Prospect Park group works on student-housing policy

The group, PPERIA, hopes to make off-duty police officers a student housing standard.

by Vadim Lavrusik

A Prospect Park neighborhood group is drafting a policy to help communicate its standards for future student-housing complexes.

Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association (PPERRIA) is creating the policy to define student housing and provide neighborhood standards with a focus on safety.

Housing developers usually have to work with a local neighborhood group and compromise on design and management issues to get the city’s approval.

Creating a policy that defines PPERRIA’s standards to an incoming developer will speed up the design process because it will explicitly detail what the neighborhood wants to see in a student-housing complex, said Joe Ring, PPERRIA president.

“If a developer comes to us, this is what we’re going to be looking for and we’re hoping that the city would be receptive to that,” Ring said.

The policy will be the first of its kind, modeled after a policy for a St. Paul student-housing project proposed last fall, he said.

Although the specifics of the policy will be worked out within the next couple months, he said student housing will most likely be defined by the floor plans.

Housing complexes oriented toward students usually have floor plans that include a variety of common areas and kitchen and bathroom facilities that are shared.

Safety concerns

PPERRIA’s biggest goal, Ring said, is to create a policy that enforces adequate safety measures at the complexes after they’re built and occupied by students.

“Everyone is concerned about their children being safe,” he said. “If we went and told the parents about their children being exposed to this increase in crime – well, we don’t want to do that. We are trying to do it in a constructive way.”

He said this includes requiring the management of the housing units to hire off-duty police officers, instead of private firm security guards.

Dense student-housing complexes attract crime, and Ring said Prospect Park officials have seen an increase since the construction of large complexes such as University Village, Melrose and University Commons.

However, Minneapolis crime statistics show otherwise. Between 1998 and 2004, the same years some of the large complexes were built in Prospect Park, the number of crimes didn’t dramatically rise or fall. The neighborhood did have a 71 percent increase of crime from 2004 to 2005, though.

University Police Chief Greg Hestness said he doesn’t think the complexes contributed to a rise in crime, because they brought in more students, who are good citizens.

He said although it is more expensive to hire off-duty police officers, they have experience, are well trained and can make arrests.

“You get people who are used to taking action and know what the law is with more certainty,” he said.

Police officers have to receive approval – and usually do – from the police department if they want to be contracted to work for a private firm, Hestness said.

Despite the extra expense of having to pay an off-duty police officer time and a half, local apartment complexes such as Dinnaken House still pay up.

Yvonne Grosulak, vice president of Dinnaken Properties, said one of her hired police officers has been working with Dinnaken for 15 years now.

“They all know the routine. They are like a regular staff member, but they are police officers so they can handle things differently,” she said.

Off-duty police officers work every Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.

People feel more secure knowing that there are actual police officers working instead of just security guards, she said. They hold more authority because they can make arrests.

“The kids get the message,” she said. “Getting out of hand is not part of the deal here; it never has been.”

Helping or hindering?

Robin Garwood, aide to Ward 2 Council Member Cam Gordon, said PPERRIA’s student-housing policy will be helpful for the city, neighborhood and developers.

“This is the neighborhood’s way to sign off on the project,” he said.

Garwood said the neighborhood is being proactive by creating the policy, which can be used for future housing projects that are likely to come with the development of the Central Corridor light-rail line coming down University Avenue Southeast.

Although the policy would be helpful for the city, it doesn’t always agree with the neighborhood’s demands on some projects, and compromises have to be made, he said.

Grosulak, who has been renting to students for years, said such a policy could hinder the approval process if the demands are unreasonable.

“It is a give-and-take on what they think and what we think,” she said. “It’s not a one-sided deal.”

She said Dinnaken Properties worked with PPERRIA during the planning stages of Dinnaken House, but not all developers want to do that.