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Posts about Politics and government

Treehouse's fate up to zoning board

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: September 10, 2014 - 3:23 PM

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.

Treehouse

Hillcrest closes on former school HQ

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: September 9, 2014 - 5:00 PM

Hillcrest Development closed its long-awaited purchase of the former Minneapolis schools headquarters for  $4.05 million Monday.

"Work started today," Scott Tankenoff, managing partner for the development company, said Tuesday.  "We've been waiting to purchase this building for a really, really long time."

Tankenoff said that the building's 165,000 square feet would be converted to office space, with an expected emphasis on creative occupations such as photography or graphic design studios.  He said he expected initial tenants to move in early in 2015.

The Logan Park neighborhood emphasized using the landmark brick complex at 807 Broadway St. NE in a way that creates new jobs.

“It’s in a neighborhood that we have a very large investment in in northeast Minneapaolis," Tankenoff said, noting other nearby building renovations by Hillcrest.  "It’s where our heart is.  It’s in the center of gravity for us.”

Tankenoff said he thinks that the former light bulb factory's brick and timbered interiors will be attractive to tenants.

Hillcrest originally planned to close by the end of 2103, but a title issue delayed that.

The money from the sale will be used by the school district to help pay for the $41.,7 million new headquarters at 1250 Broadway that the district occupied two years ago.  Hillcrst was chosen from a field of seven developers that put forward proposals for the property. 

Mpls slipping in top bike city rankings

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: September 4, 2014 - 5:57 PM

Minneapolis is losing its traction among the nation's top bicycling cities, according to the latest biennial ranking from Bicycling magazine.

Minneapolis topped the magazine's list of the 50 most cycling-friendly cities in 2010, shocking the biking world by ranking ahead of biking mecca Portland, Ore. Then it slipped to second behind Portland in 2012.

The latest ranking released this week put Minneapolis at third. We're ahead of Portland (No. 4) but New York and Chicago vaulted ahead of both cities to claim Nos. 1 and 2 respectively.

St. Paul? Try No. 40.

The rankings are following after an analysis of census data and information collected about bike infrastructure by cycling advocacy groups. But there's an emphasis what's happened recently that may work against Minneapolis.

It's been late to the parade on implementing protected bike lanes, the hottest new technique for trying to persuade people to ride instead of drive. New York and Chicago jumped to the top of the list after recently adding miles of such lanes -- in which something more substantial than painted lines separate bikes from drivers.

But the city now has a goal of 30 miles of protected lanes by 2020, with plans to build them yet this fall on W. 36th Street, and possible additions next year on 26th Avenue N. and E. 26th and 28th Streets.  Hennepin County will add them next year on a short stretch of Washington Avenue. Mayor Betsy Hodges recently proposed spending $750,000 next year on protected lanes.

Minneapolis has drawn bike world attention for the Midtown Greenway and Cedar Lake Trail, and was an early adopter of bike-sharing. A federal pilot project pumped millions of dollars into the Twin Cities for pedestrian and biking projects into the city, but that money has largely been spent. And in the magazine's rankings, painted bike lanes are oh so 2012.

The magazine's ratings seem intended to makes sure that biking cities don't rest on their laurels, said Hilary Reeves, spokeswoman for Transit for Livable Communities, which administered the pilot project in the Twin Cities.    

Reopening W. River Parkway could take much of 2015

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 29, 2014 - 6:48 PM

The closure of W. River Parkway near the University of Minnesota is likely to continue well into next year, according to a recommendation made Friday as heavy rain pelted down on the same unstable hillside that collapsed two months earlier.

The recommendation to hire an engineering consultant to oversee a permanent repair notes that the firm, Barr Engineering, is urging that no construction occur in the winter months when fluctuating temperatures will send groundwater in the hillside through a freeze-thaw cycle. A Park Board staff memo said that construction to repair the hillside would most likely start in spring.

The proposed contract for up to $640,000 with Barr goes before park commissioners for a vote on Wednesday. That covers further investigation into the conditions at the collapse site, designing a repair, and overseeing construction.

The total cost of dealing with the collapse, including construction, is estimated at about $6 million, according to Bruce Chamberlain, an assistant parks superintendent. Chamberlain said the Park Board would likely pay about three-quarters of the cost, with Fairview-University Medical Center covering the rest. Park officials said they are planning on federal disaster aid flowing from the heavy June rains eventually  reimbursing 75 percent of the project's cost, and hope that the state legislature will cover the balance.

The June 19 hillside collapse closed the parkway near S. 4th Street, blocking use of the parkway by an estimated 6,900 vehicles and almost 1,000 bikers a day, according to the staff memo. Although temporary measures have been installed, Chamberlain said park officials have decided not to reopen the parkway until they're confident it is stable enough not to collapse again.

"I'm going to head down there right now and see what we've got," Chamberlain said after heavy late afternoon rain on Friday.

The temorary measures include an impervious fabric to shield the hillside from the impact of further rain, and the diversion of storm water that flows from the hospital area away from the hill.    

Protected bike lanes in both 26/28th concepts

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 28, 2014 - 3:19 PM

Minneapolis stands a good bet to get its lengthiest protected bike lane by far with both concept designs unveiled for a paired set of one-way crosstown streets proposing physically separated lanes between cars and bikes.

The designs for next year’s planned repaving of E. 26th and 28th Streets differ mainly in whether each street gets a one-way protected bike lane or whether a two-way lane is installed on 26th. Both rely on drivers giving up one of their current lanes.

The designs presented to the community Wednesday night are intended to slow speeders and to better protect people on foot and bikes.  Bikers now largely eschew the twin streets in favor of the Midtown Greenway and residential streets, according to traffic counts.

“These streets are dangerous and we need safety improvements immediately,” said Council Member Alondra Cano, who represents the area slated to see repaving next year. A four-year-old pedestrian was  killed by a car along 26th near Stewart Park two years ago at twilight.

The initial work next year would happen between Interstate 35W and Hiawatha Avenue. But it’s likely to influence any future repaving of the twin one-way streets as far west as Hennepin Avenue, according to transportation planners.

Protected bike lanes use curbs, metal bollards, parked cars, plastic pipes or planters to separate driving and biking lanes. They're the third generation of on-road bike lanes to be introduced in Minneapolis after the initial narrow painted lanes, and later buffered painted lanes about the width of a car lane.

The city’s first protected bike lane is a mere six blocks along 1st Avenue. N. downtown. Construction of a two-way set of protected lanes is expected any week now on an eight-block section of W. 36th St. east of Lake Calhoun. But the work on 26th and 28th would encompass more than 20 blocks.

The potential protected lanes on 26th and 28th are still some distance from a certainty.  Jon Wertjes, the city’s traffic director, said the next step is to factor in public feedback on the alternatives and put them through analysis of their impact on motorized traffic and cost.

Then things get political, since the City Council ultimately would approve layout changes, as well approve outside funding that Wertjes said would be necessary to pay the cost of bike lanes that are much costlier than extra-wide painted lanes, such as those installed when Portland and Park avenues were narrowed to two traffic lanes.

The city has earmarked $400,000 in 2015 to make biking or pedestrian improvements on the two streets when it strips a layer of old asphalt and repaves 26th while adding a thin layer of tar and rock chips to resurface 28th. Among the potential improvements for people on foot are intersection bumpouts to reduce the time and distance needed to cross the streets, and concrete islands to give them a refuge partway across a street.

But it’s the proposed reduction in the number of lanes that’s likely to provoke a backlash from some drivers.  Wertjes acknowledged that people who like to drive at more than the posted speed limit of 30 miles an hour “are going to be sorely disappointed” by the design concepts.

If a protected bike lane is added to each street, they would shrink in the Hiawatha-35W section from three continuous traffic lanes to two lanes, although a third lane would be available for intermittent stretches, subject to turn lane and parking needs. That’s also true on 26th if a two-way bike lane was added there, but 28th would maintain its current number of lanes under that scenario.

“This has a variety of positive impacts,” said Jose Luis Villasenor, who lives between 26th and 28th in the Phillips community. He said he hesitates to bike on the two streets with his three boys in a trailer and child seat. He said the proposed designs make the streets safer and promote biking among the area’s minority residents.

Why does 26th get the two-way bike lanes in that proposal?  Wertjes said one factor is that 26th serves some major destinations, including a medical complex and Wells Fargo’s operations in the old Honeywell campus. Another is that 26th is farther than 28th from another major biking facility, the Midtown Greenway.The city is also studying the feasibility of adding protected bike lanes on E. 24th St. or Franklin Avenue.

But the proposed design that installs two-way bike lanes on 26th was found lacking by Ethan Fawley executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, who said 28th should get at least a bike lane. Some bikers attending the open house said they’d like to see a more substantial barrier between cars and bikes than the lightweight plastic tubes the city has used in some spots. Wertjes said that the type of separation haven't been determined.

In the project's web site, comments favoring protecting bike lanes appeared to draw substantially more support than those from people opposing a lane reduction.

(Photos: Above -- the city's first protected bike lane on 1st Avenue N used parked cars to shield bikers; Right -- Another protected lane on the Plymouth Avenue Bridge uses liught plastic pipes to separate bike and driving lanes.  No decision on type of separation has been made for 26th and 28th streets.

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