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

Deal allows bridge, not tunnel, at Kenilworth for SW light-rail line

Posted by: under Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: February 27, 2015 - 1:37 PM

Minneapolis park officials struck a deal with the Metropolitan Council on Friday that will allow for a bridge over the Kenilworth channel in Minneapolis for light-rail trains, a significant development in what had been a polarizing fight.

The deal between the Metro Council and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board removes one of two major remaining obstacles to the project. The other is a lawsuit brought by area residents.

“Thanks to the diligent work of the Park Board and project engineers, we now have a path forward for this critically important transit investment, which is a vital link in the 21st century transit system we will build here in the greater Twin Cities metro,” Council Chairman Adam Duininck said. “The Council is pleased to have the Park Board’s support for bridging the channel.”

The deal also reimburses the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board up to $750,000 for its already incurred costs for studying the alternative of a tunnel under the channel, other costs related to the project, and for costs involved with the future Bottineau rail line, which also crosses parkland the board controls.

In return, the deal to be acted on Wednesday by the Park Board drops the tunnel alternative that its engineering consultants determined to be a feasible alternative to a bridge that which park commissioners argued would be more intrusive on recreational users of the area.

"The Park Board is very optimistic about the new, more collaborative efforts for the ongoing work on the Southwest Light Rail, the Bottineau Line and any future mass transit that may impact parkland in the metro area," said Park Board President Liz Wielinski.

The resolution park board members will vote on declares that despite that feasibility, insisting on a tunnel wouldn’t be prudent because it would delay the Southwest line and drive up costs.

Feasibility and prudence are the two key factors under federal law that governs when transportation projects may disrupt parkland or must find alternatives.

 
 

26th, 28th each likely to get protected bike lanes

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Local business, Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Public safety, Bikes and cars, Urban living Updated: February 26, 2015 - 2:03 PM

Two major cross-city arteries on the South Side will get one-way protected bike lanes this year under a plan that’s being recommended by city transportation planners.

Adding one-way lanes to E. 26th and 28th streets won out over an alternative that would have installed a two-way protected lane on 26th. They’re part of a street resurfacing planned this year.

The protected bike lanes will offer a seven-foot-wide biking lane plus a seven-foot space lined with flexible plastic posts buffering the lane from motor traffic. The two streets now have no dedicated bike space.

The proposal covers 32 blocks on the two streets lying between Portland and Cedar avenues. That stretch such includes major businesses as Wells Fargo and the Chicago Avenue medical complex.  Additional planning will flesh out the design between Cedar and Hiawatha avenues.

The proposal stops at Portland in part because of a scheduled replacement of Interstate 35W bridges on the two streets. A draft city plan for protected bike lanes recommends continuing the protected lanes west to Hennepin Avenue by 2020.

The bike lanes will be accommodated by removing a lane or travel or by removing parking during peak travel periods.

The resurfacing project has already asked area residents in open houses what other changes they’d like to see on the two streets from the project  The proposed design would add six medians at intersections – four on 28th and two on 26th – so that pedestrians have a refuge partway across.

Simon Blenski, a city bike planner, said the proposed design goes back to major institutions, neighborhoods and pedestrian and biking representatives for a final review. Some who attended earlier sessions with the city opposed removing parking or traffic lanes, but others advocated for making it reach major employers, schools and parks by bike.   

MAP: Shrinking list of problem rental properties

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: February 26, 2015 - 12:23 PM

Above: Landlord Mahmood Khan walks out of 2123 Oliver Ave. North, one of the properties that made the city's list (Jeff Wheeler).

The list of the city's worst rental properties is gradually shrinking.

We wrote in November about a new effort at City Hall to track the city's most problematic rental properties using data about poor conditions, police calls, unpermitted work and other metrics. Click here to see the full criteria behind the scoring system.

Property owners with properties on the list must meet with inspections staff and develop a plan to fix the problems before they can obtain additional licenses.

In the third quarter of 2014, the list featured about 124 properties. The latest list, from the last quarter of 2014, features just 75 properties.

Regulatory Services chief Nuria Rivera-Vanderymde, who spearheaded the list's creation, says she is cautiously optimistic about the trend downward. "I’d like to think it’s having an impact," she wrote in an e-mail.

Since some buildings are owned through seperate LLCs or individuals, Regulatory Services also seperates them by owner and management groupings. The groups with the most properties late last year were Bashir Moghul, Nam Nguyen Management and Mahmood Khan. The city is in the process of revoking Khan's licenses.

Below is a map of the properties. The yellow houses indicate properties with more than four units.

Here is a full spreadsheet of the fourth quarter "Good Cause" list.

Corps to reopen upper Falls lock this spring

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Local business, Politics and government Updated: February 25, 2015 - 5:36 PM

The feds have decided that the Upper St. Anthony Lock in Minneapolis will reopen with ice-out this year until a congressionally mandated closure date of June 10.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced its decision Wednesday. Col. Dan Koprowski said that reopening the lock for an expected two and one-half months would give river shippers additional time to stockpile materials. That follows one of the shortest navigation seasons ever recorded by the corps on the upper river in 2014.

“We fully recognize that this decision will be applauded by some and criticized by others,” Koprowski said in a statement.

The chief beneficiary of that decision is likely to be Aggregate Industries, which operates a sand and gravel yard about two miles above the lock at St. Anthony Falls. It ships those materials from its quarries on Grey Cloud Island, and they are used in concert with other nearby companies to supply concrete and other building materials to the Minneapolis area market. Another beneficiary is Northern Metals, which collects metal at its upper riverfront scrapyard for shipment to southern mills by river or rail.

A coalition of groups opposing the spread of invasive carp up the Mississippi River advocated for closing the lock permanently with the closure of shipping for the winter. They say the upper lock is the last barrier acting as a defense against carp.

Congress mandated the closing by June 10, citing the carp threat.  But the corps said it concluded that the risk for the short period this spring was minimal compared to the benefit to businesses.

The reopening will occur in the spring, when flows down the river are generally high, making it harder for carp to move upstream. But those same flows can also hamper navigation; last spring the corps closed its three locks in Minneapolis when the current hit 40,000 cubic feet per second.

When the upper lock closes, the corps will cut locking hours at the Lower St. Anthony Lock and Lock No. 1 (Ford) from 19 hours to 10 hours daily.       

(Photo: A barge locked through the upper falls in 1968.)

Conservatory decision missing from sculpture park revamp

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: February 25, 2015 - 2:58 PM

There were plenty of thumbs up this week from an advisory committee for a planned redesign of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden – even with a cost-saving scaleback of an earlier version.

But the issue of what happens to the garden’s Cowles Conservatory remains undecided.

The latest iteration of the revamped garden proposed by a consultant team trims a $15.1 million version of the renovation to $10.6 million. That’s closer to a project budget estimated at $10 million.

The budget cut means changes like more concrete and less crushed granite for the garden’s footpaths. That’s good for people in wheelchairs but some advisory committee members dislike the aesthetic impact. Other examples of budget-balancing cuts are the deletions of a set of granite steps from a Lyndale Avenue stop, and one of two sloping walks from Lyndale.

The advisory committee to the Park and Recreation Board met thinking the meeting was its last. But the fate of the conservatory and a potential narrowing of Vineland Place will bring them back again next month.

No one expects the conservatory to vanish. But under a mandate to make the park more sustainable, major changes to slash its energy use are likely.

The two options discussed this week would keep glass in the conservatory tower with minimal heat but make its wings open-air, or alternately, remove the glass from the entire structure.

According to the Park Board, the entire garden produces about $30,000 in income, much of it from rentals for weddings and other events.  But the conservatory alone costs $80,000 to $100,000 to heat.

One option would be to cut the amount of space heated to just the tower, and cut the heat to about 50 degrees. Or the building could be stripped of all its glass, reinforced against wind and used seasonally. Panel member Craig Wilson said some neighbors are distressed at the latter possibility because they see it as a winter oasis. He also wondered if a metal skeleton would rain bird droppings.

Project planners have hired a consultant to help them determine potential use of the conservatory, which they hope will help the group make a decision on how much it should be deconstructed. Some $1.5 million has been budgeted for the conservatory, part of which would likely be used to improve the stability of the building’s floor.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who chairs the advisory group, said she’s captivated by the potential of an open building, which she said could be wrapped in fabric to increase its utility. “I think it it is incredible, and puts us on the map in the new North,” she said.

One change from the previous design is the addition of a concrete walkway southwest of the park’s signature “Spoonbridge and Cherry” sculpture where aerial photos show the heaviest foot traffic. Consultant oslund.and.assoc. also added more north-south walkways between the three sculpture pads they propose in the far northern section of the garden.

These boardwalks will run over meadows of hydrophytic plants, those capable of standing in water for several days while the precipitation drains into a cistern that will be pumped to water vegetation during dry periods. Consultants portray this meadow as a canvas to be painted in drifts of colorful water-tolerant plants.

Also on the panel’s docket for a final meeting is a discussion of future narrowing of Vineland, which separates the garden from the Walker Art Center. The current width was described as appropriate for emptying the Guthrie Theatre, which had a capacity as high as 1,400 when it was located on Vineland. But a narrower street would make it easier for pedestrians to cross between the museum and garden, the group was told.

The proposal is expected to get a public hearing at the Park Board in April, with construction beginning later this year. 

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