Some Lyndale owners get sticker shock over lighting project

The Lyndale neighborhood is reassessing how to best involve residents on a proposed $3.2 million pedestrian-level lighting project — a plan that apparently caught some residents off guard when they received letters notifying them of their projected property tax hike.

Property owners would pay for the lighting through special assessments, levied by lot size. The owner of an average-sized lot could pay roughly $2,500, "aiming on the high side," said Transportation Engineer Beverly Jo Warmka.

Property owners would pay the assessment over 20 years, with interest. Suzette Hjermstad, supervisor of special assessments, estimated the first-year payment for an average lot at $250, dropping to $125 in the final year, assuming 5 percent interest.

The Minneapolis City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on the lighting plan at 10 a m., Thursday July 18 in City Hall.

The committee delayed a June 13 public hearing at the request of City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), who has asked the Lyndale Neighborhood Association to create a task force of people who both favor the lights and those who oppose them and report back.

The Lyndale neighborhood is located between Lake and 36th streets and between I-35 W and Lyndale Avenue.

As a Lyndale resident, Niziolek said he signed a petition in support of the lighting project, believing it would help reduce crime. It would cost him between $2,300 and $2,400 he said.

As a council member, he said he has to take a broader view. The Public Works Committee has already received eight letters, five in opposition to the lights, and three in support. Niziolek said he has received roughly 40 calls and e-mails and they are running three-to-two against. Some neighbors have complained about the cost, others because they were not aware of the plan until they received their assessment notices.

"I want the neighborhood to be much more together in terms of what their recommendation is to the council," Niziolek said. "Enhancing pedestrian lighting is always going to be a benefit to the neighborhood. The people who are involved with this really care about the neighborhood. There have been a number of issues raised about the process."

Lyndale residents circulated a petition to initiate the lighting project and received more than 65 percent approval, according to a Department of Public Works report.

The petition is advisory only, Niziolek said. It triggered the proposed creation of Street Lighting District Number 1292.

The Lyndale Neighborhood Association and Lyndale Neighborhood Development Corporation supported the group that circulated the pedestrian lighting petition as part of their goal of promoting citizen involvement, staff said. Neither organization has taken a position on the lighting project.

(The neighborhood association addresses issues of human capital — safety, arts and cultural programs — while the development corporation handles housing and economic development issues.)

Niziolek said the citizen’s group did not get necessary city support for the petitioning, because city offices were at times understaffed. The city lacks a clear pedestrian lighting policy, and a petition process that should have taken one or two years has dragged on since 1998, he said.

Norma Pietz, executive coordinator of Lyndale Neighborhood Development Corporation, said the petition did not reach everyone. "People got assessment letters who had never seen a petition," she said. "It upset them."

According to preliminary drawings, Lyndale’s long blocks would receive roughly six pedestrian lights each, on alternating sides of the street. The project includes high-level lights in selected locations.

The cost of the project had increased since the petition drive began, Pietz said. The petition people signed estimated the cost at $2,557,000, or roughly 20 percent less than current projections.

Pietz said she would like to see every homeowner receive an informational letter about the project and a ballot.

"That is the only way I can see it would be fair," she said. "You can’t hit everybody in petitioning."

"We are in support of what the majority of the people want. We support a good process," she said. "We don’t want to pit neighbor against neighbor."

Disagreement exists. "The neighborhood residents have put in a lot of time and effort in gathering support and signatures for the project," Lisa Merklin Lewis wrote the city. "It is a worthwhile endeavor and should have a positive effect on the safety of our streets."

A 75-year-old resident wrote in opposition. "I am tired of the city putting things in and we have to pay for it," she said. "They just put in sidewalks, in which I had to pay over $500 for. … There are some months I don’t buy groceries because I cannot afford them on my small (Social Security) check."

"God made night and day, if he wanted it light 24 hours a day he would have made it that way."

Other neighborhoods, such as Lowry Hill and East Isles, have petitioned the city for pedestrian-level lights, in part to improve neighborhood safety. Some neighborhoods used Neighborhood Revitalization Program money to defray the cost.

Lyndale had no NRP money set aside for the pedestrian lighting beyond $15,000 under a general heading of "lighting," Pietz said.

People with questions about their assessment notices should call Hjermstad, supervisor of special assessments, at 673-2401.