Civic beat // Council passes moratorium on large projects in Linden Hills

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April 16, 2012
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
The City Council on March 30 unanimously passed a moratorium on “large-scale” developments in Linden Hills in order to give time for neighbors to draw up a small area plan for future development in the neighborhood.  

The moratorium restricts developers from applying for conditional use permits to build higher than what is entitled in the city’s zoning code. 

It covers the 43rd and Uptown business node, the 44th and France business node and the corridor in between. 

The moratorium comes a few weeks after the City Council denied developer Mark Dwyer’s attempt to construct a five-level mixed-use building at the site of Famous Dave’s. 

Another large development has already been proposed for the area. Sunnyside Flats is a five-level, 68-unit development project at 45th and France. That project, according to Council Member Betsy Hodges’ office, had already submitted its application before the moratorium was put in place. 

Ben Hecker, the policy aide for Hodges, said the council member’s office hopes to work with stakeholders for the next roughly 12 months to complete the small area plan and end the moratorium.

Uptown, for instance, has a small area plan. It’s not the law, but the Uptown Small Area Plan gives guidelines for land use, including building height. That plan took two years to finalize. 

Robert Lilligren, after voting for the moratorium, said he supported small area planning, but also cautioned that he expects density to spread about the city. 

“I would just like to remind us that we do have growth goals and projections for both the city and the region and these small area plans I think need to be reflective of those goals,” he said. 

Rybak taps his chief of staff for economic development post 

Mayor R.T. Rybak has nominated Jeremy Hanson Willis to take over as director of the community planning and economic development for the city. 

Hanson Willis has served as Rybak’s chief of staff since 2009. Prior to that he was Rybak’s communications director. He has also worked as a communications consultant for the public relations firm Tunheim Partners and spent 10 years in advocacy work for the Minneapolis Smoke-Free Coalition and the Minnesota AIDS Project. 

Hanson Willis, if confirmed by the City Council, will take over for Mike Christenson who left the job to take a new role with the Minnesota Business Partnership. Chuck Lutz has been serving as interim director of CPED. 

“Jeremy is equal parts problem solver and relationship builder,” Rybak said in a press release. “He is the right person to lead this critically important department to even greater accomplishments.”

Hanson Willis is a graduate of Macalester College and lives in the Windom Park neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis. 

Employee survey reveals declining morale 

A recent survey of 2,560 Minneapolis city employees shows a decline in morale within the ranks, as 54 percent are satisfied working for the city, compared to 66 percent in 2006.   

Kenexa, a human resources consultant, conducted the employee survey last fall. The survey was sent to 3,894 employees, with 66 percent taking part. 

Only 33 percent of workers feel the city has an adequate number of employees, compared to 40 percent in 2009. Just 34 percent say city leadership shows concern for the well-being and morale of employees, down slightly from 36 percent in 2009. 

The city has reduced its workforce by 12 percent since 2008. The survey was taken at the same time the City Council was considering budget cuts and layoffs in order to hold property taxes flax. 

Survey takers also expressed concern with their department leadership. In the past year, four department heads have either retired or took different jobs, including the fire chief, chief financial officer, regulatory leader and the city coordinator.

In no department were bad feelings more evident than in the Fire Department. Of the 161 firefighters who took the survey, just 17 percent felt they have a promising future at the city and only 3 percent say they have enough people to get their work done. In the same survey taken in the fall of 2006, 22 percent felt valued and 13 percent said the department was adequately staffed. 

Since 2006, staffing at the Fire Department has dropped from 444 to 392. Those reductions had come mostly through attrition until last year, when the city laid off six firefighters. Fire Chief Alex Jackson resigned in February. His replacement, John Fruetel, is the fifth person to hold the job in the past eight years. 

The survey also showed several positive trends in the city’s ranks. At least 72 percent of employees gave high marks for the city’s benefits plan, its attention to safety and for its health and wellness programs. In all those categories, the city improved from 2009. 

The survey is meant to gather employee insights about what is working well and where the city can improve.  

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.