Como area residents protest development

by Michelle Moriarity

Even though relocation of University Fleet Services to the intersection of Como and 29th avenues is imminent, vocal and concerned neighbors will not give in to the development without a fight.
University officials and about 25 members of the Southeast Como Improvement Association met at the organization’s monthly meeting Tuesday evening to debate the future of the University’s vehicular operation.
Fleet officials decided last spring to consolidate Minneapolis and St. Paul fleets into one location to maximize efficiency and minimize cost. Constructions of a $3-million facility to house both operations, they said, would reduce operating costs by $246,000 annually.
Officials also decided Como Avenue was the most advantageous location for the project.
Theresa Robinson, the University’s vice president for auxiliary services said officials chose the site, which is located between Highway 280 and a strongly student-populated residential area, because it is easily accessible to the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses.
In spite of that convenience, local residents did not share Robinson’s perspective.
“The University as a landowner owns a lot of land right now,” said association president Bill Dane. “Every time the U has something that is too unattractive to put on campus, they look at us.”
Dane, who is an attorney for University Student Legal Services, added that such neighborhood additions reduce property value and neighborhood appeal.
University Vice President for External Relations Sandra Gardebring told residents that even though plans for the facility have advanced to design stages, they will not reach the University Board of Regents until November. Project coordinators still sought neighborhood input for the project, she said.
Although residents offered a variety of project alternatives, the consensus was clear: They wanted the project as far away from their doorsteps as possible.
“I just can’t believe that the federal government wouldn’t let you use the transitway,” said association board member Diane Pederson. “Strategically, it’s an ideal location.”
Residents agreed that undeveloped areas surrounding the University transitway would better serve fleet operations and spare residents superfluous traffic congestion and pollution.
Gardebring said that even though federal law prohibits the use of the transitway by anything other than buses, she would investigate that option.
Even though the operation would bring anywhere from 475 to 525 vehicles to the Como Avenue location, Robinson said, traffic congestion would increase very little.
A Fleet Services study estimated that University vehicles would make a total of only 132 trips per day to the new location, Robinson said.
Residents pointed out, however, that Como Avenue is already a source of heavy traffic; any increase in congestion would be harmful to the area.
In spite of University and neighborhood officials’ disagreements, both groups agreed on one point — they must work together to reach an agreement concerning the project.
“If we spend all our time arguing over this now, we aren’t going to solve the problem,” said association board member Peggy Sand. “It’s sometimes good to vent, but I hope we can turn this into a better working situation.”