A mixed-use development that would transform a key South Minneapolis intersection at Franklin and Lyndale Avenues likely won't begin construction this year because of opposition from a neighborhood group.
Developer Don Gerberding has proposed constructing a six-story building featuring 89 apartments, ground-level retail, a restaurant and a part-public parking structure on a lot now primarily dominated by surface parking. A thrift store, barber shop and dry cleaners would be displaced, but the Theatre Garage would be incorporated into the new development.
Given its location close to downtown and near several bus lines, the project has become somewhat of a litmus test of city leaders' goals to increase housing density along commercial corridors. Council Member Lisa Bender noted at a meeting last month that the city has designated the intersection as an area for growth.
But Gerberding has faced stiff opposition from neighbors who have attended meetings of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association -- most of them longtime homeowners. Critics object to the building's height, obstruction of some nearby resident views, and its potential impact on traffic and on-street parking pressures. Neither the association nor its zoning and planning committee have taken a vote on the project, however.
Younger renters make up a significant percentage of the neighborhood's residents, but have been largely absent from the process.
A neighborhood resident himself, Gerberding has not yet formally submitted the project to the city. The development team is asking to rezone part of the lot to make the zoning consistent, in addition to variances for reducing setbacks and special permits for increased height and the parking structure. Gerberding had initially hoped they could begin construction some time this summer -- if the proposal cleared the necessary hoops at City Hall.
“I don’t think that that’s very plausible any longer," Gerberding told a tense crowd Wednesday night. "We’ve been to the neighborhoods, we’re going to come back to the neighborhoods until we agree that it’s a project.”
The proposal changed slightly after neighbors voiced objections at an initial meeting. A rooftop park accessible to the public was removed, setbacks from adjoining properties were increased and a sidewalk was widened.
Neighbors at Wednesday's meeting seemed no closer to supporting the project, however.
"I and my neighbors have very carefully, with great effort and diligence, cultivated the local culture – a very vibrant neighborhood that exists … now," said Scott Fine. "We don’t want somebody coming from outside and realigning the culture, rewiring our way of life."
Terry Carney, a longtime resident of the area, said the development would obstruct views.
"We don’t just look at a wall," Carney said. "We look at downtown. That’s our view. When you build this six story structure, you’ve taken that away. And you’ve taken our daylight away."
David Forney said he would support more comprehensive planning for the northern edge of the neighborhood, known as "the Wedge” because of its distinctive shape. The southern edge has seen much development in recent years, largely in the form of six-story apartment buildings.
“If it's going to go the way of the southern part of the Wedge along the [Midtown] Greenway has gone, then I think we’ve all got something to regret,” Forney said. “Because that’s a categorical mess down there. It’s just awful what’s happened.”
From showing really bad teachers the door quicker to creating a new subset of schools with an emphasis on results, not how they’re achieved, the contract proposal in the hands of Minneapolis teachers could create some notable changes in how schools run.
The new Partnership Schools concept first touted by Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson in a speech last May on changing how the district does business will mean big changes for participating schools.
They can get slack from the district on matters ranging from how many hours and days students and teachers spend in school to how teachers teach to state standards to how they spend their budget to how straggling students get help. They’ll even not be required to follow the district’s focused instruction curriculum. But they’ll have to meet academic performance targets to keep that flexibility.
The district plans to launch the first such school next fall when Cityview school reopens. But No. 2 administrator Michael Goar said this week he’s still hoping the district can add another. Both reopening buildings, and existing schools with an interest in gaining greater school-level flexibility for performance standards, will be considered as potential partners.
In one example of how things could change, teachers could propose working up to 211 days annually, including some training days, compared to a norm of 196. But the district didn’t prevail on its early negotiation proposal that teachers in such schools move up the salary scale faster.
All this assumes that teachers vote to accept the contract proposal. Some express concern about a clause would allow the district to axe a teacher it judges low-performing after just 45 days of working with a mentor to improve. The district said that now takes three to nine months. Alternatives to firing would include improving enough to stay with or without continued assistance, or shifting to another school if there’s a personality conflict or a misfit academically.
But Lynn Nordgren, president of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said she expects only two to three teachers a year to go through the expedited process. Some improve earlier in the process of mentor-guided intervention steps, while others are either counseled out of the profession or come to that decision on their own, she said.
Another issue for some teachers is a clause that gives the district the right to early posting of teacher openings in specialties or at schools that have trouble attracting applicants. Those jobs could be filled ahead of the normal two rounds in which teachers axed for budget reasons from schools and those seeking a shift of schools interview for openings.
The district says that posting those openings early means that it has a better shot at hiring more qualified applicants before they’re hired by competing districts who can make a firm offer earlier. The agreement commits the district and union to developing efforts to hire and keep teachers in 16 struggling schools, but doesn’t specifically offer extra pay, a possibility the district floated last summer in negotiations but teacher negotiators called degrading to schools.
The district set a class-size target in those struggling of 18 students in grades K-3, down from 21. That’s a $2.2 million commitment, the district said.
But there are no absolutes in those or regular schools, with Goar saying the district won’t bargain class size. The revamped contract gives teacher frustrated by having extra students above the targets crammed into their classrooms during the year a lifeline to a district hotline that would need to respond within five days. But there’s no guarantee of relief.
For a teacher in a stuffed classroom in a school without room to expand, the district said it would work with the union on adding aides, redistributing students among teachers, adding a second teacher for part of the day, or other remedies.
The district abandoned a proposal to bump the number of teaching days by four to at least 180, or four more. Instead, it’s shifting to a targeted strategy to add days selectively for struggling students at the winter and spring breaks, and over the summer, using teachers willing to be paid for their extra time. The drawback to that proposal is that attendance is optional for students.
It also didn’t prevail on a proposal that it be able to retain what it judges to be superior teachers outside their seniority order in the case of layoffs.
Mohamud Noor got a significant boost in his challenge of long-time state Rep. Phyllis Kahn on Thursday by winning the endorsement of former Mayor R.T. Rybak.
Rybak's endorsement is sure to shake up the race, an intraparty DFL battle that has already exposed tensions within the city's Somali-American community. Noor would be the legislature's first Somali-American state representative, but Kahn boasts the support of Council Member Abdi Warsame, now the state's most prominent Somali-American politician.
“I have come to know Mohamud Noor as someone with a quality all too rare in politics--he is a very good listener," Rybak said in a statement. "That is especially important in a district that spans so many diverse communities. Mohamud Noor is our best choice for bringing all our voices together -- in debates at the Capitol and in the community -- and getting us working together for the common good.”
Noor is currently executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota at the Brian Coyle Center. He was recently appointed to replace the late Hussein Samatar on the Minneapolis School Board.
Kahn has represented Minneapolis at the state Capitol since 1972. Her district includes the Cedar-Riverside area, as well as broad swaths of the eastern riverfront up to just north of Hennepin Avenue.
The endorsement is not Rybak's first appearance in the race. Just last month, he was a convener of the rescheduled Cedar-Riverside-area caucus that came in the wake of a fight at the Brian Coyle Center.
Rybak currently leads Generation Next, a group that aims to close the Twin Cities educational achievement gap. In his statement, he credited Noor with being a leader on education.
"He will quickly be a leader at the Capitol on critical issues like early childhood development, college access, and school funding and improvements," Rybak said.
Kahn and Rybak have had their political differences. In 2012, she penned an op-ed for MinnPost comparing the mayor to Nixon for his wavering stance on stadium subsidies. Rybak signed onto a letter in 2012 asking for Kahn to apologize for saying "someone at the city should be executed" for election day voting lines. In 2011, they were on opposide sides of a debate over Neighborhood Revitalization Program.
“I am deeply honored to have the support of R.T. Rybak," Noor said in a statement. "He has been an inspiration to me in my political career and I look forward to building on his progressive legacy in Minneapolis and Minnesota. I am committed to uniting student, immigrants and progressives to close the opportunity gaps that persist in our community."
The endorsing convention for the Senate district is slated for April 5 at DeLaSalle High School.
A proposed moratorium on demolition and construction of single- and two-family homes in southwest Minneapolis has an ally in Council President Barbara Johnson.
The moratorium took effect immediately upon introduction, but needs full City Council approval to be applied for one year. Johnson, who represents half of north Minneapolis, said she pays special attention to the teardown lists and called the amount of demolition in southwest neighborhoods "stunning."
“I think you have to take a pause when you see this kind of big influx of interest," Johnson said. "And in the end, we will have teardowns. It’s a very very attractive part of the city for people to live in. People are extremely happy with the schools out there."
But more needs to be done, she said, to ensure new buildings respect the integrity of a neighborhood. Johnson said she would not be surprised if the council accomplishes that through some additional design standards.
People are tempted to build larger houses, Johnson observed, because of they have already paid a high price for a high-value lot.
"You’re almost tempted – when you’ve spent so much to acquire the lot – to really put something … spectacular on it," Johnson said. "And they push the envelope. And it changes the essential character of the neighborhood.”
She also highlighted an issue with people submitting building plans to the city and then not conforming to them -- such as making a basement higher than shown in an excavation plan.
"It's a game," Johnson said. "And the staff that you need to have a constant observation there is ridiculous."
The council voted unanimously to put the interim moratorium in place. Johnson said she has not heard much disagreement from her colleagues on the issue so far.
The next stop for the moratorium is the city's zoning and planning committee. The chair of that committee, Council Member Lisa Bender, has not responded to a message seeking comment on the proposal.
Here is a map of where demolitions occured around the city in 2013, in addition to home construction.
A proposed new contract for Minneapolis teachers will allow Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson to implement her autonomy-for-accountability proposal for selected schools, but gives teaches some redress when their classes are stuffed with more students than size limits call for.
The deal also gives the district new latitude to hire teachers earlier for hard-to-fill specialties and schools.
Neither the district nor the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has publicly disclosed the details of a tentative agreement reached 10 days ago on March 1. A summary of the proposal and selected sections were sent to teachers on Monday, and the Star Tribune obtained a copy. In contrast, St. Paul schools and teachers last month made key details public within three days of a deal.
Minneapolis teachers won’t vote on the deal until a month after it was negotiated, in contrast to 11 days in St. Paul. The Minneapolis board won’t formally vote until after teachers on April 8, but reviewed the proposal in private Tuesday.
“It is collaborative. It is progressive. It will makes a difference for students in schools,” board Chairman Richard Mammen said after the board adjourned.
Spokesman Stan Alleyne said the district deferred to union President Lynn Nordgren’s decision to share the pact with her members before the district makes the deal public. However, the district stance is somewhat ironic in light of Johnson's complaint last fall that by seeking state mediation the union was closing the process to the public. Former City Council President Paul Ostrow told the board Tuesday he was troubled that the only detail to leak before Tuesday so far has been the 2 percent annual cost-of-of-living raises, which he called the least important part of the negotiating agenda.
The deal is already generating pushback from some teachers. Some object to a clause that would loosen work rules for teachers at Johnson’s proposed “Partnership Schools.” They could work for up to 211 days, compared to 196 now.
These schools are a key element of Johnson’s efforts to reshape the district by granting schools working under a performance contract the ability to be flexible on matters such as curriculum, testing, time on the job, budget and other key features.
The proposal doesn’t specify how many partnership schools or when but Johnson has previously spoken of allowing 20-30 percent of district schools such freedom, a few next school year and more in the following two years.
On class size, the agreement calls for district targets to be set for schools but negotiators and other teachers have complained that often those are overridden by newly arrived students. The agreement calls in some circumstances for adding extra aides or teachers to crowded classes, for shifting students among grade-level teachers and for other remedies when targets are exceeded; teachers will have streamlined ability to seek relief from the district when their class exceeds the target.
For struggling schools, the district committed to a target of 18 students per K-3 grade classroom, down from the current 21. That will lessen a teacher’s workload, but it’s above the 13- to 17-student class size found in landmark Tennessee research to exert a marked improvement in primary grade student performance.
Those high-priority schools and hard-to-fill specialties would get an early hiring round designed to make the district more competitive for attracting talent. The agreement also cuts the number of teachers interviewed for each opening.
The agreement would also speed the process for dealing with struggling teachers through a mentored 45-day performance plan. It would also blend two time-consuming processes that teachers use to develop professionally and focus on student progress.
The agreement also calls for the district and union to jointly form a task force to sift through the standardized tests given students with an eye toward whether some can be dropped. It's suposed to make initial recommendaitons by the end of June for next school year. Teachers have complained about the amount of class time lost to outside testing, and some parents are opting their children out of tests.
The district hasn't yet made a cost estimate for the proposed pact. Besides the twin 2 percent pay hikes this year and next, many teachers are also eligible for raises based on longevity and college credits, while the district also increased its family health insurance contribution. The 2011-2013 contract increased district costs by almost 6.4 percent over a two-year period.
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