Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sale of 1522 Hillside a "No-Brainer," New Avenues for Rehab to Be Rolled Out

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image is a screen shot of the 3/19/13 Community Development committee meeting.

Last week the sale of 1522 Hillside Avenue North cleared one of the final hurdles before Nicole Curtis can begin restoration of this historic property.  Council member Goodman called the sale a "no-brainer," and initiated a 20-minute discussion about how to preserve more houses and engage the private market in a better way.  The motion for 1522 carried unanimously, but the preceding discussion marked what could be a sea change in city disposition of boarded and vacant properties.

For those of you who want to watch, it's the first item on the agenda, and can be seen at the link above.  If you're more interested in celebrities than policy, Nicole Curtis speaks at the 25:00 mark.  The discussion leading up to that was ripe with all sorts of fascinating information, and began with...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Last of the Green Homes North Demolitions

Post and photos by The Hawthorne Hawkman.

After two recent posts on Green Homes North, my borderline obsessive-compulsiveness drove me to visit every single parcel on the program's eligible property list.  I wanted to see if there were other houses that could be saved, or if the questionable demos only popped up in or near the Jordan neighborhood.  Out of the remaining lots in the Camden, Folwell, McKinley, Victory, Cleveland, Lind-Bohanon, and Harrison neighborhoods, there were only two recent demolitions left.  Clearly it's possible that more houses were torn down in the first round of the program, but that's speculation at this point.

The bottom two photos are of 4238 Fremont Ave N, which appears to have been torn down within the last few weeks, given the fresh piles of dirt.  A Google street view search is not terribly revealing, as the trees on the property obscure the house almost entirely.  It was blue, that's about all I can say.  And since it was in the path of the tornado, I'll reserve judgment on whether this particular house was salvageable.  If anyone has information one way or another, please share.

The other property, shown in the top photo, is 3504 James Ave N.  Google shows us some detail on this one.

The knee-jerk preservationist in me wants to say this one shouldn't have been torn down.  All the same, it really doesn't look like much.  And I do have a friend who holds similar preservation views who lives on this block.  He didn't object to this demolition, so I'll defer to that opinion.

And that rounds out the Green Homes North potential and actual demolitions.  Several properties will hopefully be saved thanks to the work of northside housing activists and a major bump in publicity from the Nicole Curtis Facebook page - 2637 Emerson, 2046 James, 2114 Irving, and 2934 Queen Ave N, with the last one being in the most precarious position.  I would also argue that 1915 Penn Ave N should not be torn down until a developer comes along with a proposal that would require demolition.  But if a developer would want to rehab that one, it's a little late to do so when the house is a bundle of sticks in a landfill.

The next time a housing initiative gets rolled out for north Minneapolis, I'll be looking forward to a process that's more intentional about preservation first and demolition only when all other options have been fully exhausted.

2013 Election Issues

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

In past elections, this blog has been used as a platform to endorse specific candidates.  This year, or at the very least this early on in the campaign season, I'm trying a different approach.  Because ranked-choice voting and a lack of an incumbent running for either mayor or the fifth ward, a large number of candidates are expected to stay in the running for those seats for much of the election.  Instead of openly endorsing anyone here, I plan to lay out issues that are important to me and hopefully pertinent to north Minneapolis as well.  In that way, more candidates will craft their strategies around these issues.

With that in mind, I have three main areas of importance that will decide who gets my first, second, and third ovals on a 2013 ballot.  My first priority, housing and specifically the preservation of our housing stock, should come as no surprise to regular readers.  I've heard other community leaders express their own top priority in a way that encompasses many other issues.  Education is necessary to prepare our young people for jobs, close the employment gap, and build a strong local economy; addressing crime and safety will help attract homeowners, businesses, and jobs; clean air and a better environment will increase the health and safety of our community as a whole, especially women, children, and other vulnerable populations.

And so on.  The issues we are most passionate about are often seen through a prism that connects them to a broader spectrum of communal goals.  Housing preservation fills that role for me because...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

This Rant Brought to You by the Green Demolitions North Program

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

There's a technical mortgage term that's been deservedly getting bad press, called "dual tracking."  That's where a person with a delinquent loan tries to work out an arrangement with the lender, and while a loan is in review for some form of modification the lender continues to move ahead with the foreclosure process.  Often this is done without the borrower's knowledge, with the end result being that the borrower loses his or her home without fully comprehending that they were even in such danger in the first place.  Dual tracking is being regulated out of practice by the federal government, and Minnesota has been considering its own legislation to curtail the process.

Apparently though, when a house in Minneapolis is at risk of demolition, the city employs its own version of dual tracking.  Not too long ago, I pointed out that there were viable structures on many Green Homes North parcelsKSTP did a nice follow-up piece, and the city even opened up some of these houses to inquiries by private parties who could do rehab work.  Unbeknownst to those parties--who, by the way, are willing and able to put forward viable offers for rehab--Minneapolis has not slowed down their demolition processes in the least.

One house in the Willard-Hay neighborhood, pictured above, is another example of...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Arson Suspected at Khan's 8-Unit/1-Smoke Detector Apartment Complex

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

It's a wonder nobody was killed or more seriously hurt one early morning when a fire broke out at the Mahmood Khan property of 4425 Aldrich Ave N.  The Star Tribune covered the harrowing details of the rescue quite well, the Pioneer Press was the only mainstream media to report the address, KSTP published a photo of the property and revealed the detail that there was only one working smoke detector, and the Johnny Northside blog let the world know this was a Mahmood Khan property.  I drove past recently, out of curiosity, and realized that nobody had publicized that arson could have been a factor.

Some media pointed out that the cause of the fire is still under investigation.  But the property itself and quite a few telephone poles on surrounding blocks have arson hotline fliers posted in a request for more information on what happened.  Through this blog, I'm doing my part to spread the word in hopes that information gets back to the correct parties (or gets shared broadly here, as the case may be).

I'd also be quite interested in finding out exactly when this house, which doesn't look like it should be more than two units, if that, was converted into an eight-unit monstrosity.  Who signed off on that permit or variance request?  (It is possible that since the property is zoned R4 Multi-family, which allows for a range of densities at generally no more than four stories, that a variance may not have been necessary.  But at some point, this house was converted to eight units.  When, and how?)  There were rumblings several years ago when housing advocates in north Minneapolis heard that a local bank had acquired 4425 Aldrich Ave N via foreclosure and then sold it to Khan.  The previous owner, by the way, appeared to have difficulty even keeping the heat on.  A fire department document from 2007-2008 lists the house as needing to be maintained at 68 degrees.

Hopefully more information is forthcoming.  Any tips regarding arson should be sent to Sgt. Sean McKenna at 612-673-3389.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

New Apartment Construction in Need of Better Design

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Last week at the Jordan housing committee meeting, CommonBond Communities presented their design proposal for the apartment building to be constructed at the West Broadway curve.  There was a lot to like, and a few changes that they will hopefully make.  The project was presented as "West Broadway Crescent," which is a rather good name.  It sure beats plastering the name a non-profit everywhere, especially if you're going for something that looks like it would be market-rate housing.  Which this is not, it's workforce housing subsidized by tax credits.

The footprint of the building mimics the curve of the street, so that's good.  And there is enough variety in the facade to keep things visually interesting as well.  Where the design starts to lose me though, is in its bland color scheme.  It seems like just about every proposal I see incorporates the same three colors:  a burnt orange, brown, and eggplant or creme.  And the northwest segment has the all-too-common design of first floor brick and a few segments of brickwork up to the third floor.  A building on our most prominent street deserves something better, or at least bolder.

Those, however, are minor concerns compared with my biggest departure from CommonBond's proposal.  Even though they are building workforce housing, they kept on stressing that this was going to be just like a market-rate apartment complex.  But a market-rate building located here would have amenities like...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Endangered Dutch Colonials of Oliver Avenue North

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman, except where noted as contributed.

The house at 2635 Oliver Avenue North needs some work.  It's a relative certainty that somebody's going to be calling for its demolition, since the city of Minneapolis has informed the Jordan neighborhood of their intent to acquire the property.  The item will come up for discussion at tonight's housing committee meeting.  While there may be a case for tearing it down, I'll take the side of preservation, and lay out my reasons for that position.

First, there are already at least three or four vacant lots on the 2600 block of Oliver.  The house to the north of this one is 2639 Oliver, a Mahmood Khan duplex that has had almost no work done since the tornado, and will likely be torn down.  (A position I support, to the point where I went to a council hearing holding signs to express that view, even though no public testimony was formally heard then.)

On top of that pending demolition, we have...

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Green Homes North...Not So Green

3015 Morgan Ave N
Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

When the Green Homes North proposal to build one hundred new homes in north Minneapolis over the next five years was first rolled out, I was ecstatic.  The influx of new housing units could have the potential to spur much-needed development and revitalization.  And when it came time to submit public comments, I made my top priority very clear:  Not a single "green home" eligible property should come from a demolition.  With hundreds of vacant lots in our community already, I adamantly opposed creating incentives for even more demolitions.  Furthermore, when accounting for embodied energy, the greenest house is most often the one that is already built.  If this were to truly be a "green" project, then preservation would be a priority.

Or so I thought.

The Jordan neighborhood alone has over fifty properties eligible for the Green Homes North program.  Six currently have structures on them, and a seventh was demolished recently enough that the dirt hasn't been covered in snow.  One property, 3015 Morgan Avenue North, is pictured above, and by outward appearances would be a viable rehab candidate.

The house that was torn down was at...

The Sting of the Trinidad Scorpion

When your food has to remind you it's edible, that ought to be a warning sign.
Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

The fascination with insanely hot peppers (and the beer to wash them down with) continues.  I thought the ghost pepper was the hottest in the world, and although my ghost pepper exploits haven't always been successful, I've got a pretty good handle on the hot stuff.  Then I heard that a newly-discovered strain is even hotter.  The ghost pepper tops out at about 1.1 million Scoville Heat Units, or the ounces of water it takes to displace the capsacin found in each pepper.  That's roughly twice as hot as the habanero.  As shown above, the Trinidad scorpion comes in at 1.4 million, or about 3/4 the heat of a star.  Pop one of these peppers in your mouth, then stand under Niagra Falls for thirty seconds, and the heat just disappears!

The scorpion gets its name from the tip, which curls up like the stinger.  I was told that Harry Singh's restaurant on Nicollet serves food with the Trinidad scorpion, but I've yet to muster the courage to try.  Instead, I ordered both the peppers and a plant online.  When they arrived, I let both sit for a while until I was burning with curiosity about what the scorpion tasted like.

So I cut off the tail of one pepper, placed it on the tip of my tongue...

Oh, I forgot to mention, do NOT handle these with your bare hands.