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Posts about Neighborhood nuisances

Highway 5 rumble strips have Victoria, MN residents grumbling

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: June 17, 2013 - 11:55 AM
Ron Featherston talks about the rumble strips recently installed on Hwy. 5 in Victoria, Minn.

Ron Featherston talks about the rumble strips recently installed on Hwy. 5 in Victoria, Minn.

On Sunday Whistleblower wrote about a neighborhood having to deal with a new noise: Rumble strips installed on a nearby highway. To join the discussion go to the original article or post below.
 
The Victoria man sat in a lawn chair in his driveway, counting. WHAP! One. WHAP! Two. An hour later he had a tally of how many times motorists on nearby Hwy. 5 had passed over the rumble strip installed on the center line last year as a tool to enhance highway safety.
 
Extrapolating, Ron Featherston estimates that he and his neighbors are audibly reminded of Hwy. 5’s existence about 240 to 300 times a day. A decibel meter placed in one back yard spiked to twice the level of normal highway noise at times, Featherston said.
 
The noise produced when a car passes over the strip interrupts nearby residents’ sleep, ruins back-yard activities and has “at least one family ... preparing to sell their home because of the never-ending barrage,” Featherston said.
 
The neighbors are now fighting to have the noisemakers removed.
 
The strips were installed during a 20-mile-long Hwy. 5 resurfacing project. They are part of a mandate to install centerline rumble strips on all rural, undivided 55-mile-per-hour state highways as they are built or worked on. Roads of this type see more than their share of serious cross-the-centerline crashes that result in deaths or serious injuries, a MnDOT memo stated, and the strips are meant to alert motorists who may be straying.
 
On Hwy. 5 between Chanhassen and Norwood Young America, 20 miles of which were resurfaced last year, there were 1.6 crashes per million vehicle miles traveled between 2001 and 2005, slightly higher than the state average of 1.3 for the same type of road.
 
Safety was the buzzword in the run-up to the project. MnDOT held meetings with county and city officials and stressed safety goals.
 
“Our highest priority is public safety,” said the mayor of Victoria, Tom O’Connor who, in the position of councilman last year, voted for the rumble strips when MnDOT asked for the council’s input. “Considering the safety considerations it seemed like the right decision.”
 
But if you drill down to the neighborhood level, the segment of highway that slides past Featherston’s neighborhood has fewer crashes than the rest of the stretch. In a five-year period there were two head-on collisions and one sideswipe involving vehicles going in opposite directions. Featherston said he believes one of those involved a drunken driver. “A rumble strip is not going to sober somebody up,” he said.
 
A federal report cites a study that found that when rumble strips end more than 650 feet short of a residential area, noise levels are tolerable.
 
Taken by surprise
At just about the time road resurfacing began in earnest in late May 2012, Cara Geheren, an engineer under contract by the city to review construction issues, sent a letter to residents mentioning various aspects of the project, including rumble strips. The city conducted a number of meetings.
 
“But there were so many details associated with the project that I don’t think rumbles ever came to the forefront. People were so concerned about the fact that the highway was going to be closed for such a long period of time,” Geheren said.
 
In a council meeting two months later, when Geheren gave a project update, the council debated rumble strips and voted to approve them despite the engineer’s recommendation that they don’t.
 
During the discussion, Geheren mentioned a handful of reasons for not giving rumbles a thumbs up: Past crashes may not have been deterred by a center strip, there were at least 40 residential properties that back up to the highway, likely making that segment urban and not under MnDOT’s mandate, and the road curves at that point.
 
“When you’re coming around a curve, cars can drift a little bit, not because they’re being careless, but just because they’re on a curve,” Geheren told Whistleblower on Friday.
 
In a later meeting, Featherston’s neighbor Brad Johnson complained to the council that residents were not given an opportunity to be heard before the vote.
 
Geheren set up a meeting for Monday. MnDOT will present its results from a rumble frequency study it conducted and will “solicit input,” according to a letter to residents. The study showed that the rumble strips are driven over as often as six times per hour.
 
The input will be presented to the council later this month and the council will make one of four recommendations to the state. “If the City Council tells us that the [strips] need to be removed, then we’ll probably remove them,” said Kevin Gutknecht, communications director for MnDOT.
 
“I didn’t appreciate how vehement the outcry was going to be,” O’Connor said, but he worries about removing the strips and having a subsequent crash. “That’s my worst nightmare.”
 
For his part, Featherston is happy to know that his concerns will be heard.
 

Garage is eyesore no more

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: December 4, 2012 - 4:26 PM

Whistleblower recently wrote about a garage in north Minneapolis that has been a thorn in the side of neighbors for years. Over time the structure went from barely passable to almost pass-throughable - thanks to a hole in the side.

Neighbors tried to talk with those living at 2901 Dupont Av. N. about the problem and made repeated calls to the city. The city, for its part, sent out inspectors and issued citations and fines. Most citations went unaddressed and fines went unpaid, though the homeowner did correct some violations by cutting tall grass and picking up trash.

But the garage was never repaired, even after a car smashed into it a couple years ago and a thief earlier this year used a truck to yank a motorcycle through a hole in a side wall, sending studs and siding flying. Short of imminent hazards, the city said it can't repair or tear down privately-owned structures without owners' permission.

Officials recently obtained permission to tear down the parts of the garage that hadn't yet succumbed to gravity or vandalism, and by 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, a contractor had wiped all record of the structure off the face of the block. It's unclear whether hazmat suits were required for removal of the knee-high debris festering inside.

"We’re very excited," neighbor Mary Rice said about the end results. "The first thing I did was I went across the street and told Pastor Dale [at St. Olaf Lutheran Church] and he thought that was great. ... Then I just sent a little blurb to [council member] Diane Hofstede saying 'Garage is down, hallelujah.'"

Mary quickly transitioned from elation to reality. "Here’s the thing though," she said. "You see it took four years. Every time we do something around here it takes three and four years. But we persist. And we finally get it done, but it takes so long. This time I know it was calling the mayor and calling you. That’s what did it. Because it wouldn’t have happened otherwise."
Garage BEFORE, with neighbor Mary Rice

Garage BEFORE, with neighbor Mary Rice

 

Garage AFTER

Garage AFTER

 

Fines accrue, but north Minneapolis garage remains an eyesore

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: November 26, 2012 - 10:36 AM
On Sunday, Whistleblower wrote about a garage in disrepair and the city's response to neighbor's complaints. To see a photo of the garage and to see comments added to the originally-posted article, click here.
Mary Rice and her north Minneapolis neighbors have watched the garage at 2901 Dupont Av. N. deteriorate into a ramshackle eyesore over the past four years.
A car crashed into it awhile back, tearing a hole in a wall big enough for an adult to pass through. The hole was never repaired.
Transients found shelter in the Hawthorne neighborhood garage. Children used the refuse-filled interior as a playhouse. Drunks staggered in and pot smoke wafted out.
The ultimate indignity occurred in early 2012 when a thief hooked a chain from his truck to a motorcycle inside the garage. He then yanked the motorcycle through the side wall, ripping out studs in the process and sending debris flying.
Rice and others on the block repeatedly lodged complaints with city regulators but the garage remained unrepaired.
"It's mind-boggling to me how this could be allowed to go on for so long," said neighbor Jeff Larson.
On Tuesday, Third Ward Council Member Diane Hofstede told attendees at a nearby block club meeting that, at long last, the garage may soon be demolished.
Teressa McBeath bought the property in 2003 for $130,000, according to public records. She and a man registered as living at the house could not be reached for comment.
Many city citations ignored
In 2006, the city issued the first of dozens of citations to McBeath for tall grass, weeds, garage maintenance and an assortment of debris in the yard.
A year later, McBeath was put on a special list that allows the city to correct violations and charge the work to her, even before alerting her to the violation, according to Department of Regulatory Services employee Louann Wright. In McBeath's case, contractors only mowed grass and picked up garbage, leaving the garage untouched.
"The city does not make repairs to the property structures, except in emergency cases such as demolitions," city spokesman Matt Lindstrom said.
Despite its gaping hole and missing studs, inspectors determined that the garage didn't meet the criteria for an emergency demolition, according to Lindstrom. Emergency demolitions apply only to unsafe, hazardous or nuisance structures. Without an inspector's ruling, the city needed McBeath's permission to tear it down.
Larson said the city should have demolished or repaired it because it was unsafe. "Kids getting up on the roof [and] going in there. The transients getting in there. [It's] not safe for kids playing around," Larson said.
In December 2009, the city ordered McBeath to repair the garage. In November 2011, the city ordered her to "wreck and remove the garage/shed in a professional manner." Neither order has been met.
In recent months, the city attempted to get hold of McBeath to authorize a demolition, but was unsuccessful until two weeks ago. McBeath agreed to let the city remove the garage. Once she signs a consent form, a city contractor will do the work. The cost of removal will be assessed to her property taxes.
In early 2012, the city's 311 operators told both Rice and Larson to stop calling; The city knew of the problem and the neighbors' complaints would no longer be logged.
"If an existing violation order is open, then a duplicate complaint would not be created," Lindstrom explained.
Response was incorrect
But Hofstede told block club members the response by 311 operators "is absolutely unacceptable." The 311 system records the number of calls made on each issue. "[Calling] is what determines action and resources," Hofstede said.
"[The neighbors] are very engaged as we are asking them to be engaged and we are not able to make it work for some reason," Hofstede said.
Block club attendees blame their location. "The only reason they haven't done anything about it is because of our neighborhood. If it was southwest Minneapolis, it would be taken care of right away," said Dale Hulme, pastor at nearby St. Olaf Lutheran Church.
Owner owes back taxes
"We could have bought a new garage for the amount of time and money [the city has] spent on this," Hofstede said. "Basically, this is a very expensive example of something not working."
Since 2006, McBeath has been fined $16,594.50 for failing to correct violations. Most of that was assessed to her property taxes after she failed to pay, city records show.
Currently, McBeath owes $11,225.56 in back taxes, dating to 2010, according to Ken Rowe, a manager for Hennepin County Taxpayer Services. An additional $4,742.50 in fines for property violations has yet to be added to her taxes.
Hennepin County received a judgment against the property in April 2011. "Unless the delinquent taxes are paid in full before the expiration of the redemption period in the spring of 2014, the parcel will forfeit to the state," Rowe said.
A block club member suggested that with the property razed, three contiguous empty lots would make for an attractive development opportunity.
"Who would build here?" Rice asked the group.
No one had an answer.

Edina car wash riles neighbor

Posted by: Kelly Smith Updated: May 1, 2012 - 9:44 AM

If you missed this week's Whistleblower, here it is. To add to the conversation, go to the original article here.

Whitney Forrest's wake-up call can be heard around the block.

As early as 7 a.m., she says, she's jolted awake by the blast of the seven-jet dryer at the Edina Car Wash one house away from her own. With employees routinely leaving the doors open during car washes, the roar of dryers isn't muted. She also thinks that soap is misting into her yard, covering plants in a white film and making it smell like a "tropical air freshener."

Now she's taking her concerns to the city, pleading for the business to just shut the car wash doors, or build a taller fence or sound wall. The city so far hasn't found any violations of noise limits, but the company acknowledges that it can't operate silently.

"It's a big balancing act with many different concerns," said Steve Caspers, vice president of Murphy Automotive, which owns the car wash at 54th Street and France Avenue South. "We do what we can to be good neighbors."

Caspers said doors need to be open for ventilation in warmer months as employees work inside the car wash. Building a higher fence, like they did at another Edina car wash, costs about $20,000. Even that didn't eliminate the noise, Caspers said.

"It does generate noise and it's a business that's been there for years," he said. "I liken it to moving next to the airport and saying, 'The planes are noisy.'"

But Forrest said the car wash could do more. Forrest, 29, moved into the home at the edge of Edina after her parents bought it in fall 2010. The car wash is one house away, separated by a wooden fence. She soon found out she couldn't lounge out on deck chairs in her back yard without the periodic blast of the car wash dryers.

"It's hard to carry on a conversation after a while," she said. "It's just car after car."

Pat Moran, who lives two houses away from the car wash, is also bothered by the dryer noise.

"You can't sit in your back yard and enjoy your back yard ever," said Moran, who's lived there for seven years. "All they have to do is close their doors for heaven's sake. It just doesn't seem fair we have to put up with it."

Caspers said the car wash has received about three complaints in its 11 years. He said he's never heard complaints about soap mist. "It's some distance. ... I don't know how we'd determine if that's true," he said.

Two other neighbors said they're aware of the dryer noise and complaints but aren't bothered by it.

City spokeswoman Jennifer Bennerotte said the city's health division received a few complaints about Edina Car Wash's late-night gas deliveries in 2007 and 2010, but no violations were found. A noise complaint this month by Forrest's roommate led to an investigation last Thursday by city staff, who determined the decibels were acceptable.

But in Forrest's complaints to the city, she contends the car wash violates city code because it was approved as an accessory car wash, and that can't have a conveyor belt or more than one car inside. Edina Community Development Director Cary Teague said that's not the case and that the City Council approved a plan in 2001 for Edina Car Wash to have up to three cars in the car wash. City documents from the 2001 meeting don't explicitly state that Edina Car Wash is an accessory car wash, but implies it when stating accessory car washes' parking requirements.

Forrest's mother, Arlene Forrest, is on the Edina Planning Commission and said she would contact Teague to try to do something about the car wash noise.

Of Murphy Automotive's four locations, only one other -- Edina's Grandview Tire and Auto -- has had noise complaints. There, noise from tools and dryers spurred complaints several years ago, Caspers said, so the company installed a 20-foot fence. He said the company hasn't discussed doing the same at France Avenue, where a couple hundred cars can pass through the car wash each day.

"It would be our hope and desire to accommodate the neighborhood," he said. "But we feel like we've done as much as we can do."

kelly.smith@startribune.com Twitter: @kellystrib

Railway: E. 35th Street repairs are 'more than adequate'

Posted by: Kelly Smith Updated: April 10, 2012 - 10:52 AM

On Tuesday, Minnesota Commercial Railway issued a statement responding to comments from Minneapolis City Council member Gary Schiff in Sunday's Whistleblower column. Below is their statement in full.

 

Grade Crossing infrastructure improvements and repairs until recent budget cutbacks was largely funded by the federal government , and state and local governments, recognizing that as is the case with 35th Avenue, it’s the vehicular traffic on the road that causes the wear and tear on the grade crossings – not the rail traffic. Budget cutbacks from all these sources have occurred in recent years. The Minnesota Regional Railroad Association and the rail industry along with many Minnesota governmental authorities have been working with the Minnesota Legislature this session to restore sources of funding.

In the case of 35th Avenue, additional road traffic has occurred due to a nearby Hiawatha Light Rail line station plus upgrades and additional added capacity of Hiawatha Avenue (a state roadway), which both were completed a few years ago.

The local councilman’s suggestion that railroads and its customers pay for the crossing is misplaced. Railroads and their customers, where appropriate, have always contributed to grade grossing repairs and upgrades, but because it’s the road traffic which causes wear and tear in almost all cases, governmental authorities also have historically funded these projects. This is particularly appropriate here, where increased road traffic due to Hiawatha Avenue improvements and the Hiawatha Light Rail traffic have caused road traffic increases. Railroad traffic in the area has remained relatively constant.

Contrary to the article, there is no “finger pointing”, all parties involved not only immediately (within 24 hours) participated in repairs to the crossing, but, are actively engaged in working for a longer term solution. The local councilman infers that he has been working to get this crossing upgraded for many years. However, his press conference a few weeks ago plus emails he triggered to our company was the very first time we had been advised of this issue. Normally, such matters are handled by local government representatives internally with the appropriate departments within government, who then approach us to develop a plan. That was not done in this case. In the past several years, and this year as well, our company has and is participating in crossing upgrades not only in Minneapolis, but, also with several other cities we serve in the Metro area – all having been handled in the manner described above.

The repairs which were completed by all parties on an emergency are the best that can be done at present and more than adequate. The councilman seems to think that cement grade crossings are an “off the shelf” item that can be installed in a few days. They are not. These are specially fabricated panels made by specialty manufacturers that first require engineering design and drawings, and then have to be formed in panels with special type hardened cement, and then shipped.(The volumn, weight and speed of vehicular traffic must all be factored in the design for a proper fit) . The lead time for the manufacturing is oftentimes several months or more, as the manufacturers have order backlogs. In the case of 35th Street, with seven tracks, the design is more complicated than a normal one or two track crossing as all these panels have to be designed and fabricated to fit within the existing crossing and track structure. And, in terms of installation, the old crossings and substructure have to be torn out completely and replaced to allow the proper and firm securement of the panels to withstand the constant beating caused by vehicular traffic. And, while a one or two track crossing can oftentimes be completed in a couple of days, this seven track crossing will take much longer, requiring that 35th Street be shut down for perhaps up to two weeks. That’s not as easy as it sounds, as Minnesota DOT will have to approve, arrange detours of traffic in the area to and from Hiawatha Avenue (as it’s a State road artery) and perhaps reprogram traffic control lights in the area while this is being done.
 
Finally, all this has to be scheduled and arranged to be done within the warm weather climates of the area during the road construction season and also has to be scheduled to avoid disruptions of rail service to the customers in the area – to avoid shutdowns of the businesses and layoffs of employees.

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