Rochester’s public skyways could be locked down nightly in an effort to address what is seen as an increase in aggressive behaviors.
Working in St. Paul in a previous job, Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin found, “One of the things that had the most significant impact … was in fact controlling and closing the skyways with hours (of operation).” Franklin worked with the Metro Transit Police Department before moving to Rochester last year.
St. Paul’s skyways are closed from midnight to 6 a.m.
In Minneapolis, skyway hours are more restrictive. They are closed from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. on weekdays. Weekend skyway hours are limited to 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.
Franklin said imposing such limits in Rochester could stem actions that have grown more frequent and troubling since the winter, when the skyways were used for shelter at night.
“What we are seeing now is kind of a quasi-occupying of the area,” he said, noting people have been spotted drying laundry on railings and apparently storing items in public areas.
He said the trends, combined with a rise in aggressive behaviors including panhandling, theft and assault, point to the potential for future problems.
“That unaddressed low-level disorder kind of signals lawlessness, and serious crime is more likely to occur in a lawless-perceived environment,” he added, noting an ordinance change is only one of the needed steps, which include providing access to shelter and services.
While Rochester already has stated hours of operation for its public skyways, they are written in policy, rather than in an ordinance.
Assistant City Administrator Terry Spaeth said the designated hours of skyway operation are 6 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturdays and 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays.
City Attorney Jason Loos said an ordinance would improve enforcement of those hours.
“If we want to make it enforceable, they need to be ordinances,” he said of three possible options for restricting skyway activities.
Other potential changes would be to ban sitting and lying in the skyway, and to restrict panhandling actions in the downtown area.
While the majority of the council voiced support for looking at restricting access to the skyway, Council Member Shaun Palmer was the only one signaling he’d like to go further.
“I’d like to see us closing the hours now, as soon as we possibly can, and do the sit-lie (ordinance) as soon as we can,” he said. “Send that message and get everything taken care of right now.”
Council Member Nick Campion, however, said a measured approach is needed to address what he sees as a complex problem.
“My heart keeps going out to: Where are they going to go?” he said, noting he wants to make sure there is an answer in the future before action is taken.
Rochester Mayor Kim Norton agreed, noting efforts continue to find sheltering options.
“It’s a big problem and a complicated problem, but we want to find a longer-term solution, rather than abandon people in need,” she said, noting action on other proposed ordinances will likely need to be considered in the future.
“I do think we need to move in that direction, but we need to be compassionate,” she said.
Council Member Mark Bilderback said he hopes restricting access to the skyways would spur city, county and private groups to work toward finding ways to ensure people have safe places to turn.
“Hopefully this pushes all the groups out there to work harder to find a solution,” he said.
Loos said closing the skyways doesn’t mean the city needs to put people out during the coldest nights of the year.
“You could declare a cold emergency,” he said, noting the city could adopt a policy that leaves the skyways open when temperatures dip below a defined measure.
The next steps will be preparing a potential ordinance and researching options for locking the skyways, which is not currently possible.
“I wouldn’t necessarily come back in a couple weeks with an ordinance,” Loos said. “It’s something we would have to look at, not just the locking, but what we physically need to do to make this happen.”
STEWARTVILLE — Chris Norton can easily imagine what his life might have been like if not for the spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic.
He’d likely be a desk-bound businessman, stable and secure — yet a life nowhere near as fulfilling as the one he actually leads today in a wheelchair.
“I mean, if I could go back and change the play, I wouldn’t change anything,” Norton said, referring to the life-altering football injury as a Luther College freshman nine years ago. “I’m living a life more purposeful than anything I could ever imagine.”
Today Norton travels the country as a motivational speaker. His nonprofit, the Chris Norton Foundation, provides opportunities to people with spinal cord and neuromuscular disabilities that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
His story — both walking across the stage to accept his college degree at Luther and down the aisle at his wedding — were covered by the national media, including People Magazine and “Good Morning, America.” Norton and his wife, Emily Summers, have adopted five children and been foster parents to 17.
Last week, Norton, 27, returned to the place where his transformation began, where he began to see life’s potential in a chair.
But instead being a camp participant at Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch in Stewartville, Norton was its host and inspiration. His goal: To give to other wheel-bound children and adults the hope and meaning the camp gave him.
Norton wants to make the camp a regular event, not only in Minnesota but across the country.
“(The message) I’m trying to get across to all these kids and adults is, you don’t have to walk, you don’t have to be like everyone else to live a great life,” Norton said.
Norton was an 18-year-old freshman at Luther when he suffered his injury. Rushing down field on a kickoff, Norton saw the ball carrier running through a hole and dove for his legs. But Norton mistimed his jump and his head collided with the runner’s legs. At first, Norton thought he had suffered a stinger — a momentary paralysis.
“I tried pushing off the ground, but nothing was working,” Norton said, soon realizing that the injury was much more severe. “I thought the fun was over. What am I going to be able to do?”
Norton had suffered a C3-C4 fracture in his neck and given a 3 percent change of ever feeling or moving anything below his neck again. He was flown to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for emergency surgery. Eventually, Norton was able to shrug his left shoulder, marking the beginning of his fight to recover as much mobility as he could.
Two years after his injury, Norton attended his first wheelchair-and-sports camp at Ironwood Springs. The experience proved to be a revelation to Norton.
Bob Bardwell, the ranch’s founder and a paraplegic, had first met Norton and his family at the hospital after Norton’s injury. He says the camp became a pivotal moment in Norton’s life, “really kind of turned his life around.”
“This camp really opened my eyes,” Norton said. “I knew it could open the eyes of other people with similar experiences. That’s where it was planted in my heart: ‘I have to do something like this on my own.’”
In May 2015, Norton rose from his chair and haltingly walked across the stage with his then-girlfriend, Emily Sommers, by his side, at his graduation from Luther College. The video became a social media sensation, with more than 300 million people around the world watching it.
Norton found himself an inspiration to millions and that knowledge served to motivate Norton even more.
Walking at his graduation had primarily sprung from a desire to be more independent, to walk at graduation. Seeing how his example impacted and inspired others, Norton and Summers replicated the moment at their wedding, when the couple walked together down a 7-yard aisle — one yard for every year since the accident.
The camp is an extension of Norton’s mission: That a life of meaning and reward are as open to people in wheelchairs as able-bodied people. Norton’s camp has two distinctive features. It’s free, paid for through his foundation, and is family-based, open to the parents and siblings of those in wheel chairs.
The four-day camp that ended Thursday included adaptive tennis and softball, horseback riding and zip lining, archery and BB gun shooting for the 25 wheelchair-bound campers and their families. The effect of the camp is measured in smiles.
“One mom was saying, ‘I’ve never seen my son smile so much in his life,’” Norton said. “Hearing things like that. How does it not get you fired up?”
Jeff Bass of Hills, Minn., was at the camp with his 19-year-old son, Trenton, who became a quadriplegic two years ago in a football accident similar to Norton’s. He said Norton reached out to Trenton and his family soon after Trenton’s injury.
Bass said his son was at first uncertain about attending a camp with a bunch of kids in wheelchairs. But he ended up loving it.
“It’s hard to keep track of all we’ve done this week,” Bass said. “It’s kind of flown by.”
He said Norton’s example infuses the camp with a can-do spirit.
“It hard not to be positive in life when you see a person like Chris. He’s such a positive role model,” Bass said.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday mandating more transparency in medical billing, with the goal of giving patients more information and ultimately possibly helping control the skyrocketing cost of health care in the U.S.
“Hospitals will be required to publish prices that reflect what people pay for services,” Trump said at the signing. “You will get great pricing. Prices will come down by numbers that you wouldn’t believe. The cost of health care will go way, way down.”
While the order did not offer specifics, it does order the federal Health and Human Services department to eventually create a policy and system of rules to enforce such transparency.
This executive order could have major ramifications for medical institutions including Mayo Clinic, which treated and billed an estimated 1.3 million patients in 2018.
On Monday, officials at Mayo Clinic did not have much to say about Trump’s order, citing a lack of details.
“We will analyze the proposed rule when it comes out,” said spokeswoman Susan Barber Lindquist.
The national push for billing transparency comes months after Mayo Clinic made the more than $1 billion transition to the Wisconsin-based Epic Systems health records software.
Epic’s system closely links patients’ medical records with billing and is now the standard at all three Mayo Clinic campuses and at its related health care system sites.
City leaders’ wish to reduce car traffic into downtown and to spur more kinds of housing and redevelopment has led to this: two new zoning classifications.
Their vote on March 4 created the new zones — Transit Oriented Development, also known as TOD, and Infill/Redevelopment, also known as R2x — and now it’s time to start putting those zones in place.
Following open-house presentations last week, the public hearing process starts this week.
Here are a few things to know about the zoning proposal:
1 Proposed changes stem from Rochester’s comprehensive plan update.
The city’s comprehensive plan, which was approved last year, calls for finding ways to reduce vehicular traffic entering downtown and increasing redevelopment along transit routes.
To provide flexibility for developers and potentially streamline the creation of new housing development, the City Council approved the two new zoning categories.
The TOD zone allows multi-family housing options, office buildings and a variety of commercial uses considered appropriate for transit corridors with increased pedestrian traffic.
The R-2x option is based on existing residential zones but offers a chance to create new housing options while also allowing limited retail and office space.
2 Two nodes were added to the map.
Maps used as examples in the effort to define the new zoning options remain largely unchanged for the proposed implementation, according to Ryan Yetzer, a Rochester Community Development Department planner.
The proposal for creating two transit hubs, one on Second Street Southwest and one in the vicinity of Graham Park, has spurred the creation of two nodes on the proposed map.
The other change from earlier maps is a decision to leave the special zoning district for Olmsted Medical Center on Fourth Street Southeast unchanged.
3 Owners of approximately 2,500 properties were notified.
The proposed zoning changes, which largely extend in four directions from Rochester’s downtown core, mean hundreds of notices were mailed to property owners 13 days ago. Another round of notifications will be sent before a City Council hearing.
Proposed changes are near planned transit corridors located along Broadway Avenue, Second Street Southwest and Fourth Street Southeast, as well as in portions of East Side Pioneers, Historic Southwest, Kutzky Park, Lowertown, Slatterly Park and Sunnyside neighborhoods.
4 Slatterly Park Neighborhood Association has asked for modifications.
Neighbors southeast of the city’s downtown core have formally requested reductions in the zoning changes proposed, citing a desire to see modifications unfold more gradually.
A letter from Cathy Clermont, the Slatterly Park Neighborhood Association secretary, points to support for elements of the proposed zoning changes but also indicates concern about the pace of potential development.
Other neighbors and property owners will have an opportunity to weigh in on proposals as the public hearing process starts.
5 Potential land-use changes will be up to property owners.
During an open-house event to discuss the proposed zoning changes, Yetzer fielded several questions from residents facing potential zoning changes. Chief among them was what the change would mean to them.
The zoning changes don’t create any new construction projects. Rather, they allow certain types of construction to happen without requiring developers to seek special council permission, which could be required for similar projects under specific zoning.
If current property owners don’t want to change the use of their land, they won’t be required to make a change.
6 The proposed zones can get smaller but not bigger.
Since affected property owners must be notified prior to public hearings, possible modifications to the proposed zoning changes are limited without restarting the process.
The Rochester City Council will be able to halt a proposed change, leaving current zoning in place, without added notification. Extending the boundaries of the proposed zoning, however, would require new notifications and could delay a decision.
7 Hearing start Wednesday.
The public hearing process starts with Rochester’s Planning and Zoning Commission, which will hold hearings on proposed TOD changes and R2x changes at 6 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers of the city-county Government Center, 151 Fourth St. SE.
Following Wednesday public hearings, the commission will make recommendations to the Rochester City Council. The recommendations could be made Wednesday, or the commission could delay a decision, if members desire more information or time to consider the comments made Wednesday.
The City Council will schedule hearings on the proposed changes once the commission has made its recommendations.