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Yonis wanted cash in larger bills, accuser says

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 19, 2014 - 9:53 PM

Soccer promoter Moises Hernandez described former Minneapolis park worker Hashim Yonis as someone who wanted no bills smaller than $20 when paid in cash for renting public soccer fields, but who issued no receipts.
Hernandez said he preferred to pay in cash because he collected $4 apiece from the players in his mostly Latino leagues.  He rented fields at three south Minnepaolis parks. But only Yonis, who rented fields at Currie Park in the Cedar Riverside area, refused to give the receipts Hernandez wanted so that he could chase pickup players off the turf if needed.
Hernandez testified as a key prosecution witness in the second day of the trial of Yonis on a felony theft charge. The Hennepin County attorney’s office alleges Yonis pocketed money for field rentals at Currie that Hernandez gave him in 2013.
The charge is a stunning reversal for the young onetime park and school worker who lost those jobs after the allegations surfaced last year.  He once was taken to the White House by Mayor R.T. Rybak to tout the city’s jobs program for teens in which he participated. He was running for a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board seat when the accusations  emerged.
Hernandez denied that the Park Board forgave him a past due obligation of more than $13,000 in exchange for his statement fingering Yonis. “I never have debt,” Hernandez said through an interpreter. “I paid every week.”

Ira Whitlock, attorney for Yonis, asserted the debt forgiveness in his opening argument, but so far no evidence has been presented to document that. Whitlock sought to undermine the credibility of Hernandez by highlighting inconsistencies in his testimony.
Hernandez admitted he lied when first questioned by a park police investigator, but he said that was only because Yonis urged him to conceal any field rentals before a certain date.  Prosecutor Susan Crumb asserted that was part of an effort by Yonis to conceal taking cash and not remitting it to park authorities.

Mpls. council committee backs tighter e-cigarette rules

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: November 17, 2014 - 3:10 PM

A proposal to ban the use of e-cigarettes in restaurants, offices and other public spaces cleared a Minneapolis City Council committee Monday.

After listening to testimony from nearly two dozen people -- about half in favor of tighter rules, half opposed -- the council's Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee voted 6-0 in support of the regulations. The move follows a recent change in state law banning the devices from schools, hospitals and public university campuses. 

Supporters, including a handful of medical professionals, told council members that e-cigarettes release potentially harmful vapor into the air and serve as a way to get young people hooked on nicotine. Opponents said such claims lack verification and pointed to high numbers of people who have used e-cigarettes to break addictions to traditional tobacco products.

The issue will now go to the full council for a vote.

CPED releases more on UHT TIF proposal

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 6, 2014 - 5:56 PM

Minneapolis development officials have released additional details on a potential legislative proposal they're pitching for easing restrictions on tax-increment financing to assist redevelopment at the Upper Harbor Terminal.

Tax-increment financing allows a city to use additional taxes generated by a development to pay for public improvements associated with preparing the site for that development. The 48-acre terminal shuts down at the end of the year, and riverfront plans for the area call for a business park with a fringe of riverside park. It's the first major site -- and likely the largest -- for carrying out a landmark 1999 plan for revamping the upper river. 

The Department of Community Planning and Economic Development's ideas for special legislation are intended to loosen time frames and cross-subsidy restrictions. That would make  use of the financing tool more feasible as the redevelopment unfolds over an undetermined period, The department offered its proposals at a Thursday afternoon meeting of the City Council's Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

The public investments at the terminal are expected to include clearing the site, building new streets and relocating utilities, moving an overhead high-voltage line and building a parkway and trails. The city estimated that would cost $10 million, but Park Board construction of a parkway and associaed parks would be on top of that.

Some of that money is expected to come from grants and selling land, but the city said in its Power Point presentation that tax-increment revenue "could be an important tool."


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.


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