Efforts to tame an onslaught of single-family home redevelopment in Southwest Minneapolis got some teeth Friday with a new moratorium on home demolitions in several neighborhoods.
Council Member Linea Palmisano on Friday proposed the moratorium -- which took effect on an interim basis immediately, pending further council action -- to allow the city to more carefully examine the city's regulations. If approved by the council, the moratorium would last for one year.
A primary concern among neighbors is lack of communication as builders rapidly tear down existing homes and replace them with much larger ones. Palmisano said that in the first week she took office, there were 20 applications pending in different stages of the demolition and rebuild process.
Since the homes often don't need variances, the redevelopments rarely rise to the level of discussion in a public meeting. But they're becoming exponentially more common in Ward 13, as shown in the blue line above.
“They have started tearing down houses and putting up new ones quickly, and they don’t at all look like the neighborhood," said Jim Tincher, president of the Fulton Neighborhood Association.
The moratorium applies to single- and two-family homes in Linden Hills, Fulton, Armatage, Kenny and Lynnhurst neighborhoods.
"The intent is to be able to give us some time to pause on just responding to fire after fire, while being able to study and get really good due process improvements," Palmisano said. "Right now our ability to enforce even our existing laws are disjointed.”
In a letter to neighbors, Palimsano said they need builders to comply with regulations surrounding noise, dumpsters, idling, shoveling and parking. "And we need to bring greater environmental sensitivity to these projects," Palmisano wrote.
The proposed ordinance says the city is interested in studying nuisance and safety issues with new construction, as well as the negative effects on the "urban forest, lakes and shorelands, and on stormwater infrastructure." The city is also studying possible fixes that could be made in the zoning code.
Here is the proposed ordinance:
City attorney Susan Segal was reappointed Friday with the support of all but two council members, who voiced concerns with her legal opinion that help solidify the controversial Vikings stadium deal.
Segal has served in the role since Mayor R.T. Rybak’s appointment in 2008. She came to City Hall after many years in the private sector focusing on employment law and a stint with the Hennepin County Attorney’s office under now-Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
“She could be working anywhere else, making 10 times the money and not dealing with half of the grief she has to deal with here,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, one of 11 supporters of Segal’s reappointment.
Opponents of her reappointment, which included the local chapter of the Minnesota Lawyers Guild, were critical of an opinion Segal authored that helped secure crucial council support for the Vikings stadium. The opinion said the city’s financing scheme for the stadium did not trigger a referendum requirement in the charter, an assertion that was later refuted by a district court judge.
The council’s crucial stadium swing vote, Sandy Colvin Roy, cited that opinion as a major reason why she reversed course and supported the project.
“I wish that that had been handled better,” said council member Cam Gordon, who opposed the reappointment. “I think it’s really important, especially when we have really difficult and challenging decisions, to get the best, most neutral, most detached legal advice that we possibly can. And I’m not sure that we got that in that instance.”
New Council Member Alondra Cano said she was voting for the reappointment because she wanted to be able to work with Segal on a number of issues.
“I do not feel like I need to hold anyone hostage to the Vikings stadium decision,” Cano said. “I think that was of the previous council and I will not drag that into this particular decision.”
The other ‘no’ vote, council member Blong Yang, said reappointment votes should not be based on future relationships. “I’d like to say a yes or no vote should just mean a good relationship in the future anyway,” Yang said.
Council Member Elizabeth Glidden highlighted Segal’s worth early in her tenure defending the city’s ranked-choice voting system, as well as efforts to reform pensions.
Mayor Betsy Hodges, who opposed the stadium as a council member, said Segal has found innovative ways to reduce crime in the city. She cited a domestic violence prosecution partnership, youth violence prevention initiatives and the Downtown 100 program.
“Having that kind of innovation, creativity and forward thinking in the city attorney is not something every city gets, but our city has benefited from for years,” Hodges said.
Government officials and developers are breathing new life into a long-stymied plan to redevelop one of the most significant pieces of land along the Hiawatha light rail line.
The proposal would transform the area surrounding the Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue by replacing an aging building and surface parking lots with housing, office space, street-level retail and a home for the Midtown Farmers Market. The 6.4-acre site is now owned by the Minneapolis School District, which has previously been reluctant to sell over concerns about where to move adult education programs.
But the new scheme (left), presented at the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization Thursday, gives the school district leeway by allowing them to stay in their current building for several years as the development moves forward around it. The building would eventually be demolished, however.
The entire project would be anchored by Hennepin County, which would move a social services hub into the office space as part of a plan to scatter services now housed at downtown’s Century Plaza building.
Development at the Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue intersection has been a major priority for several local politicians, partly because development there has fallen far short of goals before the line opened. Only 280 units of housing have been constructed or are underway, compared with 1,250 once anticipated.
“This thing could be a win on about five different fronts,” said Hennepin County commissioner Peter McLaughlin, noting the county’s interest in transit-oriented development.
A development team, L&H Station Development, proposed a similar plan for the school district site several years ago but talks with the district broke down. The same team is behind the current proposal.
Dick Mammen, chair of the Minneapolis School Board, indicated Thursday night that giving the district a window when they can move makes the idea more palatable.
“Right now what’s critical is this three to five year window and to continue to work with folks to see what would work best for both of those programs,” Mammen said. The building currently houses a range of programs from GED instruction to English as a second language courses.
The site would have about 500 units of market rate and affordable housing, 100,000 square feet of office space and about 10,000 square feet of retail space. Lake Street, which is now fronted by a retaining wall, would feature ground-level retail anchoring six-story buildings.
Jack Borman, the CEO of BKV Group who is one half of L&H Station Development, said redesigning the site around the school board building actually increases the space for the farmers market by about 40 percent over what was previously envisioned.
“It’s a blessing that we now can get a little bit more space into the farmers market because it can really become that urban park [with] more greenery and more spaciousness,” Borman said.
Mark Nordland, the other half of L&H Station Development, said the plan envisions the county purchasing the entire site from the school board and leasing the building back. The county would then sell the land in stages to the developer and lease the office space.
The financial details have not been worked out, however, which could determine if the school district accepts the deal. “We don’t have the details of the proposal and there’s been no numbers discussed thusfar,” Mammen said.
The plan will be presented to the entire neighborhood in April. Click here for the more detailed image of what the new site would look like.
The City Council is poised to wade into the ride sharing debate following Lyft’s rocky start with city regulators last month.
Council Member Jacob Frey intends to introduce an ordinance that will create a legal framework for ride sharing services such as UberX and Lyft, which are now viewed as taxicabs under city ordinances. Lyft launched last week in dubious legal territory, temporarily bypassing a city threat to impound their cars by offering a free promotion to passengers.
“I do want them to be able to operate,” said Frey, who represents part of downtown. “I want them to be able to operate within the city’s framework that we’re now creating.”
Ride sharing services allow people to essentially act as chauffeurs of their own vehicles, picking up strangers who request a ride through a smartphone app. Lyft and UberX can operate legally in St. Paul, but the city's head of business licensing has already towed three UberX vehicles in Minneapolis for operating without a license.
Frey’s biggest concern is insurance, an issue that has dogged these services in cities across the country.
Personal insurance policies generally don’t cover vehicles being operated as a business. Lyft says it has $1 million excess liability coverage, but it hasn’t shown it to city officials. Then there’s the sticky question of whether Lyft drivers without a passenger are, at that moment, operating as a business.
Just how insurance, licensing and permits will be handled in an ordinance remain to be seen. Frey will announce his intent to introduce an ordinance at Friday’s council meeting, but the ordinance itself has not been written.
He said ride sharing is a valuable complement to other ways of getting around the city.
“I look at ride sharing as one segment of the broader transportation collage that people can work with without owning their own automobile,” Frey said, highlighting several modes of transit and taxis. “This is one more segment that will allow people to abandon their cars and live in a happening urban atmosphere.”
Prospective Lyft users can summon a car by using a smartphone app. Once they arrive at their destination, a “suggested donation” is displayed based on the time and distance of the trip. Passengers can modify the amount as desired.
Lyft and UberX don’t win many friends in the taxicab industry. The president of the Minneapolis Taxicab Drivers and Owners Association, Ahmed Galal, notes that taxi drivers who own their cars must get the vehicles inspected, take tests at City Hall and pay for commercial insurance. His insurance costs $582 a month.
“If Lyft wants to come in and say 'Hey, we’ll follow the same policy and procedures that taxicabs are doing,' then fine,” said Galal, who owns a cab he drives for Green and White Taxi. But if they won’t jump through the same regulatory hoops, then he opposes it because, “They are killing my business.”
Top photo: Lyft driver Nancy Tcheou waits in her car after dropping off a passenger as a taxi cab passes her in San Francisco (Associated Press). Right: Jacob Frey (Kyndell Harkness)
The future of Southwest Light Rail grew increasingly unclear Wednesday after the Minneapolis City Council formally stated they oppose using a tunnel to accommodate both freight and transit alongside the Chain of Lakes.
The council unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday saying they oppose the tunnel option, while stopping short of draft language that also promised to deny municipal consent for the project. The tunnels are being eyed by the Metropolitan Council as an alternative to rerouting freight traffic through St. Louis Park, which that community opposes.
Wednesday's vote, which was supported by Mayor Betsy Hodges, puts St. Louis Park and Minneapolis at loggerheads with four months until a June 30 deadline for the cities to agree to the project or lose it altogether. But council members heaped the blame on St. Louis Park, who resolution author Kevin Reich said was "reneging" on an agreement from the 1990s.
During that period, freight rail was relocated from what is now the Midtown Greenway to the Kenilworth Corridor. St. Louis Park received money to clean up a polluted area known as the Golden Auto site.
"They did not just get that money for free," said Council Member Jacob Frey. "In return for getting that money, they promised in no uncertain terms to take the freight reroute when it came time. And it is now time."
Hennepin County Commission Peter McLaughlin said he, too, was angry at St. Louis Park. But he added that the railroad companies have much of the power over the reroute. “It’s about a four-cushion billiard shot to actually get the freight relocation to happen," McLaughlin said.
He warned the council that the line itself was at stake. "This line could be killed. And I don’t think that’s in the long-term interest of the city of Minneapolis," McLaughlin said. "If we’re going to be talking about 'One Minneapolis,' if we’re going to be talking [about a] modern transit system, that is not in the interest of Minneapolis.”
Council Member Lisa Goodman was the most outspoken member on the dais:
“We’ve sat quietly during all the other delicate moments and been hit over the head by a bat," Goodman said. "So now all of a sudden we’re being asked to sit quietly through a delicate moment when you slam this out of the ballpark and shove it down our throats. That’s what it feels like to me."
A previous version of the resolution stated that the council would deny municipal consent if a shallow tunnel option was chosen by the Metropolitan Council. The new version unveiled Wednesday merely said they oppose it.
Hodges said the council was merely restating a position already held by the council. But a 2010 resolution did not state a position on the shallow tunnels, however.
"I am pleased to see the Minneapolis City Council approve this resolution re-affirming the City’s opposition to co-location of both freight and light rail in the narrow Kenilworth Corridor with shallow tunnels," Hodges said in a statement.
The Metropolitan Council responded that "any city council resolution from any city taking a position on Southwest LRT is premature" prior to a recommendation on a plan by the Met Council project staff in April.
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