Monday, November 29, 2010

Dream Homes Remade!

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

I've been pretty hard on the Dream Homes on this blog and elsewhere, going so far as to say I wouldn't mind one bit if they were torn down all at once.  That being said, demolition of existing housing stock is quite wasteful from an environmental standard.  (If any readers know of studies like this that have been done since the housing bust led to an increase in demolitions, I'd be happy to see those.)  So if we can find a way to transform some of these houses into positive contributions to our neighborhood - and without demolishing them - then I'm all for it.

That's where Alissa Luepke Pier, an (award-winning!) architect who lives in Hawthorne comes into play.  She called me up and said she's been working with Urban Homeworks on some redesigns of Dream Homes and other Koenig vinyl boxes.  The house shown above is at 2515 Irving Ave N, and other homes will hopefully be similarly redone.  Note the porch that extends across the front, and the detailing of the windows and the woodwork, as well as the bump out given to the bay window.  There's not much to be done for the side windows, and the house won't appeal to everyone, but what house does?

I was also shown redrawn floor plans, and space has been made for laundry, tools, and other home maintenance items.  Property owners of these places won't be dependent on a property manager to be able to come along and mow the lawn or do other basic upkeep.

On top of wanting to avoid waste as much as possible, I'm also a big fan of transformative symbols.  And how great would it be if we transformed these homes into recognizable signs of progress?  I'd love to bring people into NoMi, point to houses that look like this, and be able to say, "This house was built by one of the worst predatory investors our neighborhood has seen, but look at it now!"  Urban Homeworks and Alissa Luepke Pier accomplished something I didn't think was possible; they've got me excited about Dream Homes.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Taking a Peek at Assessment Statutes

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the Miscellany 101 blog.

As the Minneapolis property tax lawsuit moves forward, people have wondered what our state statute has to say about assessed values.  The question has been raised here and on the Minneapolis Issues Forum, although no definitive answer has been given.  Well, here is what our state law has to say:

Minnesota Statute 273.11 (sub 1) begins:  "Except as provided in this section or section 273.17, subdivision 1, all property shall be valued at its market value."

Okay, so what is "market value?"

"Subd. 8.  Market value.  'Market value' means the usual selling price at the place where the property to which the term is applied shall be at the time of assessment; being the price which could be obtained at a private sale or an auction sale, if it is determined by the assessor that the price from the auction sale represents an arm's-length transaction.  The price obtained at a forced sale shall not be considered."  (emphasis mine)

What isn't yet clear from statute or other cases, is what exactly constitutes a "forced sale."  I would contend that a forced sale is a sheriff's sale or other court- or lender-ordered sale in which the entity selling may not have sold at the time, price, or other terms unless compelled to do so.  Post-foreclosure, a bank may be highly motivated to sell, just as an owner who has to relocate due to a new job might be, but the transaction is an arm's-length transaction at that time, and I do not see it as "forced."

We'll see if either the assessment policy, state law, or any ruling from this lawsuit interprets "forced sales" in the same way.  If so, it would seem that the lawsuit has merit.  And if it does, then it could seriously change the financial landscape for Minneapolis.  Even for someone who just wants to see fairness applied in tax policies, that's a daunting proposition.  That's because the map in a previous post encompasses 7,767 single-family parcels, and the total amount of over-assessed values is...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Not Thankful for Sign Spammers

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

We don't take too kindly to sign spammers here in NoMi, and today was no exception.  Somebody thought they'd get at least a long weekend of free advertising by putting their signs up at Farview Park.  Not when I'm around, they don't.  But be thankful, illegal sign spammer, your signs are still on park property.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Weighing the Merits of the Minneapolis Property Tax Lawsuit

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from Texas Property Tax Consultants.

Yesterday we wondered if the price was right for assessed values in north Minneapolis and Phillips.  For anyone who hadn't already guessed, in each example listed in that post, the properties in the affected areas had the lower sales price but the higher assessed value and higher taxes as a result.

This blog was fortunate enough to be able to post the lawsuit documents before anyone else did, and today we get to break down what they contain.  These are only my impressions after reading through, so others are encouraged to offer their thoughts on this matter as well.  But mark my words, this could be huge.  We're talking potentially in the tens of billions of dollars in assessed values for single-family homes citywide.  Out of those tens of billions, it's not yet clear how much assessed values are incorrect (assuming the suit is found to have some degree of merit, obviously).  But then you start to think about multifamily, commercial, and industrial on top of THAT, and the financial implications are staggering.

The lawsuit that could rock the foundations of those finances starts with...

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Price is Right? North Minneapolis Assessed Values

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman.  Contributed image.

Unless you've been living under a rock (assessed value:  $75,900) in north Minneapolis you're at least familiar in passing with the lawsuit alleging unfair assessment and taxation practices in the Camden community and the Phillips neighborhood.  This blog posted the court documents online, and I've had a chance to review them.  In this post, we'll break down the map above.

What's hard to see without clicking on the map to enlarge it is exactly how some of the nicest parts of the city are getting a more than fair ride.  While it's true that Jimmy Carter called Hawthorne the nicest neighborhood [he's] ever worked in, that unfortunately doesn't retroactively raise house values across north Minneapolis.  So the blue dots represent households paying taxes at about 60-90% of their recent selling price.  Green dots are at 90-110%, the range allowable by law.  Yellow is 111-150%, orange is 151-200%, red is 201-300%, and maroon dots signify those who are paying taxes based on a valuation over 300% of a recent sale.

In a delicious bit of irony, one of the assessors named in the lawsuit has even contested the valuation of one of his own properties.  But let's take a look at a few other comparisons, such as...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Christopher James Hayes and Michael James Funches Arrested in Connection with Murder of Christopher de Ronde

Christopher James Hayes, photo from the City Pages.

Michael James Funches, photo from the City Pages.
Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman.  Photos from the City Pages blog.

The two prime suspects in the murder of Christopher de Ronde, Christopher Hayes and Michael Funches, are now in custody.  The City Pages blog has perhaps the best account of what transpired that day, along with some interesting allegations in the comment section.  A commenter by the name of Kristine claimed that Hayes and Funches, although Hayes was found not guilty and it's not clear if Funches was charged or tried, murdered her fiance Avery Cannady.

(This shooting occurred in 2006, and although both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune reported on it, the links to those stories are no longer live links.  Any readers with more information on Cannady and Hayes' and Funches' connection to that murder are encouraged to share in the comment section.)

Both Hayes and Funches have their own list of convictions as well.  While not as long of a list as someone like Amecio Enge, bear in mind these kids are only 22 and 23 years old.  Their histories are posted after the jump...

NXNS Exclusive! North Minneapolis Property Tax Lawsuit Docs!

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the Redfin blog.

EDITORIAL NOTE:  The copy originally posted was missing several pages, most notably the end of Defendant Llangari's claims and the beginning of Defendant Kral's claims.  This was likely due to a scanner pulling two pages through at a time.  The link has been corrected, and the full document is now available.

Ask and you shall receive.  In a previous post, I said I hoped to post the lawsuit documents that claim north Minneapolis properties are being assessed unfairly and therefore taxed at a higher rate than they should be.  Within several hours, I was sent the document I was looking for, along with some other goodies.  The other items and a summary of the complaint are coming soon.  But for anyone who wants to review the lawsuit document...

Click here for a copy.  More will follow.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Next Steps for North High

Post and videos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

There will be a meeting this Saturday to plan the next steps for North High School.  The video above leads off this post because in it Director Davis reads her amendment (a version of which was passed), and at the 2:00 mark she says we can no longer afford to disinvest in north Minneapolis.  That statement drew raucously enthusiastic applause, and we need that kind of energy tomorrow.

Here is what the Save North Coalition announced in an email regarding Saturday's meeting:

Community Meeting to Discuss Our Next Steps
Saturday, November 21st
2:00pm - 4:00pm
Zion Baptist Church
"Last Tuesday the community campaign to stop the closure of North High School won a partial victory when the Minneapolis Board of Education voted 4 to 3 to keep North High open another year if the community could recruit 125 9th graders to the school by March. While this is a far cry from what the community was demanding, it shows that when we organize, we have real power. It also provides a new window of opportunity to continue to organize to save our school!
"This Saturday lets come together as parents, students, teachers, alumni, and concerned community members from across the Twin Cities to map out our next steps to keep this school open and revitalize public education on the North Side and beyond. We need all hands on deck and all voices at the table this Saturday to collectively create a student recruitment plan, a political strategy, and to take the lead in creating a community-led vision for revitalizing North High School."
For those of you who haven't seen the rest of the footage from the most recent School Board meeting, it can be found, along with some commentary, after the jump...

Property Taxes in NoMi Reach Boiling Point

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, photo from Wikimedia Commons.

There has been buzz over the past several months in NoMi that we are paying more than our fair share in property taxes (Ed Kohler of The Deets brought the issue up in late September, an email made its way around some neighborhood listservs, which led to a post on JNS about a potential lawsuit).  As property tax assessments have been arriving in the mail, the Minneapolis Issues Forum has had many postings on what this means, and even the Irving Inquisition dedicated a jerk du jour designation to this.  Well today Steve Brandt at the Strib broke the story of a lawsuit being filed that specifically makes that allegation.  (I hope to post as much of the lawsuit documents as possible here for NXNS readers.)

If these claims are found to have merit, they have the potential to shake the very foundations of not just city and neighborhood finances (that's obvious), but also perceptions of north Minneapolis.  How often to fellow NoMi residents hear the refrain that the rest of the city pays for all the services that north uses up?  Well, what if it's actually the opposite?  Could it be possible that the poorest of all parts of the city are paying our way, or even propping up other parts of town?  Allegedly, many in NoMi are paying a rate based on a value estimate as high as 300% of the most recent purchase price.

In some ways, I do feel bad for the city.  After all, it's not like they're swimming in money.  And with the threat of even more LGA cuts looming, things won't be getting better anytime soon.  The money's got to come from somewhere.

But even before I can rationalize a counter-argument that's not sympathetic at all, various city and state employees do a fine job of getting rid of my sympathy on their own.  I'm especially incensed at the state assessors, who refute the notion that the recent sales are accurate indicators of market value.  Essentially, their argument as described in the Strib, is this:  Since a lot of banks sold houses for perhaps less than they could have, that means that assessors can use a dollar amount other than sales prices as a way to determine market value.  Like what?  Really, what else besides recent sales is used to determine value?

Perhaps the state assessors John Hagen and Lloyd McCormick could explain to me why my Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds baseball cards aren't selling for squat on eBay.  True, the steroids scandals have made it clear that their statistical achievements were fraudulently inflated.  But I keep on thinking there's got to be a good way to calculate the market value of those know, some way OTHER than how much somebody might be willing to pay me for them.  Because that doesn't get me much money AT ALL.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Have Been to Bauer Brothers. My Life is Now Complete.

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

I admit it.  I've fallen short on my duties in promoting cool housing items and amazing businesses right in my own backyard.  Quite a few of those in my close social circle have often spoke about going to Bauer Brothers for items that compliment the homes they have been rehabbing and restoring.  But I also heard so many of my south Minneapolis friends gush about how amazing this place is that I just assumed it was somewhere OTHER than right here in NoMi.  Certainly it couldn't be in Hawthorne, I thought.

But here it is, 2432 2nd St N, right behind the Holiday gas station where I buy my paper every day.  (That Holiday is the best gas station in this part of NoMi, I might add.  The clerks are always friendly, plenty of cops patronize the place, and they don't sell white tees or other obvious items that enable gang/thug activity.)

At a birthday party this week for Mr. Irving Inquisition, I spoke to several of my neighbors who expressed surprise that I'd never been to Bauer Brothers before.  To my credit though, most of the items for sale are geared towards owners of older/historic homes or antique collectors, not renters or tenants - items such as stained glass windows.

Wherever and whatever the Blue Fox was, it must have been a heck of a place.
Bauer Brothers is four stories of gloriously random odds and ends, ranging from the aforementioned stained glass to doors (front doors, closets, automatic sliding glass doors, antique elevator doors from the Fitz in St. Paul, and even old jail and safe doors) to furniture to movie seats and bar stools to hutches and light fixtures and appliances and just about everything you could imagine.  If you've ever gone to the Humane Society and felt an overwhelming urge to just take home every single adorable puppy in the place, then you've got some idea of what I was feeling here.

As excited as I was about virtually everything here, I took photos only of the oddest items.  There's just too much to take in otherwise.  Let's start with...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Some Signs of Improvement on Lowry Avenue

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

Some time ago, these signs popped up along Lowry Avenue as part of its redesign.  I never got an explanation as to why, but when they initially appeared, they went only from Theo Wirth on to about Girard or so.  Well, today a colleague at Hennepin County informed me that the signs have been posted all the way down Lowry to the bridge.  Huzzah!

Down on Broadway we've got these funny-looking signs hanging from the light posts depicting abstract faces and, at best, abstract emotions.  While I appreciate the youth involvement in the community that went into the creation of those signs, I don't think they accomplish much.  Granted, this is just my own personal opinion, but I really like some of the signs I've seen like this along Central Avenue.  One part of the sign on the light post says Central Avenue, and another sign designates which neighborhood you are in.  That combination, to me, really gives you a sense of place, as if you're somewhere with a strong and proud identity.  I'd love to see something similar along Lowry, with all of the bordering neighborhoods identified and represented.

Now, borrowing from the Irving Inquisition, which manages to be ticked off at one ore more people in every blog post, I've got my own jerks du jour...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lowry Bridge Will be Built the Right Way!

Photo found here.

Photo found here.

Image from the Lowry Bridge homepage.
Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman.  Photo sources included in hyperlinks in photo captions.

Not too long ago, the Irving Inquisition blog and I had ourselves a disagreement over whether it would be best to build the Lowry Avenue Bridge quickly, or if we should wait until enough funding was allocated so that a NoMi bike/walk path underneath could be built in accordance with the Above the Falls master plan.  We'd heard rumblings that our side of the bridge would not extend far enough for that path to be put in place.  The Irving Inquisition position was to build it sooner, regardless of whether it met any comprehensive plans.  My stance was to wait however long it took so that we get it done right.  If the plan is a 50-year plan, and the bridge will last for 100 years or more, then there's only one shot at getting this amenity or NoMi.

Well, it turns out we were both right.   (but I was more right)  According to Tom Leighton at the most recent Hawthorne board meeting, Hennepin County and Mark Stenglein were diligent in pursuing enough funding so that the bridge can be built with the space for a bike/walk path underneath, and this won't cause any significant delays in construction.  Connecting the North Mississippi Regional Park and the rest of the Grand Rounds (admittedly, the full connection will take many, many years to complete due to property acquisition) will do wonders for biking in and through NoMi.

On a somewhat random note, as I was searching for images to use for this post, I came across another Lowry Bridge, this one in Manchester, England.  Notice any similarities?

Photo found here.

Photo found here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Public Commentary from the North High MPS Meeting

Post and videos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

This post will encompass the remainder of those who spoke out during the public comment period of the School Board meeting where North High was saved*.

(*if we get 125 incoming freshmen by March of '11. Let's not lose sight of that.  Otherwise, it will close for one year and reopen.)

More videos and commentary after the jump...

Supporters Turn Out for North High

Post and videos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

Due to another hearing I was at, I missed both the rally and the first part of the School Board meeting.  I captured as much of it as possible and will share that on my Youtube channel and NXNS.  In the videos above, Superintendent Johnson lays out her proposal for a new North High.  The big question marks come surrounding the external consultant who will help develop a plan, and the "design team."  Who will those people be, and how will they be selected?  Can these people be put in place in a way that builds and repairs community trust?

Those clips are somewhat dry, but the fireworks REALLY got started with the public comments...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

North High is Saved! Now the Real Work Begins.

Post and video by the Hawthorne Hawkman

After much deliberation, and an outpouring of community input, Superintendent Johnson's proposal from last week was brought before the Minneapolis Public School Board as a whole.  Due to other job commitments, I was unable to attend the rally before the meeting, and missed some early parts.  But I stayed until the end of the meeting and recorded the vote that kept North open.

There are several hours of footage to upload and review.  Until I have the chance to get a well-written post up about the broader issues, people can feel free to check out my Youtube channel for the videos I took during the meeting.

The VERY short summary of what happened is this:  Johnson's proposal was presented, and amended to allow for the chance of a freshman class continuing to attend North High in 2011 (her previous proposal called for North to not accept incoming freshmen in 2011 while creating a new program, phase out the existing school, start a new North in 2012, and add a class each year until there would be a full school in 2016).  In order for there to be a continuous student body at North High, we in the community will need to work with the school board to recruit an incoming freshman class of 125 students by March of 2011.

And if we can do that, I bet we'll wind up with a better football team too.

The vote is over and now it's time to get to work.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Reactions from Johnson's New North High Proposal

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman

I'm guessing by now most everyone reading NXNS has heard Superintendent Johnson's proposal to continue with a phasing out of North High, take a year off to develop a new model, and re-open a new North High in 2012.  (although not necessarily in the same building; we'll get to that)  In looking at chatter on Facebook, the Strib, and elsewhere, reactions to the plan are varied - ranging from calls for a failing school to be shut down immediately to feelings that this "plan" has nothing of substance that is different than Johnson's original proposition.

While my initial response did not embody such extremes, it was still mixed.  My first thought upon hearing Johnson's new idea was, "This might be as good of a deal as we're going to get."  My SECOND thought was...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bernadeia Johnson Announces Plan to Press Reset Button on North High

Post and videos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

POST COMPLETE. All video footage from the press conference has been uploaded and added.

Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson called a press conference this morning to announce plans for North High. The buzz was that she would continue with the plans to phase out the existing North High, but there was speculation that somehow the school would be saved. After all, if plans to close were moving ahead as previously announced, why call a press conference to remind the community that you're doing something incredibly unpopular?

In essence, her plan now involves closing down the existing North High, phasing out current enrollment, working with the community on a plan during 2011, and re-opening a new North High for incoming freshmen in 2012, then adding a grade each year.

Plenty of news media were there, and the Strib and KSTP at least have articles and some footage up already. But the initial details were broken first on the NXNS Twitter feed, proving once again the speed and agility of non-traditional media.

More video footage will follow after the jump, as soon as it's done uploading on youtube...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

PPL Needs EcoVillage Volunteers This Week!

Post by Jeff Skrenes, Hawthorne Neighborhood Council Housing Director, photo contributed by PPL.  This post originally appeared on the Hawthorne Voices blog, but has been re-posted here at the request of PPL.

PPL Building Project-Hawthorne EcoVillage
Support efforts in North Minneapolis to build and renovate affordable housing for those in need in the community in response to the foreclosure crisis. PPL’s Housing Development dept. is renovating a house at 3023 N. 4th St. as part of the Hawthorne EcoVillage project. Volunteers needed! Construction/carpentry experience welcome but not required.

Where: 3023 N. 4th St., Minneapolis
When: Thursday 11/4, 9-5
Friday 11/5, 9-5
Saturday 11/6, 9-1

Construction experience is welcome but not required. Skilled supervision, tools, materials and snacks provided. Volunteers are asked to bring a bag lunch and work gloves.

For more information or to sign up, please contact Julie Huck, PPL Volunteer Mgr., at 612-455-5111 or email Julie Huck.