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Council cuts food-liquor ratio rule

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: September 19, 2014 - 11:55 AM

A city ordinance requiring some restaurants outside of downtown to maintain a careful balance of their food and alcohol sales has been scrapped by the Minneapolis City Council.

The council voted 12-0 Friday to overhaul the rules governing alcohol sales for restaurants located along commercial corridors like Uptown. Those restaurants had been required to ensure that at least 60 percent of their revenues came from food sales, and to cap alcohol sales at 40 percent. Council members said the popularity of higher-priced craft and local beer, wine and cocktails had made it almost impossible for businesses to comply with the rule.

Now, those businesses won't have to follow a food and beverage ratio. Instead, the city will employ new tactics aimed at ensuring the restaurants don't lead to problems in their neighborhoods. Restaurants will now follow new rules about the hours in which they must serve food, provide specific alcohol service training, and risk losing their entertainment license if problems crop up. 

Council Member Cam Gordon said he's aware of some neighborhoods' concerns that changing the rules could lead to problems from customers who have to much to drink. But he said he believes the city has provided enough checks and balances to avoid trouble.

"I challenge all the restaurants and all the bars and all the city regulators to prove how this is going to be better," he said. "And we're going to end up with less issues, and fewer problems."

A proposal for a similar change for restaurants tucked further into neighborhoods will be put to voters this November. Those restaurants are currently required to make 70 percent of their sales from food and limit alcohol sales to 30 percent. 

Separately, the council voted 12-0 to approve a change to the rules for business' restrooms. Now, businesses operating in the city will be allowed to have gender-neutral, single-user restrooms, rather than being required to have separate restrooms for men and women.

Council Member Andrew Johnson, who introduced the change, said the requirement sometimes proved to be a burden for businesses. He said restrooms not limited to a particular gender allows for more flexibility for families and an option for transgender customers. 

City board clears tax levy hike

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: September 17, 2014 - 5:05 PM

Mayor Betsy Hodges' proposed 2.4 percent property tax levy increase cleared a first hurdle Wednesday, winning the approval of the city's Board of Estimate and Taxation.

The board, which has members from the City Council, Park and Recreation Board, along with Minneapolis residents, considers changes to the levy before they are forwarded on to the council for approval. Hodges' plan calls for the tax levy to bring in an additional $6.7 million, for a total of $288 million.

Most of that money would be spent on debt payments for a stepped-up street repair program implemented by former Mayor R.T. Rybak. The impact of the levy increase will vary; an analysis presented to the board showed about 57 percent of properties will end up with a smaller tax bill, while 43 percent will pay more.

"More than half of this proposed increase is simply to account for inflation," Hodges said in a statement. "Even with this modest increase, half of Minneapolis' residential properties will see no increase -- or will even see a decrease -- in the City portion of their property taxes."

Phillips apartment stymies developers

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: September 11, 2014 - 5:48 PM

It looks handsome on the outside, but let developers into the onetime luxury apartment building at 628 E. Franklin Av, and they shy away from taking on this rehab project.

The job of making the gutted 1904 building habitable again for the first time in 18 years attracted only one offer when the city asked developers for proposals.  That offer will likely be rejected because it doesn't meet the city's financial terms, according to Cherie Shoquist, a city project coordinator.

But she said the city hasn't given up hope for bringing the hard-luck building it owns back to life, although she was surprised there wasn't more interest.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful building that we thought the time was right for," she said.

One reason she's still optimistic is that one contractor might have bid on the project but for a cash-flow crunch caused by a delay in closing on the sale of a duplex he's selling. Charlie Browning said he's not surprised others shied away.

“There’s not a whole lot of people like myself that are ambitious about restoration work," he said. "When you walk in there and see a few dead pigeons and a dead hawk and you don’t have a vision.it's a little intimidating.”

The structure was built as luxury apartments, but has fallen since on hard times. It sits not far from the 5th Avenue S. freeway entrance, between the major commuting routes of Portland and Park avenues.

The city in essence bought the building in 2012 from the Sabri family trust after Azzam Sabri, the building’s most recent owner, died of cancer in 2011. The purchase went through the Twin Cities Community Land Bank as an intermediary. Sabri got the building after a court fight with previous owner Jason Geschwind, to whom he provided financing.

The development agency insisted that he follow through with Geschwind’s commitment to create condos. Sabri wanted to switch to commercial reuse, but ignored the city’s requests for details on financing, marketing and other specifics.

'Woonerf' may be headed to W. 29th Street

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: September 11, 2014 - 5:07 PM

It's looking like W. 29th Street may look considerably different in Uptown if the city can find added money to make that happen. 

Council Member Lisa Bender has focused attention on a potholed six-block section of the side street one block north of Lake Street, and the city has $750,000 set aside in 2016 to start work.

But the design liked best by area residents likely could cost closer to $2 million.

That's because the top option among about 30 people attending a presentation of design alternatives was a woonerf. That's a traffic-calming street, popular in parts of Europe, that uses street obstacles such as curbing, planters or throating to discourage and slow traffic. They're considered pedestrian-friendly.

Creating a one-way street without parking got almost no support, but there was more liking for a one-way with parking, especially in the westernmost blocks of 29th west of Colfax Avenue. But the woonerf option got the biggest support, especially if it encourages active street life.

Creating a woonerf will involve more curbing than other options, plus outlays for other appurtenances to slow traffic.  One option discussed was flexible use of the street in which obstacles like planters could be rolled in during period when activities such as a farmers' market or street fair are planned, but also be moved to allow more car access.  

But creation of more amenities will also require more money and neighborhood buy-in to help program the space, cautioned Don Pflaum, a transportation planner.  That could entail seeking outside grants for alternative transportation projects. Lighting and curbs would be assessed.

Bender said the design preference of the crowd reinforces the area's interest in a flexible street.  "Now we have to figure out how to make that happen," she added.

The section under discussion exempts the block between Dupont and Emerson avenues because that's been vacated for use by the Cub grocery store.

(Photo above: One example of a woonerf in Trondheim, Norway.)

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Improvement plan set for W. Broadway

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: September 10, 2014 - 4:25 PM

Regular litter and graffiti cleanup, new banners and holiday decorations are among the improvements in store for W. Broadway, under a plan approved by Minneapolis officials this week.

A council committee gave its OK to the plan from the newly created West Broadway Improvement District, which will collect funds from a special assessment paid by property owners in the area. It's expected to generate nearly $104,000 next year. The West Broadway Business and Area Coalition will chip in another $31,644 for the effort. 

Business owners will get a chance to give the assessment a thumbs up or down before it becomes final, but officials say most appear to be supportive of the plans.

"We’ve had very very little dissension on this at all," said Jackie Cherryhomes, president of the WBC's board of directors. "Everybody has been really receptive, thinking it's a really good idea."

Council Member Blong Yang said boosting the area's status as a hub for business is crucial to the overall development of north Minneapolis. 

While Yang noted that the money collected with the assessment is "not going to make that huge of a dent," he said it's an important step in the process.

"It's certainly better than zero," he said. 

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