On Dec. 9, Ward 4 City Council Member Russ Stark joined the St. Anthony Park Community Council meeting to talk about his priorities for the coming year and field questions.
Stark said much of his time recently has been devoted to plans for the Central Corridor. The City Council has voted to supplement the streetscaping that will be part of that project. Yet to be determined is how much University Avenue business owners will be assessed for those improvements.
Stark said he is interested in the possibility of organized trash collection in St. Paul. “The present situation is inefficient and environmentally unsound,” he said. “On some blocks there are four or five trucks going down the alley every week. Plus, we pay more than communities that have organized collection.”
He said it may be possible to divide the city into regions, each of which would be served by only one or two collectors.
Stark invited questions, and Community Council Member Greg Haley asked if there’s been any discussion about expanding St. Paul’s curbside recycling program.
“I think we should be doing more,” Stark said. “The challenge is finding viable, long-term markets for what we collect.”
Roger Purdy asked what can be done in the future to avoid last summer’s traffic construction headaches.
Stark admitted that the city doesn’t do a very good job of transportation planning, adding that he will recommend that a Transportation Committee be created as part of St. Paul’s Planning Commission. He said that even with such a committee in place, it would have been difficult to predict the “perfect storm” of projects that made many Ward 4 residents’ commuting lives difficult last summer.
Matt Haas expressed concern about the fate of University Avenue businesses during construction on the Central Corridor. He asked how the city plans to help businesses.
“We’re exploring whether we can create a fund to mitigate some of the losses that businesses might sustain,” Stark said. “We’re not sure where the money would come from. And we’re also not sure whether it’s fair to help one group of businesses when other projects in other locations disadvantage a different group.”
Paul Hanscom, a business representative on the Community Council, said that businesses on or near University Avenue will experience a “double whammy”: lost revenue during construction, followed by higher property values – and thus higher property taxes – after construction. He asked, “Is it possible to freeze property taxes for awhile?”
Stark said that not much can be done at the city level because the city is limited by state law and county assessments.
Roger Purdy asked how Stark feels about the mix of industrial, retail and residential property in his ward.
Stark said that much of the industrial property in south St. Anthony Park is not very productive, noting that “a lot of it is used for storage, it’s low-density and doesn’t contribute much to the tax base. However, we do need to preserve some industrial property in the city.”
Gregg Richardson voiced concern about preserving a strong arts community in the neighborhood in the face of likely increases in property values and rents with LRT on University.
“I’m also concerned about artists getting priced out of the area,” Stark said. “We should be taking a closer look at some of the underdeveloped industrial property in the area.”