Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Seward Recognized as "Culinary Destination"

Minnesota Public Radio has run a story with James Norton from the Heavy Table about the Seward neighborhood being increasingly viewed as a place to get a great meal.  Tracy's, the Seward Coop, Birchwood Cafe, and Verdant Tea get shout-outs.  The closing of True Thai is also mentioned.

Among the other great restaurants in Seward that didn't get mentioned: the Seward Cafe, the Blue Nile, Pizza Luce, Himalayan Restaurant and Shabelle Restaurant, as well as Precision Grind coffee shop.

It's great to see folks from the whole Twin Cities recognizing the special food scene in Seward.  I hope it will generate an upswing in business for Seward small businesses.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gluek's Tied House Vote

Earlier today, I voted with all of the rest of my colleagues to allow the demolition of the former Gluek's Tied House / Rainbow Gallery building.  I see this as an unfortunate outcome, but the only decision I could make.

It is important to place this development in a broader philosophical context.  As I see it, the Green perspective on density is that the more good-quality housing we can build in the right places – with good access to jobs, non-motorized transportation infrastructure, cultural, educational and recreational amenities, and transit – the more we fight the urban sprawl that destroys farmland and encourages auto dependency.  Greater density doesn’t just have environmental benefits, either.  We live in a city that was built for a population of 500,000 people (the peak that we hit in the 1950s), but which has a current population of less than 400,000 people.  That means that we have fewer people paying into maintaining our infrastructure and supporting our local small businesses than it was designed for, increasing the tax burden on each individual property owner.

But we don’t want to dramatically upzone existing vital neighborhoods, because that would destroy their character.  So we want more density for a host of reasons – environmental, financial, etc. – but we want it in the right place.

This site is the right place.  The majority of this site has been blighted, un- or under-utilized land for decades.  It is located within easy walking and biking distance of thousands of jobs in downtown and at the U, an existing light-rail station with access to thousands more, a new light-rail station with access to thousands more, and a robust bike trail network.  The whole site (including the Rainbow Gallery parcel) is zoned R6, the City’s highest-density residential land use, which is a signal from the City that high-density residential is not only allowed there, but encouraged.  When the City plans for smart, transit-oriented growth, this is exactly the sort of place we’re looking to direct that growth.

That’s why the Planning Commission and the City Council unanimously approved this new development.  (You can find the staff report here.)  It’s why the City has competed for and received funding from Transit Oriented Development funds the Met Council makes available, among other public sources of funding.

While I value the Rainbow Gallery building, the public hearing at the Zoning and Planning convinced me of three essential things.  First, the building itself has not, unfortunately, retained its essential historical character.  The things that made it a historically significant bar – the ceiling, the bar itself, etc. – are mostly gone.  Second, many other examples exist of this type of historical building, and they’ve retained much more of their essential character.  One, the Nomad World Pub, is right nearby.  Third, I am convinced that incorporating the building into the new development or moving it to another site are not feasible.  Even if this building was designated as historic by the state, federal or city government, which it is not, its preservation would be a challenge.  This is why our professional Historic Preservation staff recommended allowing the demolition.  It’s why the vote to deny demolition at the Historic Preservation Commission was a razor-thin 5-4.  Given all of that, I could not find a legal basis to deny demolition.

I also want to make clear that there has, over the last eight years, been a good deal of lobbying and support from the West Bank Community Coalition (the neighborhood group for Cedar Riverside) for this project.  The position of the WBCC on this building was to support efforts to preserve it, but to support demolition if those efforts did not succeed.  At a Council meeting months ago, I moved to require the developer to move the building to a parcel they own across the street.  Unfortunately, that is not feasible, in part due to the unwillingness of a nearby property owner to allow the developer to stage on his land.

I also want to note that, with a small group of active neighbors and support from staff and the Planning Commission, we did force the developer to make major improvements to this project.  As originally proposed, the sidewalk that connects thousands of residents in Riverside Plaza to their green space at Curry Park would have been eliminated.  I did not support that, and the Planning Commission did not grant that request.  The sidewalk will remain. 

I was very involved in the process to develop the Cedar Riverside Small Area Plan.  It was something I pushed hard for right after being elected because I saw it as a necessary tool to provide guidance for efforts in the years ahead.  I have to say that I see this development as entirely consistent with that plan, the City’s Comprehensive Plan, and regional plans.  While the “future land use” for the Rainbow Gallery parcel is listed as “mixed use,” that does not make the planned development inappropriate: the entire first floor of the new development will be non-residential uses, making the whole building mixed use.  You can find the small area plan here.

I would have supported stopping this development and saving this building if that is what I thought was a) the will of the community, b) consistent with the City’s adopted plans, c) a reasonable use of the City’s historic preservation powers, and d) best for the environment and other overarching goals.  I don’t think such an action would satisfy any of those tests. 

That said, I think that there may be growing interest in the community in saving other historic assets.  This is one of the reasons I have been working to create a Conservation District ordinance, that would allow an area to decide to protect aspects of its existing character that might not be worthy of historic designation.

Op-Ed on Ranked Choice Voting

The Journal has run an op-ed I wrote answering some frequently asked questions about ranked choice voting.  I encourage you to go read it, but here are the main points:
  • You can't help your most-preferred candidate by "bullet voting" for him or her, and you can't hurt your most-preferred candidate by using all three of your rankings
  • RCV is not responsible for the huge mayoral field - that's the fault of the low filing fee and no incumbent on the ballot
  • RCV is not confusing to voters, according to research conducted on the Minneapolis municipal election in 2009
  • Voters should use all three rankings, if there are three candidates they support
  • RCV has produced a mayor's race without the low-turnout primary and without the rancor and divisiveness of past races, and that's a good thing

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Second Ward Proclamation Honoring Jack Trice

In 1923, Jack Trice was a star African American football player for Iowa State College, located in Ames, Iowa.  Trice and the Iowa State team played the University of Minnesota Gophers on October 6, 1923, on Northrup Field in what is now the Second Ward of Minneapolis.

The night before the game, Trice was forced to stay at a different hotel than his teammates, due to the unjust racial segregation then in effect in Minneapolis.  In his hotel the night before the game, Trice wrote the following:
“My thoughts just before the first real college game of my life: The honor of my race, family & self is at stake. Everyone is expecting me to do big things. I will. My whole body and soul are to be thrown recklessly about the field tomorrow. Every time the ball is snapped, I will be trying to do more than my part. On all defensive plays I must break through the opponents' line and stop the play in their territory. Beware of mass interference. Fight low, with your eyes open and toward the play. Watch out for crossbucks and reverse end runs. Be on your toes every minute if you expect to make good.”
In the second play of the game, Trice suffered a dislocated left shoulder but continued playing.  Then, in the third period, Trice had to be removed from the field despite his insistence that he was all right, having suffered serious internal injuries.

Ninety years ago today, on October 8th, Jack Trice died in Ames, Iowa of hemorrhaged lungs and internal bleeding as a result of injuries sustained in the game in Minneapolis.  He was survived by his wife, Cora Mae Starland.

Jack Trice’s athletic ability was praised by those who watched him play.  His head coach at Cleveland East Technical School, S. S. Willaman, “regarded him as the best lineman he had ever coached,” and “one of the greatest athletes he ever saw.”  University of Minnesota Coach Bill Spaulding was quoted in the Minneapolis Journal the day after Trice’s death, saying:
“He was a real football player, a hard hitter, but a clean player, and a thorough sportsman.  Our boys commented after the game on his clean and hard play.  He was in every play that came near him, and more than once he brought our boys to a dead stop.  He was a credit to the game.”
In addition to being an impressive athlete, Jack Trice was well-liked, and a good student with great plans for his life.  His average grade in his freshman year was 90, studying animal husbandry so that he could go to the South to help African American farmers.

Perhaps if Minneapolis had not been in the grip of the injustice of racial segregation, this impressive young man would not have felt the need to allow his “body and soul” to be “thrown recklessly about the field.”  But it is clear that Jack Trice did bring honor to himself, his family, his race and his team.

Now, Therefore, as duly elected City Council Member for the Second Ward of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Jack Trice suffered the injuries that would take his life, I add my voice to those who honor his memory on the ninetieth anniversary of his death by proclaiming October 9th, 2013 as Jack Trice Day in the Second Ward of the City of Minneapolis.

Cam Gordon

Council Member, Second Ward

Friday, October 04, 2013

Adopting Out More Dogs

This morning, the Council unanimously adopted a new policy on adopting “power breeds” of dogs like pit bulls and Rottweilers.  It allows Animal Care and Control to adopt out these dogs if they pass a behavioral assessment.

This policy is likely to substantially reduce the number of dogs euthanized by the City, as 45% of dogs euthanized last year belonged to power breeds.  The Council will have to increase the funding for Animal Care and Control by about $50,000 per year to pay for the behavioral assessments, but we may also save money in the long term by not having to house as many dogs for as long a time.

I was very supportive of this policy change, and appreciate the focus by Animal Care and Control on reducing the number of animals they put down each year.  

I also added a staff direction to this policy change for Animal Care and Control to come back to Council early next year and share their plans for screening both dogs and potential owners.  One concern I have heard is that we need to be careful to ensure that we're not taking dogs out of abusive environments just to return them to different abusive environments.  I have every confidence that staff will bring back a plan to avoid that, and I look forward to seeing it.

New Density Standards

This morning, the Council passed amendments to the residential density standards in the Zoning Code.  I was very supportive of this change, and disagreed with my colleagues Meg Tuthill and Robert Lilligren about the impacts that it will have.

Here's what it does: it removes the minimum lot area per dwelling unit for high-density residential uses.  It won't affect the low- and medium-density residential districts R1 through R4.

Here's what it doesn't do: it doesn't let developers build bigger buildings.  Nothing in this amendment would allow additional building height or bulk in any zoning district.

The amendment may allow for more dwelling units per acre.  For example, before this change, a development with R5 zoning on a 70,000 square-foot could lot incorporate 100 dwelling units.  This theoretical development might build all two-bedroom units, for a total of 200 bedrooms.  Under the new rules, a developer could now construct the same building with 200 units containing one bedroom each (again, totaling 200 bedrooms).

I supported this change because I believe that existing density standards may in some instances conflict with what is in the best interest of our city and neighborhoods.

Here's the problem with the old rules.  Especially in the University District, we have struggled for years to convince developers to build new buildings with a mix of unit sizes, including small units.  The old regulation incentivized developers to do things that my constituents in the U District strongly oppose, like build apartment buildings with all 5-bedroom units.  It makes sense for the developer: avoid a costly variance that could block the project while maximizing the number of bedrooms.  But the effect is to produce a building that cannot be used by any demographic group other than University undergraduate students - because no one else wants to share a 5-bedroom unit with very limited common space.

My constituents have been trying to convince developers for years that the U District needs a diversity of housing options to remain healthy.  We need units for workers, young couples, grad students, elderly residents who want to remain in the neighborhood, families.  Meanwhile, the City's zoning rules have been fighting my constituents wishes, effectively telling developers not to listen to the desire for a healthier unit mix.

We've also heard for years from affordable housing and anti-homelessness advocates that one of the problems in our city is a relative lack of small units.  Our old rules actually exacerbated this problem - a problem we've been trying to solve for years - and that's silly.

So we used to have a zoning ordinance that added unhelpful distortions to the private development market and had several unintended negative consequences.  That changed this morning, and it's a very good thing.

Just for what it's worth, Council Member Tuthill's argument that Ward 10 is where all of the new residential density is being built just doesn't hold water.  In the decade between 2000 and 2010, the Second Ward saw the second-highest increase in population, behind only the downtown area (Ward 7).  This isn't a question of those Council Members who have no density in their wards forcing a density increase on the already too-dense parts of the city.

One last thing.  CM Tuthill attempted to tie this ordinance change to the fact that apartment dwellers usually have to pay for off-street parking places.  This argument didn't make sense to me, for two main reasons.  First, the City has no regulations on the cost of private off-street parking.  We can't, shouldn't, and don't tell apartment owners how much to charge their tenants for parking places.  Second, the City has adopted several goals tied to decreasing the use of single-occupancy automobiles.  We want more people using transit, riding bikes, walking, car-sharing, car-pooling, etc., in order to reduce climate change impacts, increase public health, and build vital communities.  It's good that apartment owners don't subsidize driving by giving away parking places for free to every tenant.  And that has very little to do with the size of dwelling units.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Tree Roundtable October 7

I have organized a Roundtable Discussion about the threats and opportunities facing our urban tree canopy, for October 7, 7-8:30pm, at Longfellow Park, 3435 36th Ave S.  We will discuss the tree loss from this summer’s storm, Emerald Ash Borer, the importance of watering trees, and the Longfellow Trees program.  You can find out more about Longfellow Trees here.

That pro-pesticide poll might also be a topic of discussion.