Until recently the District 13 Planning Council was made up of three separate community councils – the Lexington-Hamline (LexHam), Snelling Hamline, and Merriam Park councils. Each operated independently, yet all were part of the same district council. Over the past year or so, in response to a request from the city of Saint Paul, the three entities have merged to become the Union Park District Council.
After so many years operating as separate entities, how hard will it be for the council members to work together in one unified council? Theresa Heiland, Executive Director of District 13, believes there isn’t time to dwell on the process, which is “moving along.”
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Union Park District Council
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Jim Marti, president of the District 13 Planning Council, admits that it will take some time, saying, “We are still building, it is a work in progress, and it will take awhile to gel and unify.” He stresses the importance of keeping the neighborhood identities intact.
Union Park’s Board of Directors includes representatives from each of the three community councils. Chris Wood serves as one of the representatives from LexHam. He is also president of the LexHam Community Council.
Both Marti and Wood agree on the importance of the separate neighborhoods working together. Both say that LexHam plays a critical role in advising Union Park on issues related to the LexHam area.
That advisory role is coming into play now with a new proposal from Common Bond Communities. The non-profit has plans to build a new corporate office and housing for people who are homeless at the intersection of Lexington and St. Anthony (the frontage road for Interstate 94). This proposal has raised controversy in the neighborhood, and the district council is relying heavily on LexHam to provide input and to help organize meetings around the issue.
A mood of optimism prevails as various opinions are expressed about the merger and the future of the Union Park Planning Council. As Wood says, “I think it’s going to take some time for the neighborhoods to figure out how to work together. I’m encouraged by how far we’ve come so far.”
While the Union Park community does not have as many quality of life issues related to crime as some of the other neighborhoods in the city, it faces other issues.
Recently neighbors in District 13 worked together to support a city ordinance regulating sober houses by limiting them to one per block.
While neighbors are pleased with the outcome of their efforts, they may have to continue their work. There is some concern that the new city ordinance may be overturned because of federal fair housing law that regards recovering alcoholics as a protected class of people so housing rules do not always apply to them
The 100-year-old Rock –Tenn, Minnesota’s largest paper recycler with 500 employees, lies just outside of the Union Park boundaries, and is looking into alternative forms of energy to power the plant.
District 13 is participating in that process by having neighborhood residents serve on the Rock-Tenn Community Advisory Panel (RCAP) [www.rtadvisory.com], along with their neighbors from St. Anthony Park.
Speaking of the Rock-Tenn situation, Jim Marti comments, “We’re downwind [from Rock-Tenn] .Whatever they do, affects us.”
Tim Thoreen , a resident of Merriam Park, is a member of RCAP. He says that he chose to be on the panel because he understands the issues, and that he is “not wedded” to any one solution. According to Thoreen, the panel intends to wrap up its process in the fall, after hearing recommendations from the Saint Paul Port Authority, followed by reflection by the panel on what has been presented. In addition representatives from RCAP will report back to their own district councils. Thoreen says that by the end of the year there should be a compilation of all the findings of the district councils, the public, and Rock-Tenn to present to the city. However it goes, Thoreen says “I am hopeful that we will come to a fair conclusion.”
The Central Corridor has been a “huge, ongoing issue ,” according to Heiland. There is still much discussion about station plans at the intersections of Snelling and Hamline Avenues with the light rail line.
In recent weeks, parking , if there will be any or not, has been a sticking point for businesses along University Avenue.
Also remaining to be addressed are concerns about access – to the stations, for the busses, and for pedestrian safety. Union Park is a member of the District Council Collaborative, which is comprised of the district planning councils along the Central Corridor, and five groups from Minneapolis.
“The Marshall median is a good example of neighbors working together,” community organizer Julie Oney says. “They wanted a safe way for their kids to get across the street to the playground at Aldine Park.”
Neighbors lobbied successfully for the median along several blocks between Aldine and Cretin. In addition to making it safer to cross Marshall Avenue, the median features plantings of natural grasses, Princeton elms, black- eyed Susan, prairie dropseed, little blue stem and prairie roses. Neighborhood Investment Initiative Program funds were used to build the median.
Merriam Park’s park
District 13 is about to begin a “visioning process” to discuss the future of Merriam Park’s park, located one block east of Cleveland and one block north of Marshall. Playgrounds, soccer fields, green space and oak trees fill the park now. The council has access to a small amount of funding from payments from the owner of a cell tower built in Merriam Park in 2004. An intern from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) will assist with this process by conducting a resident survey and doing some background research. By the end of summer, the council expects to have a full report, followed by the visioning process.
Working to work together
In addition to the Lexington-Hamline, Snelling-Hamline, and Merriam Park neighborhoods, Iris Park and Desnoyer Park lie within the boundaries of Union Park. Each of the neighborhoods has its own strong community identity. Its residents are known for the active energy they bring to their involvement in the community.
The district council operates on a budget of approximately $124,000 a year, with $73,000 coming from the city and the remainder coming from individual and institutional donations and fundraising efforts.
Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of St. Paul, lives in the North End neighborhood. Now working as a freelance writer, Mary is retired from the St. Paul Public Schools. She also served as editor of the North End News, a community newspaper.