Nearly all of the 17 testimonies city council member Russ Stark heard Wednesday evening were about St. Thomas students, but none were delivered by any.
Homeowners, landlords and concerned citizens were among those gathered in a third-floor chamber of the St. Paul City Hall to share their feelings about a moratorium that prohibits converting single family homes into multi-unit student housing in the blocks surrounding St. Thomas.
Students themselves were absent.
“The No. 1 reason I would sell my home is because of student rentals,” Clarence Chaplin, a homeowner on Lincoln Avenue, told the council.
“I agree that there is a problem in the neighborhood,” said Jeff Chermak, who rents to students in the moratorium area, “but I don’t think limiting property rights is the means to the end here.”
“I lament the loss of my property rights with the flippant stroke of a pen,” said property owner Ted Kvasnic in a prepared statement.
The moratorium, which the council voted to support on Aug. 9, extends around the St. Thomas campus from I-94 to St. Clair Avenue and from Mississippi River Boulevard to Fairview Avenue. See map.
The city will conduct a study on the effects of the temporary ruling. A final vote will be on Aug. 24 after the fourth and final reading of the ordinance.
Stark, who sponsored the proposal, said he has received 24 emails supporting the proposal and nine opposed to it.
St. Thomas Vice President for University and Government Relations Doug Hennes represented the university at the hearing. Hennes said the school supports the proposed moratorium but raised concerns.
“It has to do with working with students and creating a better atmosphere in the neighborhood,” Hennes said. “We’re not convinced that zoning restrictions are going to solve the problem of neighborhood livability.”
Hennes said the decision will not impact students’ ability to find housing for the upcoming school year “because most of them signed leases during the spring or summer.”
A study this past spring by Louis Smith for the West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee found that the relationship between the university and neighborhood at this “tipping point.”
“You can see that there is a dramatic increase in the number of homes that have changed from homestead to non-homestead,” Selby Avenue home owner Yvonne Jonk said. “I see this as a fatal blow to our neighborhood. We need to turn this around.”
Jonk, who passed around diagrams with students represented as red dots, was not the only supporter to liken the neighborhood to a battle zone.
“St. Thomas is large enough to overwhelm the neighborhood,” Lincoln Avenue resident George Mackey said. “If it continues to go this way it will be hard to stay.”
Seven people who spoke in favor of the moratorium own homes on Lincoln.
“There are five units on my block that are party houses,” said Lincoln home owner Robert Schwanke. “This will go on until the neighborhood is destroyed,” he said.
Chillon Leach would like to see the moratorium extended so that student renters are not squeezed toward her home just east of the current boundary “like one of those squeezy dolls where you push it and its ear pops out or its eyeball pops out.”
“On our block, from Fairview to Wheeler, we have seven party houses. Four of those used to be family homes,” Leach said. “To the north and south of us on Selby and Marshall we have another eight to 15 party houses.”
Alex Keil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.