City council actions

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April 11, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
April 1 meeting

Life Time Fitness keeps contract

Life Time Fitness will keep its $464,000 contract with the city of Minneapolis, despite the fact that some City Council members oppose the company’s policy of not offering benefits to domestic partners of Life Time employees.

About 800 city firefighters, police officers and park police officers have Life Time memberships. Life Time has held the contract for several years.

The city’s Equal Benefits Ordinance requires contractors of more than $100,000 to offer equal benefits to married employees and those with domestic partners. But the City Council on April 1 voted 9–4 to give Life Time an exception.

The city recently sent out a request for proposals because the Life Time contract was scheduled to end March 31. Three other fitness centers — the YWCA, Snap Fitness and Anytime Fitness — all submitted proposals, according to Kevin Carpenter, director of financial operations for the Minneapolis Police Department.

Only the YWCA offers domestic benefits to its employees across the board, he said. Snap and Anytime offer domestic benefits to their corporate employees, but each franchisee has the choice to offer the benefits at their gyms.

Gym memberships were bargained for in firefighter and police union contracts.

Mark Lakosky, president of Local Firefighters Union 82, said firefighters undergo regular physical fitness tests and need the memberships to stay in shape. He said that only one-third of firefighters live in the city, and Life Time has both the best and most facilities to serve the department (the YWCA has only three locations).

Lakosky also pointed out that Life Time offers couples’ membership rates to domestic partners.

Council Member Gary Schiff (9th Ward) called on Life Time to review its policy at a committee meeting and cast one of the four votes opposing the exception.  

Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) said that, because the city didn’t get a competitive bid, it was put in a difficult position.

“We do not have our ideal circumstance here, but we do not have our ideal circumstance available to us,” Hodges said.

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City hopes to plug potholes with $1 million appropriation

The City Council on April 1 voted to add $1 million to the pothole repair budget, doubling the city’s pothole workforce for seven weeks.

The budget boost will allow the city to speed up pothole repair on busy roadways and address some of the less-traveled residential streets later on, said Mike Kennedy, the city’s street maintenance director.

Kennedy said the city’s pothole repair budget is usually around $2 million. One-third of the additional $1 million will come from a 2010 budget surplus; the rest will come from future street resurfacing funds.

The city plans to ramp up pothole work starting April 4. That’s when the weather is warm enough to use hot asphalt to permanently fill the holes.

City officials said this spring has brought with it an unusually bad pothole season, caused by near-record snowfalls.

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City moving forward on plan to allow for urban farming

Minneapolis is moving forward on its Urban Agriculture Policy Plan that aims to allow for small commercial gardening in residential neighborhoods and larger urban farming in industrial and commercial areas.

The plan makes eight recommendations meant to make available more locally grown and healthy foods to city residents. Even if the plan is adopted, each individual recommendation would need to be voted on by the City Council before it becomes zoning law.

“What this plan does is kind of set up a framework for [changing zoning laws] and gives us some general guidance about what to explore,” said Amanda Arnold, the principal planner for the city of Minneapolis.

Among the recommendations of the urban agriculture policy plan:

Allowing for market gardens in a variety of areas of the city, including residential neighborhoods. Arnold said most of them would go in vacant lots. They could be started on private property or on city property sold at market value.

Allow for rooftop gardens in dense areas of the city.

Allow for larger farming operations in commercial and industrial areas of the city.

The plan does not specify when and where food from commercial farms could be sold. Arnold said those rules would have to be made separate from zoning changes.

The city already allows for community gardens, but farmers cannot sell food grown on them. Market gardens would allow people to sell the goods and turn a profit.

The plan does not recommend any changes to the city’s animal policy. Arnold said residents have expressed interest in keeping small milk goats in Minneapolis. Several animal advocacy groups wrote letters of concern to the city. The plan suggests the city further study the idea.

Currently, the city allows for chickens and bees in some areas, but not hoofed animals.

The Minneapolis Planning Commission has already approved the plan. It was postponed by the city’s Zoning and Planning Committee to allow for some extra tweaking.

The committee was slated to act on the plan on April 7, the day after the Journal went to press.  

To see the full plan, visit tinyurl.com/2conm7h.