Sunday, November 30, 2014

Two Housing Buzzwords Minneapolis Staff Should Stop Using

And one word that should be more than a buzzword.

Does the above photo make your head hurt?  Good, we both feel the same way.  But for me, the words of the day are "functionally obsolete" and "demands of the current housing market."  If you hear the words of the day, scream real loud.

These two phrases are bandied about by Minneapolis city staffers when they erroneously believe that housing in our community needs to be demolished instead of rehabbed.  And they should be stricken from any future use on the grounds that they are employed neither objectively nor by people with professional experience in the sale of real estate.  I'd go so far as to say they are redundant as well.

First, what "functional obsolescence" means...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vote Yes Twice on Charter Amendments

Pictured above:  A recent tab that would really throw a restaurant's food/drink ratios off.

Most election years, I like to take a look at some of the more obscure votes at the bottom of the ballot.  It seems like the farther down on the ballot we go, the more direct influence those votes have on our lives.  And yet we tend to be the least informed on these issues, and we give them the least regard.

This year there are two questions at the bottom of the ballot, updating the Minneapolis City Charter.  The second question relates to required ratios for food and liquor sales, and is largely uncontested.  The first updates filing fees for those running for Minneapolis elected office.  That one is more contentious, but I believe it to be among the most important items on the ballot.  I strongly encourage people to vote yes on both.

First up, the food and drink ratios...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Arson and a Complicated Web of Property Transfers with Known Slumlords at 2519 3rd St N

(A number of hyperlinks will be added in the near future, as well as an addiitonal comment or two.  Until this headline is removed, this is a POST IN PROGRESS.)

A little backstory on "Mr. Slummy," aka Mohamed Amro.  Mr. Slummy purchased two adjacent properties several years ago at 2515 and 2519 3rd Street North.  He began to excavate the entire back yard of 2515, even though he had never pulled the proper permits to do so.  The ensuing confrontation between Amro and myself, and its accounts on Johnny Northside, led to the first time I was called "The Hawthorne Hawkman," a moniker I use to this day even after moving on from that neighborhood.

Anyhow, Mr. Slummy had apparent plans to build a vast, multi-unit structure on one parcel, even though the area was zoned for nothing more than 2-unit buildings.  His construction site was notoriously unsafe and shut down by the city multiple times.  Eventually he walked away from 2515 3rd Street North and focused his energies on 2519.  So much so, in fact that his laser-like intensity must have caused an initial fire there.  Given how little work had actually happened, many northsiders speculated that the fire may have been intentional and that were it not for intrepid neighbors calling 911, the house would have burned down and Amro could collect insurance money.

2519 was saved by a quick emergency call and the brave men and women of the Minneapolis Fire Department, and was still very much a salvageable property.  So much so that...

Monday, October 13, 2014

How I Would Save the DEED House (2019 Aldrich Ave N)

First things first, I wouldn't actually save this house.  Although I certainly would support anyone who might step up, there are other homes in need of my attention and this one doesn't have enough going for it to be worth taking away from other preservation efforts.  What follows is more of an exercise in fleshing out ways that such properties could be saved in the future.

By now it's no seret that the Workforce Center currently on Plymouth Avenue is heading north to be the anchor tenant as 800 West Broadway gets brought back to life.  Part of that development means that this house can't be on the lot anymore.  The space will be needed for parking.  In recent years, major developments like this have had the opportunity to save homes by moving them, and failed to do the right thing.  Most notably, I think of the Davis Center (the new Minneapolis Public Schools headquarters).  There were quite a few very stately homes on the 2100 block of Fremont Avenue North, and I was only a budding preservationist at the time.  Even though I go to church across the street, I didn't realize that the homes would be demolished until it was far too late to muster any effort to save them.  To this day I still chafe over that loss.

I want to create an environment over north that basically states to prospective developers:  If you do any kind of big project in our community and there are historic or salvageable properties that aren't going to be there after you're done, the expectation is that you will move instead of demolish these structures. The hypothetical scenario of how to save 2019 Aldrich can help us get there.

The first thing I would do if I were to save this house is...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Can the Jordan Neighborhood Get From 26th Avenue Upgrades?

The contents of this post are not the position of the Jordan Area Community Council, and are my personal musing on the topic.

We are nearing the end of the beginning for the 26th Avenue Greenway/Bikeway.  As plans will soon be finalized, neighborhoods and interest groups are making their final pushes for amenities or tweaks to the project that benefit their goals.  Overall, this lobbying has produced good results   The "opportunity points" at the river, Farview Park, Nellie Stone Johnson School, and Theo Wirth Parkway are all great additions to the corridor.  And yet they all fall outside the boundaries of my neighborhood.

So I'm going to be unabashedly selfish here.  If the bikeway is getting potential improvements over the previous plan, is there a way for the Jordan neighborhood to benefit from that?  (Aside from the indirect benefit of having a better bike corridor overall, that is.)


Sunday, August 31, 2014

What's Really Happening on West Broadway?

A recent Star Tribune article was quite critical of the lack of progress on West Broadway, and the director of the West Broadway Business Coalition then published a rebuttal detailing the economic development we have seen.  I thought the first shot was perhaps a bit too bleak, while the WBC account painted a picture that was overly rosy.  The truth, as is often the case, lies somewhere in between.

Since the publication of those articles, I've been thinking quite a bit about what we have in the commercial heart of north Minneapolis.  As I walk, bike, and drive along the corridor, I've been looking at West Broadway through two lenses--what would bring people from outside the area to West Broadway, and what draws me personally to spend money on the avenue.

Admittedly this is subjective.  Plenty of places, like nail salons, hair braiding shops, and urban outfitters are not going to draw business from a straight, white male, and I wouldn't expect them to.  But I think there's something to be said about taking a detailed look at West Broadway, starting at...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Tale of Two Bike Paths

*Comments here are in my individual capacity and not representative of the Jordan Area Community Council*

Over the past few weeks, I've had the opportunity to attend a neighborhood events where bike path options have been brought forward--a presentation by the city of Minneapolis about 26th Avenue North, and a Jordan Area Community Council listening session on the Humboldt/Irving Avenue proposal.  While I could go into elaborate detail about each project, that's a topic for another post or two.  Instead, what intrigues me as of late is the community perception of each plan.

Along 26th, for example, there seemed at the Farview Park gathering to be pretty broad consensus that folks want some kind of bike upgrade to the corridor.  That feeling may well be impacted by the sorry state of the avenue as it crumbles away more each day.  Furthermore, there is currently no parking between Lyndale and Theo Wirth on 26th.  Between Lyndale and the River, some accommodations may have to be made, but overall the loss of parking has already taken effect and settled in.

When 26th is redone over 2014 and 2015, the current configuration of 11-foot car lanes and 5-foot bike lanes in each direction will likely expand.  Car lanes are expected to go to thirteen feet, and a 10-foot bike lane will be on one side of the street with a sidewalk for foot traffic on the other side.

The sentiment at the 26th Avenue meeting was that, if anything, this proposal doesn't go far enough.  There is currently no connection from 26th Avenue to the Mississippi River by bike or foot.  And although bike lanes kind of zigzag through the industrial area of Hawthorne to the river, there is not a sidewalk that allows pedestrians the same access.  Some residents also expressed a desire to see 26th redone all in one year, although a project of that scope is unlikely to get done in less time than the proposed two-year cycle.

There is also a group within Hawthorne at least, that has been pushing for a full greenway with no vehicular traffic.  Given the traffic load of the corridor, the overall expense, and that there are a number of properties that would have limited access, a full greenway is unlikely to come out of a 26th Avenue redesign.

In fact, due in large part to pressure from that group of Hawthorne members, several  "opportunity points" have been added to the 26th Avenue proposal.  These include a possible connection to the Ole Olson park from 26th along the Mississippi River, a sprucing up of the highway overpass so it actually feels somewhat green, public art and an expansion of trails along Farview Park, a wider path by Nellie Stone Johnson School, and more bike and pedestrian amenities at 26th and Theo Wirth Parkway.

When I heard the phrase "opportunity points," I thought it just sounded like really bad spin for why we were getting substandard amenities once again, but since this is the northside we should be glad we're getting anything at all.  Instead, I was floored by how amazing these developments appear to be.  Finally, some concrete steps to connecting the River and 26th!

The big question on everyone's mind was cost.  The city has a formula for determining who pays what, and it generally will come out to about $25 per month extra in taxes for the next twenty years.  Well worth it, in my opinion.  If new lighting is part of the bikeway, that could increase assessments significantly.  (Ideally, the new lighting would go everywhere except in front of my house, since I already have streetlights close by and I'd like to not pay for more.)

One concern brought to me after the meeting was a comparison to the Victory Memorial Parkway and how bumpy that is.  I have always thought of that stretch as anything but bumpy, but a neighbor pointed out that I've never ridden with a baby in tow.  The intersections along Victory Memorial, especially the north/south section, have a significant dip to them, and that causes problems for bikers with a baby on board.

Contrast 26th with the public reception for the Humboldt/Irving Greenway proposals.  Much of the sentiment I have witnessed here has been one of fear of losing what people already have.  The Humboldt/Irving proposal is comparatively in its infancy.  So neighbors haven't had a chance to get used to its ideas or really understand how various options might affect them.  I am, however, seeing real estate listings in Jordan come up advertising themselves as on the Humboldt or Irving Greenway.  So clearly some people are seeing the value in the amenity, even if only as a marketing tactic for the time being.

And speaking of sales, one of the psychological cornerstones of sales is that people generally are first afraid to lose what they have and that's their starting point.  So at many neighborhood or online forums, the first question is "What about parking?"  Folks understand what they have, and can't see past that for a broader vision of what could be.

One youth at a Humboldt/Irving meeting brought up an interesting safety concern, that North Commons is an epicenter of young gang activity, and that what amounts to a bike freeway that passes through the area would potentially allow those gangs to spread their territory.  I find this a good reason to focus on safety AND bike infrastructure, but not to ignore one for the sake of the other.

So here is my prediction for Humboldt/Irving.  We are quite a ways away from breaking ground on a project of such a massive scope.  By the time that occurs, much or perhaps all of 26th will have been done.  And when we're ready to go on Humboldt/Irving, some segments will want just a bike boulevard stripe, others will want a full-on greenway, and other parts will want something in between.  I think we'll see at least some in-between bike amenities that mirror 26th get built--maybe even a few blocks of Milwaukee Avenue-stlye greenways here and there.

And when residents can actually see what that looks like, when they can bike or walk along the corridors, and when they see neighbors' front yards extend to what would normally be the middle of a street, more and more people will want that for themselves.  If that's the route the north/south greenway takes, we could be waiting a generation for it to come to full fruition.

Then again, how long did 26th Avenue take to get to where we are today?  I rest my case.