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City sues owner of upscale Uptown apartments over lagoon discharge

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: December 27, 2013 - 3:58 PM

The city this week sued to block the owner of a controversial upscale apartment building in Uptown from pumping groundwater through the city sewer and into a nearby lagoon that's part of the Chain of Lakes, saying that makes ice unsafe.

The city asked Hennepin County District Court to declare illegal and bar the pumping of groundwater from the lower level of the upscale building's underground parking into the city's sewer, which enters the lagoon. The city also  asked for a penalty of $1,000 per day for allegedly violating the city's storm drain ordinance, and other unspecified damages.

The 56-unit apartment building opened two years ago at 1800 W. Lake St., a location that some residents regard as the western gateway to Uptown. The proposal stirred debate in 2009 over the appropriate height for buildings near lakes Calhoun and Isles under a land use plan adopted in 2008, after construction of a taller building across the street.

Developer Daniel Oberpriller said development firm Lake and Knox LLC is trying to figure out the right thing to do, but referred comment on the lawsuit to the firm's attorney.

Lake and Knox LLC obtained temporary state and city permits that allowed it to pump enough water to build the building's foundation several feet below the surrounding water table, according to the city lawsuit. But its application to the state said the temporary dewatering would end after 90 days, and the city permit was timed for the same period.

The city alleges that pumping to drain groundwater from the completed apartment building has continued at a rate of at least 240,000 gallons per day. That's impairing the lagoon, the city alleges, by causing thin ice and open water that imperils cross-country skiers and other lake users, while marring the scenic view. The city also alleges that the pumping uses sewer capacity that's needed for rain and snowmelt, and interferes with the operation and maintenance of a city grit chamber that's designed to reduce sediment flowing into the lake.

Ironically, the building's profile was lowered, pushing its garages deeper, in order to accommodate neighborhood objections. One sign of the intensity of the debate was that four adjoining neighborhoods took the unprecedented step of jointly appealing to the City Council the Planning Commission's approval of variances and other approvals the project needed. That appeal failed.

The rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the building ranges from $1,500 to $1,800 monthly, and a two-bedroom unit costs from $2,200 to $2,900 monthly. 


School site getting poked and prodded

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 24, 2013 - 3:14 PM

The sale of the school district’s former headquarters at 807 Broadway St. NE is now halfway home.

Hillcrest Development, selected by the school board as the preferred developer for the sprawling site, has signed a purchase agreement for the Logan Park neighborhood site. The district said that happened June 27; the developer said it happened last week.

The price hasn't yet been disclosed because state law allows that until the deal reaches its final stage, which the district estimates at four to five months. The district said there may be further neogitaitons over price.

The developer began investigating on July 8 the condition of the site  as part of the environmental checks it will make before a planned closing on the property later this year. Hillcrest expects testing and analysis of the buildings for asbestos, lead, and other potential contaminants to last into the fall.

The developer plans to fill the rehabbed brick building with commercial tenants, although it expects to tear down some of the back shop areas of the site.  The Logan Park neighborhood strongly backed commercial reuse of the site to restock the supply of jobs lost when the district last July moved its headquarters to 1250 Broadway Av. across the Mississippi River.

Minneapolis could gain more power over problem businesses

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: February 12, 2013 - 3:01 PM

By Maya Rao

Minneapolis could soon wield more power over troublesome bars, clubs and other businesses. A City Council committee approved regulatory changes on Tuesday that would allow Minneapolis to impose mandatory conditions on businesses that don’t cooperate to fix ongoing violations.

Under the new rules - which require approval from the full City Council - the city could put limitations on hours and locations where liquor can be sold in the building, the occupancy level in all or parts of the business, and the admittance of people under age 21 to areas where liquor is not sold.

The changes grew out of concerns last year about drunken mayhem and violence at bar closing time downtown during the weekends. In July, after a surge in violent crime downtown, Minneapolis pressured clubs to stop hosting under-21 parties on Sunday nights and enhance security. And after threats to revoke their licenses following multiple violations, Envy Nightclub and Bootleggers surrendered them and shut down.

Since then, officials have held seven public meetings with more than 100 business representatives to discuss suggestions for the city to tackle problem businesses.

But several businesses pressed their concerns at Tuesday’s meeting of the Regulatory, Energy and Environment Committee that the new rules could be too vague and even discourage investment.

John Barlow, an owner of Epic Entertainment, said the language of the ordinance was overly broad and unclear about how many violations a business would have to rack up before the city stepped in.

“The more people you have, the more propensity for troubles, for problems,” said Barlow, whose business is a large downtown venue. “I don’t think it’s fair for us to put them in one category.”

Dan DiNovis, who manages four venues with liquor licenses, said there are already rules in place for licensing staff to deal with problem businesses.

“But if a bunch of businesses have restrictions on their license, it makes it not a place for people to invest and do business … it’s bad for new and current business owners,” he said.

Less than 1 percent of licensees in the city have conditions, which were all negotiated. But on occasions when business owners resist making changes, officials said, the city’s only option is a laborious process to revoke or deny their license.

City officials stressed that they would resort to the new rules only in rare cases.

“Any business that has no problems is not going to have any problems with this change, and even those that have some problems will have no problems with those changes,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents downtown. “The only businesses that will have problems with this are those that thumb their nose at our attempts to get them to comply with the law.”

Under the changes, regulatory staff would meet with the business to negotiate a voluntary agreement about conditions that will be placed on the license in an effort to prevent future violations. If they can agree on terms, they sign a document that will go to the council’s regulatory committee for approval.

If they cannot agree, a quasi-judicial hearing is held before the regulatory committee, or it may be referred to an administrative law judge for a hearing and recommendation to the regulatory committee when significant facts are in dispute. The committee then votes on the recommended conditions and forwards the decision to the full City Council.

License-holders can appeal the decision to the Minnesota State Court of Appeals.

Businesses would have multiple avenues to contest the city’s action, said committee chair Elizabeth Glidden.

“Mandatory conditions are something that would be applied when a business is at the end of the line,” she said.


Competing plans shown for old Northrop school

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: February 4, 2013 - 10:42 AM


It’s been empty since 2005, but there’s now competition to buy the old Northrop school building on the South Side.

Neighbors from the area listened this week as two teams pitched competing proposals to buy and rehab the building at 1611 E. 46th St.  Both groups also hope to build on the playground area of the property, one now and one later.

One proposer was a familiar face to many.  United Properties returned after making a proposal earlier that wouldn’t work without city subsidies, which were not forthcoming. But this time, it said its revamped proposal will work without that because it's not planning to raze the school.

That’s because United proposes to rent the existing 1923 building to a start-up charter school, which hopes to open next fall.  It also plans to build about 65 units of new cooperative housing aimed at seniors in the area who are ready to sell their homes.  That's down from the 106 units it proposed earlier when it planned to demolish the school.

The other proposal comes from a growing network of highly regarded South Side charter schools that serves a student body that’s mostly Latino and low-income.
That’s Hiawatha Academies. It operates one elementary school in the school district’s former Morris Park school in the city’s southeastern most corner, and one middle school in a former parochial school in the King Field neighborhood.  Now demand for spaces is strong enough that it wants to launch a second elementary school opening in 2014, ahead of its previous timetable for expansion. It would eventually grow to 390 students once all grades are in place.

Eli Kramer, the network’s executive director, said the school is offering $1 million for the property and would invest $3-3.5 million in rehabbing the school, adding an extension and sprucing up the grounds. Kramer said the school needs a new roof and windows, plus some ceiling and floor work  He said that eventually Hiawatha would like to discuss adding a middle school on the current playground when demand warrants.

United’s Mark Nelson wasn’t as specific about how much his team plans to offer for the building and spend to renovate it, but his purchase offer is believed to be somewhat higher..

Although the school board is getting assistance from the city’s development arm in evaluating the financial feasibility of the two proposals, the board will make  the decision.

The United property would address the desire expressed by the neighborhood in earlier brainstorming for reuse of the site that senior housing be created. Another advantage to the United proposal is that its housing development will create tax base that the Hiawatha proposal won’t.

The Hiawatha proposal rests on the school being owned by Charter School Development Corporation, a multi-state charter financing nonprofit.  That’s because Minnesota law prohibits charter schools from owning their buildings.  The charter would pay the development corporation through annual lease payments, for which state aid is provided to charters. But nonprofits pay no property tax so that may be one factor influencing the board.

However, Hiawatha has been moving toward a closer relationship with Minneapolis schools, and Northrop is in the middle of the area from which Hiawatha draws most of its students.  Moreover, Hiawatha offers a charter operation with a proven track record, while Arches Academy, United’s proposed tenant, is a startup.  Another factor is that United would need to presell 60 percent of its units to qualify for the HUD financing it plans to use, something that helped to stall its previous proposal.  But  it has created similar developments in suburban cities.. 

Arches is being created by Angela Mansfield, a Minneapolis schools teacher with an impressive educational resume. She’s  working with Charter School Partners, a nonprofit group that seeks to replicate high-quality charters.

The school board is expected to act later this winter on the recommendation of its staff on which group should get the site.. 


How Minneapolis made news in 2012

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: December 31, 2012 - 11:09 AM

One reporter’s take on the top 10 Minneapolis-focused stories of 2012:

A new Vikings stadium approved by the Legislature for downtown, using city-derived taxes, capping a come-from-behind challenge to a proposed Blaine site, and City Council concurs on a 7-6 vote. Deal also subsidizes Target Center renovation.


•  Mayor R.T. Rybak walks away from what he’s called his dream job, meaning his tenure at City Hall will end after 12 years and setting off a scramble to succeed him.


• A fired employee shoots and fatally wounds six people at Accent Signage Systems in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood, including the company’s founder, then kills himself.

• Redevelopment surges, with plans for several ambitious housing projects downtown along with an upsurge in apartment construction along transit routes.

• Metropolitan Airports Commission blocks a proposed routing change that would have concentrated jet noise over several corridors in Minneapolis (and Edina.)

• Hiawatha power line is ordered buried under E. 28th St., ending fears that it would mar the Midtown Greenway, and the extra cost is spread over all ratepayers, rather than just those in the city.


• Failure of plates anchoring cables for the Martin Olav Sabo bike-ped bridge detours traffic for several days on Hiawatha Avenue and disrupts bike commuting on the greenway for months.


• Enrollment of white students in Minneapolis schools rises for the first time in at least 35 years and the dawn of the desegregation era.

• Nizzel George, age 5, is gunned down in his sleep on a sofa in a North Side home, culminating a series of drive-by shootings.

• Police and fire chiefs both turn over in Minneapolis, with Janeé Harteau succeeding retiring Tim Dolan, and John Fruetel following Alex Jackson, who retires under pressure from the City Council.

Other notable developments:

School Supt. Bernadeia Johnson is named to a new three-year term when her first one expires on June 30, making her the district’s first two-term chief since Carol Johnson.

Police accumulation of license plate data draws numerous data requests, including from a rep man, and prompts the city to ask for a temporary classification of the data as private until the Legislature acts on its status.

Portland and Park avenues are converted to two-lane streets in a development that frustrates drivers but gives bikers extra space.

Haven’t we done this before?  Long Election Day lines form at several precincts, with equipment malfunctions ranging from pens to ballots, and the first results aren’t available until hours after everywhere else in the state, and the final results take several days.

No-sort recycling is adopted by the city, with some households getting their bins now and others in the spring.  All recyclables go in one bin, a system some suburbs adopted years ago.

Most city high school students switch to Go-To cards on Metro Transit,

Downtown rowdiness and shootings forced a police and licensing crackdown, with two clubs surrendering their liquor licenses.

Peavey Plaza will get a makeover that historic preservationists decry, including a city commission, but the Minnesota Orchestral Association wants it and the City Council falls in line.

The school district gets its first scratch-built headquarters ever, bringing hundreds of workers to W. Broadway Avenue.

Minneapolis City Council nixes a proposed Hennepin County service hub on W. Broadway Avenue after the community objects to it for drawing thousands of poor people.

Walker Community Church goes up in smoke in a fire that is ruled accidental but injures five firefighters, one of them severely.

A proliferation of new taprooms slakes the city’s thirst for microbrews, while Surly explores a southeast Minneapolis site.

Block E gets even lonelier as its movie theater closes down. But that doesn’t stop its political architect, lobbyist and former City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes, from announcing a comeback bid for mayor.

The school board goes unconventional, contracting for a self-governed school and a third  charter school in educator Eric Mahmoud’s empire, both on the North Side.

Civilian review of alleged police misconduct is weakened in Minneapolis with the scrapping of the Civilian Review Authority. The review job turned over to a new agency dominated by police.

Some notable departures:

City Coordinator Steven Bosacker leaves the job, where he instituted statistical results measurement, to see the world.
Gregg Stubbs, named to replace Rocco Forte, who resigned before an investigation into his conduct was finished, leaves himself after only nine months on the job.
Tim Dolan, the retiring police chief, will work with the gun control lobby and chair the mayoral campaign committee for Council Member Don Samuels.

In memoriam:
Marv Davidoff, activist par excellance
Lauren Maker, political activist
Doug Davis, longtime teacher and union activist
Larry Harris, school  lobbyist and civil rights champ
Robert T. Smith, Tribune columnist and city editor


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