred the city’s cable franchise from Time Warner to Comcast Corporation.
• Approved the creation of two new neighborhood organizations: Midtown Phillips and Phillips East.
• Ruled that an environmental impact statement was not required in order for the Park Board to build a football field for De LaSalle High School on Nicollet Island.

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