The ice is nothing but slush now, but Phil Malkerson’s fight with Minneapolis City Hall over his front-yard hockey rink isn’t going away just yet.
Malkerson put the winter rink in the front yard of his corner lot in the Lynnhurst neighborhood because it wouldn’t fit among the towering oak trees in his backyard. But just as the skating season began, city officials informed him that it was over — at least in his front yard.
After a neighbor complained, city officials informed Malkerson that the rink was too close to his lot line and had to come down, or he’d need a variance from the required 25-foot setback.
Malkerson kept the rink up and will appeal next week to the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to appeal for a variance that would allow the seasonal rink to go up 4 feet from the lot line.
“We just want to give our kids an option to get outside during the long cold winter months and expend some of that energy that we all know kids build up,” said Malkerson, who lives on the corner of Dupont Avenue S. and W. 47th St. “The intended use was for our kids and the neighbor kids to enjoy themselves.”
He said he didn’t think a front-yard rink would be a problem because there are others in the Lynnhurst neighborhood, including some that extend to the sidewalk. According to city officials, Malkerson’s rink is 12 feet from one sidewalk and 9 feet from the other.
Rob and Carol Salmon, empty nesters after raising three children, live across the street from the Malkersons and say the rink and its unpainted boards are an eyesore.
“This is nothing personal against the Malkersons,” Rob Salmon said. “It’s just that I have to look at something that looks like a construction site six months out of the year.”
For Salmon, the rink is a violation of zoning codes that exist to preserve the integrity and aesthetics of a neighborhood.
“I don’t want this pitted as neighbor against neighbor,” he said. “It’s just that there are community standards embodied in the zoning code, and this falls outside of what’s allowed.”
He and his wife wouldn’t object if the rink was in the backyard. “We’re all for kids playing in the neighborhood,” Carol Salmon said.
Other than the Salmons, Malkerson isn’t aware of opposition. He collected more than 50 signatures from neighbors in a four-block radius who said they support the rink. As he and his 9-year-old son collected signatures, only three people had no opinion.
He turned the signatures into the Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association, which typically provides neighborhood input to city officials on zoning issues.
“Our role is not to advocate for one neighbor over another,” said Mike O’Brien, zoning chairman for the neighborhood association. “We’re here to provide a forum to make sure everyone’s voices are heard.”
The dispute is the first of its kind in the 18 years O’Brien has served on the association’s board. “It’s unique because it’s not a permanent structure,” he said. “It’s up for a few months, and then it’s put in the garage.”
O’Brien, who lives two blocks from the rink, said he personally favors it. “The neighborhood is full of kids and they love it,” he said, noting he hasn’t talked to anyone who doesn’t like it. But if someone objects, they have a right to be heard, he added.
As required by the city, Malkerson stapled orange public notices on the hockey boards to let people know that a variance has been requested and a zoning hearing is scheduled at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
The city’s planning staff has recommended that the variance be denied. “Front yards, specifically, are intended to present a consistent street front and to protect the use and enjoyment of neighboring front yards,” the staff report states. “The ice rink is significantly closer to the front lot line than anything else on the block, with the exception of landscaping, which is not regulated by the zoning code.”
The report points out that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board operates a public ice rink at Lynnhurst Park, less than a mile away from Malkerson’s home.
Malkerson said he doesn’t always have time to accompany his children — ages 9, 7 and 4 — to the park and doesn’t think it’s safe to send them alone until they’re older. Within a few years, the home rink likely will have outlived its usefulness because his kids may prefer a larger sheet of ice at the park, he said.
For now, neighbors Rick and Sandra Onsrud enjoy seeing the kids flock to the Malkersons’ rink.
Sandra Onsrud said she sometimes sits by her window to watch the kids play and cheers behind the glass. “I like hearing kids. … They’re there having fun and not causing trouble. ”