For 30 years, she built a garden of stone. St. Paul wants the boulevard cleared.

The way 70-year-old Iris Logan sees it, the stones, statues and decorative art works that cover her Sherburne Avenue yard were a response to a problem the city of St. Paul created. More than 30 years ago, the city dug so deep around her boulevard tree for a road repair project, the roots were exposed, as she recalls.

So she hauled in bricks and dirt. She planted flowers. And then she added stones. And kept adding. And for three decades hence, her stone tapestry grew and grew.

”I’m a rock lover,” said Logan, a former cotton sharecropper from Mississippi, in her signature southern twang on Tuesday. “I’m not going to lie. If I see a rock I like, I try and roll it in my car on a 2-by-4.”

Her art-driven installation has grown so large, the front of her home in the 1300 block of Sherburne Avenue has commanded the attention of the St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspections, and not in a good way.

According to a written notice, a city legislative hearing officer will address the city council on Dec. 6 and recommend that Logan be given until Dec. 22 to clean up the boulevard items, specifically the “planters, wood, metal cans, large rocks and miscellaneous debris” recently cited by a DSI inspector.

‘I’ve never had a complaint’

Based on her conversation with the visiting inspector about three weeks ago, Logan takes that to mean even the decorative, freestanding bench she placed atop a raised mound of soil along her boulevard must go. That strikes her as unfair, given the number of benches, statues and knee-high or even waist-high planters she’s spotted in boulevards throughout other parts of the city, including some city-owned structures.

“I have never had a complaint,” Logan said. “When the inspector came around, he must have had a bad day.”

While her yard itself appears safe from city regulators, for now, though Logan said she’s readying to hire an attorney if that should change. Still, Logan recently appealed the city’s abatement order for her boulevard in her careful handwriting, filling six pages of short spiral notebook paper.

In them, she explained she is 70 years old, and that the stones on her boulevard don’t extend into the street and wouldn’t be of issue to plow trucks and city vehicles, one of the concerns raised to her by the DSI employee.

“I just want to make a stand for the next person,” said Logan, interrupted by a supportive honk and wave from a neighbor driving by. “I’m from down south. I don’t know how to bring it down to finesse. I’m just saying what I’m feeling.”

City asks residents to remove obstructions

Logan was out on her boulevard on Tuesday, sweeping up soil and removing stones and decorative drift wood by hand. Still, she said she was taken aback that her neighbors up and down the street also received letters from DSI telling them to remove potted plants from the boulevard, even though their large plastic pots appeared no more than 18 inches tall or thereabouts.

“Approximately 16 other properties on Sherburne also received letters advising them to remove obstructions from the boulevard, in accordance with city code,” said Casey Rodriguez, a DSI spokesman, in an email on Tuesday. “Generally boulevards should be clear of installations or obstructions (benches, large rocks, etc.) that would impede access to buried utility lines. This also keeps the tree roots clear and provides a place to shovel snow in the winter.”

On its website, the city of St. Paul indicates that plantings can grow up to 36 inches without a permit, provided they do not hang over the sidewalk, curb or street. Within 30 feet of an intersection, 10 feet of a street section with no parking lanes, or five feet of an alley or driveway, the height limit is 18 inches.

Based on that policy, it would seem that several of the freestanding items in both Logan and her neighbors’ boulevard gardens could arguably pass muster with City Hall, though that’s not entirely clear.

Petition in support

In early November, a petition in support of Logan drew 150 signatures “in just a few hours,” according to a written statement from Justin Lewandowski, a community organizer with the Hamline-Midway Coalition.

Lewandowski, who lives within walking distance of Iris, said the discontent speaks to a larger issue of communication with City Hall and the city’s neighborhood services. He’s hopeful the council will soon clarify rules around portable planters in boulevards.

“From my understanding after a conversation with the inspector, no structure whatsoever is allowed,” said Lewandwoski on Wednesday.

“Given the boulevard art has been in place for close to 30 years without prior issues, we ask for consideration of a grandfathering provision that would exempt Iris’s boulevard from certain regulations,” reads the petition. “The quick support from our neighbors has been a clear signal of how much this art means to our community. It’s not just about aesthetics; it’s about our identity and how we, as residents, engage with each other and with city policy.”

Dec. 6 meeting

Some city officials on Tuesday predicted that the Dec. 6 discussion with the city council might touch on whether to offer Logan more time to remove her boulevard stones, likely until after spring thaw.

Logan hopes they’re right.

“I said to that (hearing officer), don’t you know once the snow falls, the rock freezes to the ground?” said Logan on Tuesday, appearing at once resigned and resolute in front of the remaining stones in her boulevard.

“This shall pass. I’m over it,” she said, adding later: “I’m going to the City Hall meeting on Dec. 6.”

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