The city council today takes testimony on a proposal to restrict new student rental housing in the area surrounding the University of St. Thomas.
Nearby homeowners are fed up with loud parties and transient populations that student rentals bring to the neighborhood. Critics of the proposed restrictions say they will simply create problems for other parts of the city.
"I enjoy having neighbors. I enjoy having young neighbors, but I don't enjoy the parties, the beer, the noise, being woke up in the middle of the night," said Kitty Norstrem of Merriam Park.
It's not always so quiet here. College students have rented the houses next door and directly behind Norstrem for years. It's not just the noise that bothers her.
"We've had people urinating in our yard, in our garden, in our alley on our trash cans," she said.
The ordinance under consideration would not affect existing student rentals. But houses in the area that have not rented to students in the last 18 months could no longer do so unless the house is at least 150 feet away from any other student rental. Norstrem supports the proposed ordinance.
"It sounds like an excellent idea to me, because too many students clustered close together is a calling card for trouble," she said.
On a recent Saturday evening, students can be heard in the neighborhood. About a dozen of them are enjoying the weather in the backyard of a house on Cleveland Avenue.
"We're just having a bonfire, hanging out," says Christiaan Wabers, soon to be a junior at St. Thomas.
Wabers makes a point about tension between college students and the homeowners around St. Thomas.
"The university has been here since 1885. You chose to live here with the understanding that there will be college students," Wabers said. "And I don't think it's necessarily realistic to feel that college students will go to bed at 10 p.m. on a Friday or a Saturday."
"It's OK to have students in our neighborhood. We keep repeating that," said Joel Clemmer, president of the Macalester Groveland Community Council.
"But it's not OK to have a trendline which, if you string it out over a number of years, results in a neighborhood that may resemble Dinkytown."
That's the student-dominated neighborhood that borders the University of Minnesota. Clemmer worries about that possibility, because more than 140 houses within a mile of St. Thomas have converted into student rentals over the last decade.
Clemmer's group endorsed the proposed ordinance that would limit further student rentals in the area. The University of St. Thomas opposes it.
"We're the largest private university in the city. We have the most students living off campus near our campus. We understand all that," Vice President Doug Hennes said. "But the city has made the point that this kind of ordinance is good public policy. And we suggested that if that indeed is the case that they should consider similar districts around other college campuses."
St. Paul's Planning Commission isn't convinced it's good policy. The commission voted against the proposed ordinance earlier this month based on concerns that limiting student rental housing in the neighborhood will drive up rents and possibly force the problem into other neighborhoods.
"Acknowledging that college students can be annoying, particularly a house of 19-year-old-boys — yeah, I get that," said Trevor Oliver, who sits on the commission and lives on the East Side of St. Paul, which has much higher rates of crime and poverty than Mac Groveland and Merriam Park.
Oliver said that of any group of 19-year-olds, these are the least likely to be involved in gang behavior or violence.
"If you're going to talk about populations of adolescents, these are a group that almost any other part of the city would eagerly trade for," Oliver said.
The St. Paul City Council doesn't have to follow the planning commission's recommendations. But it will have to act quickly if it wants to prevent more houses from converting into student rentals around the University of St. Thomas. A one-year moratorium expires later this summer.