Prime parking spots outside a handful of Minneapolis business have been transformed into tiny, portable public parks -- complete with tables, chairs and plants.
The city's first three "parklets" made their official debut Tuesday, as three council members checked out purple tables and chairs parked in front of Juxtaposition Arts and Urban Homeworks at 2007 Emerson Ave. N.
Council Member Lisa Bender said the city's goal is to create places along commercial stretches where people feel comfortable gathering and chatting with their neighbors. The spaces are hosted by businesses, but open to the public. Other cities, including San Francisco and New York, have installed dozens of them.
"Parklets are a really simple, but extraordinary way to transform public space," Bender said.
Minneapolis' other parklets are located at 212 Third Ave. N., hosted by Martin Patrick 3 and Transwestern, at the Colonial Warehouse, and at 2451 Nicollet Ave. S., in front of Spyhouse Coffee. They'll remain on the streets through October, packed up for winter, and reassembled in the spring.
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.
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.)
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.
The city says a Lowry Hill neighborhood boy's tree house that overhangs a neighbor's yard must go, but his father is appealing the directive to an obscure city zoning board.
Zoning Administrator Steve Poor has determined that the tree house exceeds the allowable height for an accessory structure and is too close to the lot boundary at 1812 Emerson Av. S.
The Board of Adjustment will hear an appeal on Thursday by homeowner Clement Pryke on his son's behalf. The matter arose when a neighbor filed a complaint two years ago shortly after the tree house was built. Pryke submitted a save-the-tree house petition signed by 13 other neighbors.
According to the appeal, which cost $449.78 to file, teenager Daniel Pryke had wanted a tree house when he lived in Chicago, but his home there lacked a big enough tree and his father was tied up remodeling a house there.
But when the Prykes moved to Minneapolis, Daniel said in a letter accompanying the appeal, he renewed his request. This time, he said, his father consented and in 2012 devised a "cunning plan" to span the space between two trunks of a multi-trunked box elder tree. It's the only tree on the property suitable for a tree house.
The elder Pryke contends that the tree house is a high-quality structure made out of cedar, and said it will be taken down when Daniel leaves for college in 2019. Daniel said he and friends have spent the night in the tree house several times without issues.
"It has years of fun left in it and I would really like love it if it didn't have to be taken down right now," Daniel said in a hand-printed letter to the city.
Tree houses don't require a building permit, and aren't explicitly referenced in the city's zoning code. but Poor determined that they are substantially the same as a playhouse, which is treated as a structure ancillary to the dwelling. The height of such structures is generally limited to 12 feet, but can go up to 16 feet in certain circumstances, according to a staff report.
The city measured the height of the tree house at 22 feet, and said that even under a variance the height would need to be 18 feet. However, Clement Pryke contends that the tree house height should be measured from its base in the trees rather than from the ground. Poor said that would set a bad precedent that could lead to even loftier tree houses.
One big problem for the Prykes is that new city measurements made this week found that the tree house extends 15 inches over the adjoining property line. City zoning requires a five-foot setback. The city also measured the tree house at a mere 10-1/2 feet from the neighbor's house. It looks into a bedroom window.
The elder Pryke acknowledged that that's close to the neighbor but said the house is used in the summer when leaves screen the view. However, photos show that the front-yard tree is sparsely leafed at the tree house's height.
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