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Pumps go off at luxury Uptown apartment

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 31, 2015 - 6:07 PM

The pumps have been turned off for the first time in four years at an upscale Uptown apartment building, meaning that the illegal pumping of millions of gallons of groundwater into nearby lakes will cease.

The pumps were turned off late Tuesday afternoon, meeting a deadline of that day set in a legal settlement reached several months ago, according to Charles Nauen, an attorney representing the city of Minneapolis.

The settlement was reached after the city and Park Board filed several suits to end the pumping. Developer Lake and Knox LLC was permitted initially to drain the site at 1800 W. Lake St. for construction. But it kept on pumping after construction ended because the lower of two basement garage floors was below the area's water table. A judge ruled in November ruled that violated city ordinances after the city sued.

Lake and Knox built the 57-unit luxury building in 2011. It consists of developers Nick Walton and Daniel Oberpriller, plus other unnamed investors. They still have financial claims pending against engineering firms that provided studies for the project.  Pumps sucked about 90 million gallons per year of water into the nearby lagoon separating Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun, including an estimated 75 pounds per year of algae-feeding phosphorus.

Lara Norkus-Crampton, who opposed zoning variances granted the project and resigned from the planning commission in protest, praised former City Council member Meg Tuthill and park Commissioner Anita Tabb for doggedness in ending the pumping. She also said citizens sometimes have a false sense of security that the many jurisdictions responsible for water quality are monitoring such violations.

Council Member Lisa Goodman, who now represents the area, said in an e-mail: "It’s good to see that the developer is abiding by the consent decree after years of pumping water into the lake.  I’m happy to see this part of the larger issue resolved."

To comply with a settlement reached in December to cease pumping by Tuesday, the developers removed mechanical and electrical components from the lower parking level, filled it with sand and gravel, and then sealed it off from remaining basement parking. The firm said that careful fill-in work was crucial to ensuring the building remained stable. It estimated the work would cost $1.2 million, while new parking it plans next door is expected to cost $2 million.

Hydro proposal at St. Anthony Falls lock tries again

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 27, 2015 - 2:45 PM

Symphony Hydro has reapplied for federal permission to generate hydroelectricity in the St. Anthony Falls lock after a federal regulator last month denied its initial try.

The firm submitted its plan for twin turbine-generators in the Upper St. Anthony lock that would roll up on tracks like a garage door when the lock is needed for flood control.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Feb. 5 denied a preliminary permit application by Symphony to install the generating equipment in the lock. It cited opposition from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates the lock. The lock will close to watercraft after June 10 under a congressional mandate intended to halt the spread of invasive carp up the Mississippi River.

The corps will still operate the locks for flood control, opening gates during high-flow periods.  The corps earlier expressed concern that the ice and debris would damage the compact and lightweight generating equipment. The latest proposal from Symphony, which lists a Raleigh, N.C. address, is more explicit in describing how the framework holding the turbine-generator would roll up above the lock. 

Symphony said in its application that it met with corps representatives last month to discuss how the power generating equipment could be operated without interfering with corps operations.The corps said it won't formally comment until FERC accepts Symphony's application. 

"I believe they are making an effort to address the concerns the Corps' had with their previous proposal," said Nanette Bischoff, the lead corps person for permitting matters in its St. Paul district, in an e-mail.

Symphony is one of three firms seeking FERC approval to produce power at  the upper falls. Xcel Energy long has operated a larger hydropower generator there.  Symphony and Crown Hydro each has proposed generating up to 3.4 megawatts when they can draw 1,000 cubic feet per second of water at the falls But park and other advocates have opposed diverting enough water to affect the appearance of the falls, and it's unlikely both would win approval. A much-smaller proposal would generate power on the river's eastern shore in the bowels of a housing development that is renovating the historic Pillsbury's milling complex. 

Symphony said in its latest application that if there's not enough water to go around and the Crown proposal advances, it would stand aside.  Crown is fighting to keep the license that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted it in 1999, after unsuccessful efforts to win local approval. It wants to amend its plans to install generators in tunnels just outside the lock on Corps of Engineers property. 

Developer razes one of longest-vacant Mpls homes

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 25, 2015 - 6:20 PM

A large backhoe began ripping apart a developer-owned duplex a block off of Lake of the Isles on Wednesday, erasing one of the longest-vacant homes in the city from a neighborhood that usually doesn't have them.

A crew from All-Metro Excavating began demolition of the 107-year-old duplex that developer Ross Fefercorn has owned for 16 years. It has been vacant for at least 10 years, and has been on the city's list of vacant building registration list since 2007. That extended period drew complaints from the property's East Isles neighbors.

Fefercorn told the Star Tribune last fall that he was debating whether to sell, rehab or raze the property at 2208 Irving Av. S., for which he paid he paid $360,000 in 1998. He said he bought the duplex with the idea that he might live there some day, but he ran into unforeseen structural problems after he began to gut it.

Fefercorn said via e-mail Wednesday that he was tied up in meetings and not immediately available for comment on future plans for the lot.

The house was a personal project for a developer who lives a few blocks away in the Wedge area.  He's developed commercial and residential projects from north Minneapolis to Mendota Heights. They include single-family housing along the Humboldt Greenway and Track 29 apartments along the Midtown Greenway.

Neighbors complained to City Hall about the house, but city officials said the house was secure and its condition didn't warrant them ordering a demolition.  The property drew complaints of unkempt vegetation, peeling paint and trash issues, attracting 22 inspection citations in 11 years.

Frustration over the property among neighbors boiled over at a East Isles Residents Associaiton meeting two years ago, where some neighbors suggested the city not approve any more deals for Fefercorn until the property was fixed up. 

The city registration fee for boarded housing doubled Fefercorn's annual property tax for the property to $16,000. The city said that Fefercorn took steps toward demolishing the building in 2009 but didn;t folow through.

(Photo: Fefercorn at the site of the Track 29 housing in 2012. Staff photo by Bruce Bisping.)


Record eight Open Streets on tap for 2015

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 25, 2015 - 6:17 PM

A record eight Open Streets events featuring car-free streets will be held in Minneapolis in 2015, and they'll feature three first-time corridors and the first loop circuit.

But as the event is growing, so is the projected hit to taxpayers.

The fifth year of Open Streets will feature a loop route in northeast Minneapolis stretching between Central Avenue NE and NE 2nd Street. Parts of downtown, East Lake Street, and the University of Minnesota area will also get more complex routes that represent a departure from the event's typical segments of straight streets.

Open Streets events shut down a segment of one or more streets to motorized traffic, giving priority to people-powered transport by foot, bike or other wheeled means, such as wheelchairs or skateboards. The first Open Streets event in Minneapolis was held in 2011 on Lyndale Avenue S.

City departments will absorb an estimated $194,007 to put on the events this year, under a plan submitted to a City Council committee this week that drew some council questions Tuesday. That's up from $104,433 spent on six Open Streets events in 2014, a total that was 39 percent over the council-authorized estimate of $75,000.

That spending covers such city costs as signs to control detoured traffic, providing extra police. The estimated city cost is budgeted at an average $24,250 per event, compared with $17,400 in 2014. Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, which runs Open Streets, attributed that to more conservative budgeting, and also to more complex routes.

(Update: City spokesman Casper Hill said that one reason for the higher numbers is that more costs that departments absorbed in their 2014 budgets are being explicitly tracked in their budgets this year, such as event permit fees, food booth permit costs or amplified sournd permits. He said that the more complex routes on Lake Street and northeast Minneapolis require more traffic control workers. The university and downtown routes also involve hooding parking meters, Hill said.) 

The coalition separately raises money for arts and music programming at the events by lining up paying sponsors from neighborhood and business associations, individual businesses, and nonprofit organizations.

Fawley justified the city spending by saying that the events build community, promote public health by active living, and allow police staffing the events to build community relations. He said that such events are common in larger cities, and that cities often run them themselves.

Areas that will get Open Streets for the first time are downtown, with a dogleg route connecting the warehouse district with the North Loop, East Lake Street with a detour over the Sabo bike bridge on the Midtown Greenway, and the university area, with a double-dogleg route connecting Dinkytown and Stadium Village.

Council Member Blong Yang noted that the city often makes organizations holding public events pay for city costs.  However, Council Member Lisa Bender, a coalition founder, said, "The costs we are using are very minimal compared to the amount of money we spend to subsidize people to drive."

(Update: The city directly subsidizes some promotional events, rather than requiring departments to absorb them in their budgets. For example, the council approved in February sending $1 million to the Downtown Council to stage year-round programs, such as summer fireworks. Yang noted that other events, such as the North Side's Juneteenth celebration, don't get such breaks. He suggested in an interview that a more even-handed policy is needed.  "We're picking winners and losers, and I'm not sure that's the right thing," he said.) 

As a lame-duck council member in late 2013, Mayor Betsy Hodges offered a budget directive that told three city departments to subsidize Open Streets. Her spokeswoman, Kate Brickman, said that support represents the view that city streets are more than thoroughfares but also destinations.

"Through Open Streets, we choose to both celebrate and re-envision the city street itself as essential community space and a public asset to be enjoyed by all," Brickman said.

The coalition also requested that the city spend $15,000 for a reduced-scope Bike Week this spring, in lieu of federal grant support that helped pay for event costs previously. The event is intended to promote bicycle commuting. Department of Public Works representatives said that the amount will be taken from the budget for more durable pavement markings, which would reduce pedestrian safety markings at about five intersections, a tradeoff that Council Member Linea Palmisano questioned..

The council's Public Works Committee voted in favor of both the Open Streets and Bike Week proposals.  

The planned events are Lyndale Avenue S., June 7; northeast Minneapolis, July 12; East Lake Street, Aug. 2; Franklin Avenue, Aug. 16; downtown, Aug. 23; Dinkytown-Stadium Village, Sept. 12; Nicollet Avenue S., Sept. 20; and Lowry Avenue N., Sept. 26.  

Here are the planned routes:

Park Board approves upper river purchase

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 18, 2015 - 8:49 PM

Minneapolis park commissioners voted 7-0 on Wednesday night to buy a piece of West Bank property on the city's upper riverfront for $2.5 million.

The purchase of the former Japs-Olson building adjacent to the west end of the Lowry Avenue Bridge represents the first land deal since adoption of an upper riverfront master plan 15 years ago.

"It's a great, great day," said North Side commissioner Jon Olson. "It's been difficult to acquire property on our side of the river. I want to thank folks in my district for being patient."

The Park Board plans to eventually accumulate enough land or easements to extend recreational paths and a parkway northward from Ole Olson Park to the Camden area.


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