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Judge rules for city in Uptown groundwater pumping case

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 6, 2014 - 6:47 AM

A judge has ruled that the controversial pumping of groundwater from the underground parking area of an upscale Uptown apartment building into city sewers and a nearby lagoon violates Minneapolis ordinances and constitutes trespass.

Hennepin County District Judge Philip D. Bush ruled Wednesday in a lawsuit brought last winter by the city of Minneapolis against apartment owner Lake and Knox LLC. over its pumping into nearby sewers and waters of millions of gallons a year of groundwater that would otherwise seep into the building’s lower garage. The 56-unit building at 1800 W. Lake St. stirred debate in 2009 over the appropriate height for buildings in the area.

Bush’s order said he’ll set a hearing within 30 days on the city’s request that he issue an injunction banning the pumping into sewers and the lagoon between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles.

He indicated he’ll issue a separate order later on the city’s claim that a civil penalty of $1,000 per day should be levied for the unpermitted discharge into the sewers. The city also claims more than $130,000 in expenses for responding to the issue, including installing winter piping to direct the water out of the lagoon and into Calhoun.

“We’re extremely pleased,” City Attorney Susan Segal said in reaction. “This has been a very frustrating and time-consuming problem for the city to deal with.” Representatives of the building’s ownership couldn’t be reached for comment. The city’s filings identified them as developers Nick Walton and Daniel Oberpriller, who brought in other investors.

Lake and Knox has also brought claims against BKV Group, RLK Inc. and Braun Intertec, which it said provided engineering or geotechnical services for the project. A separate jury trail would determine how to apportion liability among them.

Bush granted a motion for summary judgment brought by the city that argued that the pumping of groundwater constituted an unpermitted discharge of water into storm sewers that violates city ordinances. The city granted the developers a temporary permit to pump groundwater during construction of parking levels that were installed below the water table. But it argued that permit ended when construction did and that no permit for permanent pumping was obtained.

He also granted the city argument that the pumping constitutes a public nuisance under city ordinance. The city alleged that the pumping impeded the effectiveness of city storm drains, and impairs the Chain of Lakes by adding to their algae-feeding load of phosphorus. Bush also granted a city argument that the discharge constitutes a trespass of city sewers.

The city has portrayed the owners in court filings as proceeding with a two-level underground garage despite evidence that the lower level would sit below the area’s water table.

The city has estimated in its arguments that the discharge amounts to 90 million gallons annually. That discharge into the lagoon has thinned the nearby ice in winter, endangering cross-country skiers and others, according to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which joined the city in the lawsuit. The city and Park Board allege that the drainage mars the lakes scenery and hinders maintenance of a sewer grit chamber intended to remove sediment and accompanying pollutants.

The city alleged that the developers were told repeatedly that they needed to apply for a permit to discharge into sewers after construction. “They knew exactly what they were doing,” said Brian Rice, an attorney for the Park Board. “The sign is red, they know there’s a stop sign, and they’re driving through the stop sign at 30 miles per hour.”

Dan McLaughlin, president of the East Isles Residents Association, said area residents want pumping ended. “We look forward to the final solution for the problem they created,” he said.

Lara Norkus-Crampton, a Calhoun area resident, praised the city and Park Board for working together to preserve the lakes area ecosystem.  “It only takes one rogue developer to make a bigger impact than any of us could create,” she said. Norkus-Crampton resigned from the Planning Commission in 2009 over the commission granting variances and other approvals for the apartment that she felt violated the Uptown small area plan.


Construction costs delay another park project

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 3, 2014 - 5:01 PM

The good news is that the they got five bids.  But the bad news is that Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board staff had to reject all of them recently because they were far over the estimated cost and budget.

So you can add Triangle Park play area near the southwest corner of Lake Nokomis to the list of metro-area park projects delayed by the overheated construction market in the Twin Cities area. The lowest bid came in 39 percent over the $414,000 estimated cost of the work, according to Adam Arvidson, project manager.

It's just the latest casualty of the torrid construction market that has wreaked havoc with a variety of civic projects ranging from parks to streets, as detailed in a recent Star Tribune article.

The difficulty in attracting favorable bids has been attributed to several large construction projects such as the new Vikings and Saints stadia and the mall of American expansion, a crush of projects deferred from the recession, a shortage of construction workers, and a shortage of cement.

Park officials hope to rebid the project in January, when more workers are idle and contractors are lining up work for the 2015 season. The work involves replacing substandard playground equipment for tots. The Metro Council-funded project is the first wave in a larger renovation of Nokomis-Hiawatha Regional Park planned over the next two and one-half years.

But it's far from the only parks project affected by the poor bidding situation. Some work has been pushed back for another round of bidding, while other projects have been pared in scope, according to Cliff Swenson, a manager of design for park projects.

Swenson offered other examples. Park officials a few months ago pulled back from bidding a project for trail work on Ridgeway Parkway based on contacts with bidders. Trail work at Bryn Mawr Meadows came in high all three times it was bid, so the scope of work was trimmed.  Knowing the bidding climate, park officials trimmed the scope of the work for renovating W. River Parkway trails based on priorities set by an advisory committee.

Swenson said that constractors may shy away because of the Park Board's participation in civil rights efforts that set goals for using women-owned and minority-owned subcontractors and hiring minority workers.

Swenson said the Park Board is trying to sharpen competition among contractors by contacting them to encourage them to bid, especially if it's work the contractor has handled before.

"We really have to do a good job of selling a project," he said.

New uses for the city's upper river

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: October 13, 2014 - 9:58 AM

The Park Board in August took public comment on its plans for a Marshall St. NE property it bought on the Mississippi riverside, which includes a warehouse.

MPLS couldn't help but wonder if the Park Board was contemplating a new revenue source for its cash-strapped parks when the following summary of a citizen comment appeared in the board's minutes, presumably as a typographical error: 

"Shannon Weed, 60 Logan Parkway, asked how a storage whorehouse in the proposed location would support the above the falls plan."

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. 

Cookie Cart debuts bakery upgrade

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: September 18, 2014 - 5:55 PM

Police Chief Janeé Harteau, Council Member Barb Johnson, Hennepin County Commissioner Linda Higgins, Cookie Cart executive director Matt Halley, Cookie Cart employee Keondre Jordan and Mayor Betsy Hodges cut the ribbon at the grand re-opening of the Cookie Cart at 1119 W. Broadway Ave.  

A north Minneapolis bakery that aims to help develop teenagers' business skills unveiled a new, upgraded space Thursday -- and the news that it plans to put more young people to work. 

Cookie Cart, located at 1119 W. Broadway Ave., had been closed for several months as workers installed new equipment, built a cafe seating area and fixed the building's elevator. The business' re-opening was marked with a speech from Mayor Betsty Hodges, an open-house tour of the facility, and free cookies for the local dignitaries and neighbors who packed the bakery's ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Matt Halley, the Cookie Cart's executive director, said the revamped space will allow the organization to employ 200 teenagers. That's up about 50 young employees from last fall. 

"This bakery is really our classroom," he said. "It's where we teach life, leadership and employment skills."

Mayor Betsy Hodges proclaimed Sept. 18 as "Cookie Cart Day" in the city, and encouraged people to order the business' sweet treats to take to their own offices. 

"This is one of the leading social enterprises in the city of Minneapolis," she said. 

Keondre Jordan, a 16-year-old Cookie Cart employee, said he's been working in the bakery for two years. Once he got over the a few hurdles -- scooping out the cookie dough turns out to be tougher than it looks, he said --  the job made him think differently about what he could do after high school.

Before he showed up at the bakery, Keondre didn't think he'd go to college. Now, he's more certain it's something he could do.

"It's not just about selling cookies here," he said.


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