Monthly Archives: September 2006

Diamond Lake trail isn't welcomed by all

This is an email sent to the Star Tribune reporter after her article in the Star Tribune on September 24 –

From: vlslw@aol.com
To: ekaiser@startribune.com
Cc: readerrep@startribune.com; jshiffer@startribune.com; office@hpdl.org
Sent: Sun, 24 Sep 2006 5:54 PM
Subject: Re: Diamond Lake trail isn’t welcomed by all

Emily – 
 
I’m disappointed in the slant you gave to your article.

  • Diamond Lake trail isn’t welcomed by all
  • You made it sound as if residents around Diamond Lake don’t want to share and I believe I said just the opposite – I wish we could share, but the issue of security is what makes that not a good idea. You left out the fact that there were windows in the church shot out from the trail that was there years ago. You left out the trash and drug paraphernalia that’s been found on the current trail. You left out the fact that the Park Board has not approved this trail as a project so is spending money that has not been authorized by even studying it. And you left out that the Park Board has not been following its own procedures – by not first providing notice to the public when they plan to talk about it so that concerned citizens can attend and hear what is said. If it had not been for neighbors letting me know, I would not have known about the meeting on August 2 where the study was first presented. You did not say anything about Commissioner Nordyke’s asking Superintendent Gurban if he would extend or remove the October 10 deadline relating to encroachments, which still has not been done, even though I heard him say he would do so in the televised meeting on September 6.

    The KSTP coverage web cast is still available and it provided much less slanted coverage than did your article. Here’s a link to it

  • Diamond Lake Trail news on KSTP
  •  
    After studying the Annual Financial Report for 2005 from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board that was apparently just published, even though it is dated May 19, I have even more grave concerns than just our little worry about a potential nature trail around Diamond Lake (which I believe they will find to be impossible due to the land ownership issues, even if they refuse to listen to concerns about safety). There is evidence in this report of what looks like a severe lack of fiscal responsibility on the part of the Park Board Commissioners and/or staff. 
     
    Over the last 10 years, the Park Board’s expenditures have exceeded their revenues by about $8 million – $6m of that in just the last two years and $5 million just in 2005! So, of course their net assets and fund balances (that are about $293m) have decreased by that amount. If they were fiscally responsible, shouldn’t the assets be increasing? Maybe they don’t realize they should reduce expenses and increase assets, not vice-versa? 
     
    There was a noticeable jump in Net General Obligation Debt per Capita between 2002 and 2003 from $222 to $526 and it grew to $665 in 2005. I personally don’t like knowing that what I owe for Park Board Debt has tripled in just 3 years and that’s even while they paid off their $3m mortgage in 2005. Their original budget for 2005 was under $60m but they ended up with a revised budget of more than $67m. What hapened to the $50m budget we’ve been told about? How did it get so big? What are they doing about it? 
     
    I hope someone will look deeper into the financial conduct of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, as it affects every taxpayer in Minneapolis, not just the people around Diamond Lake. 
     
    Regards, Ginny

    Yes Barbara there is a Conflict of Interest

    Dear Barbara,

    I am writing you about your conflict of interest regarding the DeLaSalle proposal to build an athletic stadium on regional parkland.

    I hope that you understand the difficult position you are in because of the conflict between your fiduciary interests. You can not represent the interests of DeLaSalle as a board member of DeLaSalle (which you have to do) and at the same time preside as an impartial judge in your capacity as president of the City Council. Therefore, you need to recuse yourself from voting on this issue when it comes before the City Council on the 22nd of September. It would not be ethical for you to preside over an issue that you are OBLIGATED to vote for in order to fulfill your responsibility to DeLaSalle. As a judge, you need to be free to vote AGAINST DeLaSalle–and you are not free to vote against DeLaSalle.

    Sincerely,

    Arlene Fried co-founder ParkWatch

    Diamond Lake Nature Trail?

    Due to some disagreement between neighbors on Diamond Lake Lane, as I understand it, earlier in 2006, one of them complained about the other one’s mowing the grass adjacent to their back yard that happens to belong to the Minneapolis Park Board (that Park Board staff had even requested them to mow and that they had been mowing for many years). As the complainer is a friend of Michael Schmidt’s, the Park Board responded by putting up a sign in the middle of the back yard of the mower – interfering with their view of the lake, but hardly visible to anyone else.

    The person complained against tried to fight with the Park Board to have the sign removed through an attorney, who apparently had no luck. He also notified his neighbors that there would be a discussion at the August 2 Park Board meeting of a proposed nature trail around Diamond Lake. There must have been at least a dozen people who attended and were allowed to speak during Open Time. (See the web cast on the Park Board’s web site – [shows.implex.tv/Qwikcast/Root/minneapolis/508/preflight.htm])

    In spite of all the expressions against such a nature trail, after the 8/2 Park Board Meeting, on 8/7 Michael Schmidt sent a letter to all the property owners around Diamond Lake, putting them on notice to stop encroaching on Park Board land – including structures, underground water sprinkler systems and mowing – by October 10, 2006. This letter also said they planned to put a wood chip or gravel nature trail around the south end of Diamond Lake with overlooks park benches and picnic tables, even though Commissioner Kummer had assured the people attending the meeting this was just being studied and there was no definite plan for the trail.

    Diamond Lake property owners organized and held two meetings, signed two petitions against the nature trail and talked with as many Commissioners as would respond to calls. The Commissioner for District 6, Carol Kummer, where Diamond Lake is located, has been non-responsive as of this writing. KSTP did a story on the proposed trail.

    In the Park Board meeting on 9/6, there was considerable discussion on the issue of encroachments, (see web cast [shows.implex.tv/Qwikcast/Root/minneapolis/534/preflight.htm]) and Commissioner Dziedzic pointed out that the Park Board relies on private citizens to mow the grass on boulevards and water trees and would not be able to maintain these without their help. He also said that in sticky situations, face-to-face communication would be better than just sending a letter. Commissioner Nordyke asked Superintendent Gurban if the staff would notify Diamond Lake property owners that the October 10 deadline would be removed or extended to allow time for adequate dialog while the Board considered all the issues.

    In a letter dated 9/11 addressed to Residents, Superintendent Gurban did not mention the October 10 deadline, but only stated that they had hired surveyors to determine what property the Park Board owns around the lake and requesting residents to respect that process.

    How does a private dispute get escalated like this? Why couldn’t the original people have resolved their issue without involving the Park Board? Why can’t the Park Board control the actions of the staff? Do surveyors decide who owns what? Will there be a nature trail put around more of Diamond Lake (creating huge safety issues for homeowners)? Will the October 10 deadline be rescinded?

    Star Tribune: New parks plan comes amid national attention

    In a story subtitled “Minneapolis pushes ahead on shaping a comprehensive document as national experts gather here to discuss public-private partnerships,” Linda Mack writes about a variety of park-planning and building activities going on this month.

    Her story begins:

    The dirt piling up for a new park east of the Guthrie Theater is a sign that Minneapolis is still hungry for a greener landscape.

    How that will happen is the subject of parallel discussions by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and a handful of private groups this month. Though there’s a debate over whether privately owned parks, such as the $5 million Gold Medal Park funded by UnitedHealth Group CEO William McGuire, are the wave of the future, both public and private park advocates say they have the same motivation.

    “We love our parks and our open spaces and we want to preserve them,” said landscape architect Bruce Chamberlain, president of the Minnesota chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

    • Today the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board kicks off a series of seven town meetings to gather input from city residents about the value and use of parks. The feedback will shape the Park Board’s first comprehensive plan since 1965. That plan will be presented at public meetings next summer.

    Parks Superintendent Jon Gurban said the system needs to change in response to the city’s shifting demographics.

    • Monday, the first Twin Cities Parks Conservancy Summit at the Guthrie Theater will bring experts from New York, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Louisville, Ky., to share their experiences leading private conservancies or “friends of the park” groups.

    “I hope that we get some ideas about how other folks are finding ways to build these public-private partnerships and energize this community around doing the same thing,” said Chamberlain, one of the event’s planners.

    • The Mayor’s Design Team is sketching ways to turn busy Washington Avenue into a more walkable “Washington Boulevard.” Mayor R. T. Rybak said the group of volunteer architects and landscape architects is focusing on softening the experience of walking in the North Loop.

    • The Minnesota office of the Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation organization, is developing plans to improve open space in downtown Minneapolis, in inner-city neighborhoods and in the entire metropolitan region. Susan Schmidt, director of the Minnesota office, said the next big project may involve helping develop a park space near the downtown Minneapolis library.

    • A group of private-sector leaders, including retired developer Ray Harris, also is discussing a major effort to improve open space downtown.

    Mack notes that these efforts are not yet coordinated and most are also not yet specific. The Park Board staff apparently is not warm to the idea of private conservancy, either — or at least, the official staff opinion as expressed by spin-meister in chief, Superintendent Jon Gurban:

    “It feels like it’s an implied criticism,” Gurban said. “I really would challenge someone to say that the park commissioners haven’t protected and enhanced our park system in the last 123 years.”

    Who knows what the real experts on the Park Board staff think these days, having been effectively muzzled by Gurban and his cronies.

    Mack’s article continues:

    Chamberlain said that the summit isn’t meant as a critique, but aims to address the challenge of maintaining and developing parks in a tough financial climate.

    “It’s pretty clear that there aren’t enough resources going toward parks,” he said. “So if this event can help build awareness and help build more financial resources, we will have been successful.”

    The original article in its entirety can be read at the Star Tribune website.

    Zoning & Planning Committee Hears DeLaSalle Appeal to HPC Denial

    On Thursday, Sept. 14 at 9:30a.m., the city council’s zoning and planning committee will hear DeLaSalle’s appeal of the HPC’s denial of its application for a Certificate of Appropriateness for the stadium over Grove Street.

    For some of the reasons that the Heritage Preservation Committee (HPC) denied DeLaSalle’s applicatin for a Certificate of Appropriateness for their athletic stadium construction in historic Nicollet Island Park, read Judith Martin’s essay on DeLaSalle’s history of asking for land from the city.

    Downtown Journal: A dose of reality in the DeLaSalle stadium debate

    Judith Martin, geography professor and chair of the University of Minnesota’s Urban Studies Program, writes in the Downtown Journal:

    Noted author Pearl Buck once wrote, One faces the future with ones past.

    The past recently came back in a surprising twist for a long-disputed local development proposal, DeLaSalle’s proposed football stadium on Nicollet Island.

    Over the past year, gallons of press ink have been spilled on this topic, and radio airwaves have sometimes filled as well. Most of this coverage presented a stark contrast between self-described supporters of educating poor children and DeLaSalle’s island neighbors. Islanders have been accused of not paying property taxes, living for free on public land and being a small minority opposed to the schools progess — none of which is true. What is true, it turns out, is that DeLaSalle has turned to the city for help again and again in its pursuit of athletic facilities. This latest request is the third time.

    The school’s case for the proposed stadium has repeatedly been grounded in the claim that it has been on Nicollet Island for a century and never had home field advantage, which apparently limits its ability to recruit students. But publicly available air photos from the 1940s and 1950s, along with newspaper archives, show this to be a false claim. They instead portray a DeLaSalle that has been land-hungry for more than 60 years. These air photos show the existence of very large playing fields surrounding the high school. DeLaSalle built these fields after getting the city to condemn half of the historic Eastman Flats in 1942, in the process evicting 300 low-income households during a wartime housing shortage. That provided the high school a football field, a baseball diamond and other facilities. DeLaSalle’s own yearbooks proudly display photos of their athletes winning games on their home field in the 1940s.

    The 1950s and 1960s urban renewal activity, which reshaped the Gateway on Downtown’s northern edge, spilled over onto Nicollet Island. During this time, the other half of Eastman Flats came down to allow DeLaSalle to build a tennis court and parking lot.

    In all of this, a city street and several public alleys were vacated and turned over to the high school. More recently, that is since 1990, another city street has been vacated, and an easement over part of Grove Street has been granted to create another regulation-size football field for the schools use. Clearly, DeLaSalle’s own choices over the past 50 years created the condition they now bemoan, as the school has consistently expanded into its own athletic fields to add new buildings and ever more parking.

    Proponents of this project routinely point to a 1983 agreement between the Park Board and the former Minneapolis Community Development Agency, which committed the city to providing a football field and tennis courts. Everything promised in this agreement has since been accomplished. Nothing in that agreement, or in subsequent neighborhood plans, ever mentioned closing a public street, creating stadium seating for 700, lights brighter than the Hennepin Avenue Bridge, loudspeakers and a press box.

    Had these things been part of DeLaSalle’s long-term planning, they would likely have been mentioned before late 2004. There was ample opportunity: DeLaSalle and island neighbors all participated fully in a three-year-long process which created the Nicollet Island Master Plan, completed and adopted by the Park Board in 1996. But thoughts about a stadium are notably absent from this plan. In fact, none of the approved plans contemplated more playing fields anywhere on the island — all focus on preserving the historic housing and stewarding a park setting visited by multiple thousands of people annually.

    By now, reasonable people — including Island residents — are no doubt weary of this subject. One might well ask why all of the fuss about what seems a very local land use issue? The answer became apparent at the Heritage Preservation Commission hearing last month. This is not a simple local issue. Residents all over the city have taken an interest in this issue because it represents for many something which they fear: the sale or lease of highly valued park land. In fact, the Park Board last year approved an agreement in support of this very proposal, which brought out many environmental activists.

    No one disputes that DeLaSalle provides quality education or that its athletes do deserve reasonable spaces to practice and play. Alternative locations for this facility, perhaps even co-locating with deserving public schools in the city that also lack playing fields, clearly exist, and they should be found.

    As this project moves forward through the City Planning Commission and City Council processes, the actions of the HPC and the school’s actual history of athletic fields foregone deserve attention. My own particular concern stems from my recently completed 15 years as a City Planning Commission member. Granting this request flies squarely in the face of every existing city policy to reconnect the grid and create access to the river wherever possible. Access already exists here. Vacating one half of the remaining two public cross-streets on Nicollet Island serves no public purpose of any kind, and it should be rejected.

    Read original article at the Downtown Journal website.