What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to baird.helgeson@startribune.com.

Tighter limits on new home sizes clear initial hurdle

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: July 29, 2014 - 11:55 AM

New rules tightening restrictions on the size of new single-family homes throughout the city are heading to the City Council after passing an advisory body unanimously on Monday night.

The laundry list of zoning changes arrives months after the council passed and then lifted a controversial moratorium on home demolitions in southwest Minneapolis. While the moratorium was largely aimed at improving construction site problems, the new changes are intended to alleviate some resident concerns that new homes are dwarfing old ones.

This has largely been a problem in southwest Minneapolis (see photo above right), but the new rules target one- to four-unit homes citywide.

Residents in southwest Minneapolis in particular had expressed concerns about homes taking up too much lot space, having steep roofs that reach too high, featuring poorly placed garages and first floors that are out of sync with neighbors.

The new rules, which the city planning commission passed unanimously on Monday night, must now be debated by the City Council. They feature a number of detailed changes, some of which expand on changes that were made by then-council member Betsy Hodges in 2007:

  • The maximum massing of homes, known as the floor area ratio, was not decreased. But one-car garages and raised basements will now count toward that calculation.

  • Raised basements can only be 2.5 feet above ground before they are counted toward the building's mass, down from 4 feet.

  • The maximum height of homes was reduced slightly, from 30 feet to 28 feet, measured at the midpoint between the peak and eave. Because of problems with steep roofs, a new rule bars houses from reaching higher than 33 feet at any point.

    • To put that in perspective, the average midpoint height in a sample of 256 recently approved homes across the city was 24.5 feet. Seven percent were higher than 28 feet at the midpoint.

  • Exemptions can be granted for massing and height if owners are building an addition to an existing home or if nearby homes already exceed the height limitations. Other waivers might be granted if the rules cause "practical difficulty," according to a staff presentation.

  • New regulations also address the space between homes, requiring larger lots to leave more undeveloped land between the house and the end of the property line.

  • Changes were also made to the point system that determines whether projects meet an acceptable design standard. New incentives were added for keeping height consistent with neighboring homes, planting trees, and locating a detached garage in the rear of the lot.

  • The new language also reduces the maximum lot coverage from 50 percent to 45 percent, and clarifies that basement-level garages count toward a provision limiting garage space to 60 percent of the front facade.

Reaction so far appears largely supportive, particularly since almost no one appeared to testify at the sole public hearing on the changes Monday evening.

“For the most part we have a document that everybody is really supportive of,” said Julia Parenteau, a lobbyist with the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, which opposed the teardown moratorium. Parenteau said the industry has concerns with eliminating the garage exemption when calculating the mass of a building.

Architect Tim Quigley was less supportive, noting that when coupled with the 2007 changes, houses are being downsized by 30 or 40 percent. “The downsizing proposals that are being discussed here tonight I think are too extreme, too coercive, too shortsighted and a gross overreaction,” Quigley said.

He said new height limitations apply too broadly across the city and would outlaw building homes that are already common in Kenwood, Lowry Hill, the Lakes Area, Prospect Park and Tangletown. “We’re saying, ‘No that’s not good.’ These are some of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. So I really wonder, do we know what we’re really doing here?”

The City Council is expected to take up the issue next month, starting at the zoning and planning committee.

Flowers shares crime scene pictures from his home after his arrest

Posted by: Matt McKinney Updated: July 29, 2014 - 9:39 AM

As Al Flowers waits to learn whether or not he faces criminal charges following his arrest early Saturday morning, his family has released photographs of the Flowers home taken moments after the incident.

The pictures show evidence of a struggle, with a plant and furniture knocked over and two blood spots on the wood floor. Flowers was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center after the fight for treatment of cuts to his scalp and face. A Minneapolis police officer also required treatment for a bite wound, according to the police union.

Flowers insisted Monday that he didn't resist when officers came to his home in the 3100 block of Chicago Av. S. at about 12:40 a.m. Saturday to pick up his teenage daughter over an electronic home monitoring violation. Flowers said he repeatedly asked to see an arrest warrant. A police union official said officers aren't required to show a warrant in such situations. The union official added that Flowers wouldn't get out of the way as officers attempted to arrest his daughter.

Open data policy heads to the Council

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: July 28, 2014 - 3:58 PM

Reams of public data addressing everything from restaurant inspections to city spending may soon become easier to access under an "open data policy" under consideration at City Hall.

The policy, which will be presented to a committee this Wednesday, would create a new portal where departments can upload raw public data about different metrics they are tracking. To access that information now, inquiring citizens and journalists must formally request it from the city.

Other cities like Chicago and New York have already created similar portals, allowing developers and journalists to illuminate trends and create tools for public use. Chicago's portal contains more than 1,000 datasets, from historical crime data to a map of abandoned vehicles.

If passed, Minneapolis would be the 16th city in the country to have such a policy. "This is really positioning us for being up there in the nation in terms of transparency," said Andrew Johnson, a former systems engineer who has helped lead the open data initiative.

The policy (below) says that the portal must be available within 120 days of enactment, meaning late 2014. What data is uploaded will largely be left to the discretion of departments, however.

Johnson said some departments are more interested than others, particularly Health and Regulatory Services. They control a range of datasets including health code inspections and landlord violations.

"I think that by being champions of it and showing how they can utilize open data to work better and achieve more of their goals, other departments will see the value and follow suit," Johnson said.

Other departments have expressed concerns about committing staff resources, releasing inaccurate data or having data misinterpreted, Johnson said.

The policy says there are many benefits to increasing data transparency: "By making its data available online, the City will enable the public to: (1) assist in identifying efficient solutions for government, (2) promote innovative strategies for social progress, and (3) create economic opportunities."

Starting in 2015, all new contracts must include provisions to ensure data can be published when appropriate. Each department must also assign an open data coordinator to facilitate uploading data and serve on an advisory group.

Photo: A map of abandoned vehicles in Chicago, from the city's data portal.

Open Data Policy Final

Northeast's cycling museum open Sunday

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Local business, Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Public safety, Urban living Updated: July 25, 2014 - 6:16 PM

When Brent Fuqua moved the expanding bike shop he co-owns into a newly refurbished storefront across Central Avenue last summer, he suddenly had thousands of square feet in which to stash the bikes the business had stored in rented garages across northeast Minneapolis.

That new space included a big second floor. Meanwhile a buddy, Juston Anderson, had accumulated somewhere between 40 and 50 vintage bikes in 27 years of collecting.

“I thought people should see these bikes,” Fuqua said.

So during Sunday’s Open Streets event, in which bikers will take over 8-1/2 blocks of Central for six hours, the Cycling Museum of Minnesota will debut in the upstairs of Recovery Bike Shop, 2504 Central Av. NE.

From 19th century boneshakers, including one with a 60-inch drive wheel, to trendy Pusgley fat-tire bikes, cyclists will get a glimpse of cycling history that highlights important advances in biking from technology to alliances with good roads boosters to changing social mores. They’ll see those how changes affected bike safety and speed.

It’s a coming-out party for the museum, which organizers say is only in the formative stages and won’t be open regularly until sometime next year. “It was just a bunch of dudes with bikes,” Fuqua told a sneak

preview Thursday night that was intended to elicit interest and funds from an invitee list that dressed from cutoffs to suits.

The organization’s nine-member board has incorporated and plans to put on educational programs, conduct community rides, host family events, present lectures and show films.

The collection includes beginner bikes for kids, BMX bikes, mass-produced bikes by Sears, hand-made frames by some of the state’s noted builder, bikes on which some of the state’s best-known racers sped, and vintage machines such as a locally made tandem designed for courting couples.

But there are also prosaic bike collectibles, such as the 1950s prototype of a Park Tool Co. bike repair stand.  It features such parts as a concrete-filled World War II shell casing, kitchen table legs and a 1937 Ford truck axle.

Anderson, 42, of Arden Hills, remembers looking at pictures as a kid of the high-wheeled bikes that dominated the 1880s but were typically affordable only to wealthy young men with strong legs. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know how you could balance on something like that,’” he said. But earlier this month he completed a century (100-mile) ride on one at a collectors meeting.

The nursing home janitor said he takes a frugal approach to collecting. He said he reminds his wife: “There’s other hobbies I could get into. I could get into hunting or gambling or drinking.”     

(Above: Recovery Bike co-owner with a bike that mimicked automobile streamlining; below: an 1897 courting tandem made by Deere and Webber of Minneapolis.)


Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters