First, “spot zoning” concerns bogged down the Diane Ahrens Crisis Residence’s proposed move into a vacant convent on St. Paul’s East Side. Now that an independent legal expert has decisively dispatched that objection, the City Council and opponents of the move have grasped on to yet another dubious excuse to delay the move: parking.
Those hoping that council members would lead courageously were sorely disappointed last week when the council voted to table action for two weeks. The reason: Opponents fear there won’t be neighborhood parking if the center moves into the Lacrosse Avenue convent.
The wait sounds reasonable enough, with Council Member Dan Bostrom saying he hoped the residence officials and neighbors could reach an accord. But a closer look quickly suggests this is yet another strategy cooked up by the not-in-my-backyard crowd.
At this time, it appears that any accord acceptable to opponents depends on the nonprofit crisis residence buying a nearby house valued at $224,900 and razing it to create a parking lot. That hefty sum beyond the convent price tag of $790,000 would add too much to overhead and make it difficult to work with lenders, according to officials with People Inc., which runs the crisis center. The center treats adults with mental illness — such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder — who don’t require hospitalization
It’s important to note that the city’s Planning Commission did not determine that a parking lot is needed. In a July 10 resolution, the commission said the Ahrens residence would be required to provide one additional off-street parking spot. Officials added that the Ahrens residence plans call for adding three spots in an alley. The new facility would actually provide triple the spaces the city requires.
Opponents either ignore or fail to understand that the Ahrens residence would have less traffic than a traditional medical facility. Patients in crisis don’t often own cars or bring them. They typically don’t have visitors. The new facility would have just five staffers. This isn’t an unmanageable mix of traffic and street parking.
Community-based centers like the Ahrens residence are desperately needed across the state to help people in crisis who don’t require hospitalization. Council members need to hear out neighbors’ concerns. But they have a responsibility to lead when those concerns are unreasonable.