Students who are hoping to live next door to their friends around campus may be out of luck due to a new ordinance that the St. Paul City Council is looking to pass later this summer.
The ordinance would restrict owner-occupied houses from being converted to student-rental houses that are at least 150 feet from other student residences.
Since September, a temporary moratorium has halted the conversion of owner-occupied houses to student-rental housing in a defined district around St. Thomas.
Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations, said the university has one major issue with the ordinance: the fact that it appears to single out St. Thomas.
Because the ordinance does not address any of the other universities or colleges in St. Paul, St. Thomas is asking the city to apply these restrictions to every other college campus neighborhood in the city.
“We’re asking for that because if the city believes an ordinance like this is good public policy, then apply it uniformly across the city,” Hennes said.
The affected area, called the Student Housing Neighborhood Impact Overlay District, would span slightly larger than the moratorium’s boundaries. The ordinance establishes a boundary from Interstate 94, Snelling Avenue (south to Summit) and Fairview Avenue (south to St. Clair) on the east, St. Clair Avenue on the south and Mississippi River Boulevard on the west.
Hennes said the city’s ordinance doesn’t affect all St. Paul neighborhoods because of the student-density issues found almost exclusively around St. Thomas.
“We know we have the most students of any school in St. Paul,” Hennes said. “We know, as the report cites, that there are issues with student behavior and property appearances… we’re working on all that. But, as the city looks at a policy decision on creating these districts, we believe it should be a city-wide solution and not just a St. Thomas solution.”
However, Hennes said he believes the ordinance would not immediately impact on- or off-campus student housing availability.
“The ordinance, if it’s approved, isn’t going to mean that the supply of housing is going to disappear or shrink. Everything that’s there now can remain rental housing… (The ordinance) puts a cap on it,” Hennes said.
The ordinance would also not affect duplexes where the owner lives in one half and rents to students in the other half or housing owned by students in the specified area.
On March 30, the Neighborhood Committee of the St. Paul Planning Commission agreed to release the draft in its current state for review at a public hearing on May 4. If it is subsequently approved, the St. Paul City Council will bring the ordinance before another public hearing in June before it reaches a decision.
Undergraduate Student Government Neighborhood Senator David Hackworthy said the West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee has not taken an official stance, and he believes the group will favor the ordinance because of the high number of students residing in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“(WSNAC) believe that the student density around campus is nearing a tipping point, if you will, where it’s kind of overbearing the amount of neighbors and families that live there to a point where it’s becoming disruptive,” Hackworthy said.
Hackworthy said he believes WSNAC is hoping to curtail issues such as weekend parties, poor student house appearances and neighborhood trash by limiting the amount of students in the neighborhood specifically right around the university area.
However, as a student member of the advisory group, Hackworthy said he thinks the ordinance is unfair, especially after student groups such as the Undergraduate Student Government have been putting forth efforts to amend relations with neighbors this year.
“It’s just kind of us being good people, good students of our neighborhood, trying to build a community, and we’re not getting any reciprocation from those that we’re trying to form a connection with,” Hackworthy said.
One of USG’s three initiatives this year specifically deals with neighborhood relations, and although the USG neighborhood relations committee has worked hard, Hackworthy said the council realizes this cause has been an issue at the university for a long time.
“We realize that a lot of these issues have been going on for twenty years. What we’re seeing is that well yes, we are doing a great job, (neighbors) recognize that, but they also see us as kind of temporary here. We’re only here for four years,” Hackworthy said.
Briggs LeSavage can be reached at email@example.com.