Civic beat :: Fee for unfinished projects

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July 19, 2010
By: Jake Weyer
Jake Weyer
Fee for unfinished building projects moves forward

Owning an unfinished development in Minneapolis could become more expensive if the City Council approves an ordinance amendment forwarded July 12 from the regulatory committee.

The amendment, introduced by Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward), would allow the city to impose its annual $6,550 fee for boarded and vacant buildings on projects with expired permits or on which work has halted for 180 days or more. The fee is meant to recoup the cost of sending city staff to police properties for public access problems, litter, graffiti, vandalism, break-ins and other issues.

The city would use its own discretion in imposing the fee, targeting problem properties that regularly generate complaints. Owners doing their part could avoid it.  

“That’s all we’re looking for really,” Colvin Roy said. “Is that a property owner’s problem does not become a safety problem or other problem for the neighbors around it.”

Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) said she wished she had introduced the ordinance herself. She asked if it could be used retroactively for properties that have been vacant many years; a city attorney said it couldn’t. She also thought the fee was too low, but city staff said the fee would cover the cost of services.

During a public hearing on the issue, Brian Carnes of Premier Bank in Maplewood called the fee “outrageous.” Carnes said Premier Bank was the “unfortunate” owner of an unfinished condo project in Southeast Minneapolis that it’s been unable to sell for less than half the cost of the bank’s investment.  

“I think you need to reconsider, because we don’t want these properties either, but we need to find buyers and if you continue to throw fees at them, it’s not going to help this problem,” he said. “We need to come up with a solution to get these properties built and put back on the tax rolls as occupied properties.”

Colvin Roy sympathized with the financial situation of property owners, but said the city has put forth too much effort keeping up with residents’ complaints about properties. Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) shared her sentiment.

“I understand that certainly there are a lot of challenges for everyone in this economy, including investors,” Glidden said. “But this is how we kind of try to make sure that there is equity in responsibility and use of city services for making sure our properties are safe and cared for at a standard that is set within our ordinance structure.”

The full council could vote on the issue as soon as July 23.

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City housing and population on rise


Minneapolis gained 7,400 households and increased its population by 3,900 people between 2000 and 2009, according to Metropolitan Council estimates released July 14.

St. Paul lagged in comparison with 3,300 new households and 700 new residents during the same time period, but metro suburbs boasted even larger population growth. The metro as a whole gained 240,000 people — bringing the total population to 2.88 million — and 117,000  new households.

The council attributed the growth to more births than deaths, longer life expectancy and retention of young adults.  

“It’s encouraging that despite challenging economic times the region continues to grow,” said Council Chair Peter Bell in a prepared statement. “The story of the Twin Cities remains one of growth and relative prosperity. Whether it’s accommodating new growth or trying to retain the population you have, either way it’s a challenge that communities throughout the region need to plan for.”

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County launches veteran’s court


Hennepin County on July 12 opened a new criminal court designed just for veterans who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

The intent is to serve defendants who have served in the U.S. armed forces and are experiencing treatable behavioral and chemical issues, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The court will link veterans to special services and emphasize treatment over jail time.

“When we send our troops in harm’s way, we need to bring them back,” said Hennepin Veterans Service Director Milt Schoen in a prepared statement. “This court will help these veterans succeed in life and contribute to our community.””

The court is in the Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S. 6th St.

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Franken to be recognized for work against sexual violence


U.S. Sen. Al Franken and wife, Franni, will be at Solera from 5:30 p.m.–8 p.m. July 22, as honorees at the Sexual Violence Center’s (SVC) annual fundraiser.

The SVC will recognize the couple for their efforts against sexual violence, including the introduction of the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act.

Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. For more information, go to sexualviolencecenter.org.