The disagreement between a north Minneapolis family and Hennepin commissioners pushes the project back at least a year.
The long stalemate blocking construction of a new Webber Park library in north Minneapolis shows no signs of abating.
If anything, the project looks to be on indefinite hold, caught between a family's prerogatives and the wishes of two Hennepin County county commissioners.
Kevin and Valerie Holler this month plan to move into a house they've owned for years at Humboldt and 45th Avenues N., property that comes with an old garage in back they hope to use for business purposes.
It's that house, say county Commissioners Mark Stenglein and Mike Opat, that's standing in the way of the Camden neighborhood getting a larger library fronting a large lawn along Victory Memorial Drive.
The Hollers told the County Board last week that there are at least four other good options for a new library nearby -- two of them county-owned parcels right next door to their house.
"It's an ultimatum by the commission," said Valerie Holler, a science teacher at Patrick Henry High School. "Everyone I talk to says, 'Why can't we put the library on 44th, or where it is in the park?' Those are the same questions I'm asking."
But Stenglein and Opat, who represent the county's northeast districts, are holding firm to their belief that the Hollers' land is necessary to do the project right. Stenglein said they don't want a second-rate job. "Why stick it behind some rental property?" he said.
"A new library is a 50-year decision, so it's more important to have the ideal site," said Opat, who chairs the County Board. "We'll be able to vacate [the Holler property] and put the library on the parkway. If that takes five to 10 years to happen, to me that's worth the wait."
No one knows how long that could be, but Opat clearly believes there won't be a breakthrough anytime soon. A couple of weeks ago, the board approved his amendment pushing back funding for the Webber library for at least a year.
The county has earmarked $12 million for the project, which includes Minneapolis library referendum funds.
The current Webber Park library is in a 4,100-square-foot building that opened in 1980 in its namesake park. The Minneapolis library system closed it in 2007 amid budget troubles, but it reopened after Hennepin County took over the city's libraries. It's open three days a week.
The county developed plans for a new and larger library in 2008, purchasing a vacant Kowalski's grocery on 44th Avenue and two adjacent lots on 45th Avenue with hopes of buying the Hollers' corner lot to complete the site. The family, which had put the property up for sale, decided to hang onto it.
When the County Board decided not to pursue eminent domain, planning for the new library ground to a halt.
The couple, who have a young son Kevin Jr., proposed building the new library at the existing park location, on another park site occupied by a maintenance shed, or at either of the two sites already owned by the county. (Hennepin County has put the Kowalski's site on the market and received inquiries about it, county real estate manager Michael Noonan said.)
According to minutes of a Victory Neighborhood Association meeting held July 27, Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner Jon Olson offered Opat and Stenglein "any spot" in Webber Park for a new library. The park board is planning a $4 million renovation of the park.
Olson could not be reached Friday for comment.
"Clearly there are many, many options for a new Webber Park library that do not involve our property," Kevin Holler Sr., a glass block installer, told the County Board.
Susan Quist, a teacher who has been following the library project for the Camden Community News, said she thinks most people in the community want the library project to move forward. She finds appealing the prospect of the county working with the Minneapolis park board on a potential park site.
"It's an incredibly opportune time to collaborate and get something done," she said.
Opat said he would consider a park site only if the park board gives it to the county. "We've bought a site," he said. "We have an architect and the rest of the parcel. I don't support buying another site or putting it on the existing site."
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455