When Ramsey County project managers initially met with members of the St. Anthony Park Community Council to discuss road upgrades along Cleveland Avenue, they proposed removing 55 trees from the public right-of-way.
That was in 2018 and 2019, and the number of trees scheduled for removal has more than quadrupled since then. From Como Avenue to Larpenteur Avenue, the county will begin removing the first of 160 trees from a mile-long section of Cleveland in mid-May to prepare the street for rebuilding.
“The road is crumbling. Pat Thompson, co-chair of the St. Anthony Park Community Council’s transportation committee, stated, “We all know this.”
Thompson, who had participated in early planning meetings three years earlier, was as surprised as anybody when neighbors informed her in late April that far more trees than planned had been marked for removal with pink rings.
“The communication has been terrible,” she said.
Officials from the county agree on this point.
On Friday, John Mazzitello, deputy director of Ramsey County Public Works, said, “Ramsey County certainly owns the fact that we could have communicated this better to the community.” “We have to do better in the entire public engagement process, and we will do better.”
The project, which will stretch from St. Paul to Falcon Heights, is slated to be finished in the autumn of 2023, with half of it constructed this year between Como and Buford avenues and the other half completed next year between Buford and Larpenteur Avenue. According to a county official, construction diversions will be posted in late May or early June.
Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo said the county will consider next measures with the community council “in a couple weeks.”
“We’re going to take a break and perform some further due diligence around the trees,” she explained. “This does not imply that the project will be abandoned.”
She pointed out that some of the trees are box elder and buckthorn, both of which must be removed.
“Can we double-check that we’ve replaced some trees before we remove them all?” she inquired. “It’s complicated.” The community is still in shock. Our office was taken aback.”
Some people have remarked they won’t miss the Ginkgo trees south of Buford Avenue near the University of Minnesota campus mall, as they drop fruit that smells practically fecal.
But it’s a different story elsewhere. A solitary tree was initially planned to be removed between Folwell Avenue and Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights, according to Thompson. In one location alone, there are currently between 55 and 65 trees set for removal on both sides of the street.
“Some of these are weed trees,’ but there are perhaps 20 or so major trees that are now designated that weren’t listed previously, possibly close to 100 years old or more, some of them oak trees,” she added.
Why has the project become more intense, at least in terms of foliage removal? According to county authorities, a rigorous planning and engineering process conducted over the last two years indicated that the impact of road reconstruction will be more than originally anticipated. A few property owners also requested that a tree or two be removed from their boulevard. Once the planning began, utilities expressed an interest in participating.
According to a subsequent announcement on Ramsey County’s project website, “when additional utility replacements were added to the project, the number of damaged trees climbed to roughly 160.” “We understand that this is bad news. We’ll collaborate with contractors to identify any other trees that may be saved during development.”
As part of a storm water treatment strategy, the county wants to replace 55 boulevard trees and plant shrubs and perennials. According to the website, “Completing deep and comprehensive utility replacements as part of the present reconstruction project lowers the possibilities that these young trees may be damaged by future developments.”
The inclusion of what amounts to three bike lanes — unprotected in-street lanes on either side of the street for bike commuters, as well as a multi-use asphalt path, or “slow route,” separated from the east side of the street by a landscape boulevard — has also been blamed by some critics for the tree issue.
“We’re attempting to accommodate two distinct categories of bike users,” Mazzitello explained.
It’s not simple to accommodate so many uses.
“A piece of the multi-use path segment — perhaps less than a city block — requires the removal of 71 trees, all from U of M land,” Mazzitello said. The county collaborated with a university arborist to assess which trees should be protected and which should be taken down.
However, he stressed that sanitary sewage, storm water, and other utility replacements would have an impact as well, and that the overall tree loss cannot be put only on bike lanes.
The St. Paul Bicycle Coalition supported the in-street lanes, but the St. Anthony Park Community Council opposed them because they may make the roadway appear larger, attracting faster driving and allowing delivery vehicles to park in the bike lanes. “On it, only the most advanced riders would ride,” Thompson projected.
To pacify the community, designers incorporated an asphalt multi-use trail that will run from Como to Larpenteur on the east side of Cleveland Avenue.
Planning involved several levels of government, including the University of Minnesota, which added to the uncertainty. “Cleveland sits on the boundary between St. Paul, Falcon Heights, and the University of Minnesota, and it’s owned by the county,” Thompson explained.
“As a transportation committee, we felt less active than we have in prior procedures,” she said, “but I wouldn’t say there was no engagement.” “They offered four proposals, and then a fifth plan attempting to make everyone happy, that didn’t make anyone happy” throughout the planning process.
Much of the current water delivery infrastructure on Cleveland Avenue is over a century old. St. Paul Regional Water Services proposes to replace more than a mile of cast iron water main and all lead water services inside the project right-of-way during the redevelopment of Cleveland Avenue. Temporary water pipes will be built to deliver safe drinking water to residences and businesses throughout the renovation.
Property owners might opt to repair the piece of their lead water pipe that is on their own private property while the roadway remains open. Although the repair would be done by a private utility contractor, it might be added to property taxes over time. For more information on the optional evaluation, call Regional Water Services at 651-266-6270.
The city of St. Paul is collaborating with St. Paul Regional Water Services on a program that, if financing permits, intends to repair lead pipes on private property at no cost to residents over the next ten years, although it is unclear which portions of the city would be first in line.