civic beat

Planning Commission delays vote on restricting home sizes

The Minneapolis Planning Commission voted April 9 to postpone its vote on City Council member Betsy Hodges' (13th Ward) proposed zoning changes that would restrict the size of new homes built in the city.

The decision came after a well-attended public hearing about the amendments, which include square footage limits based on the area of a building divided by the area of the lot it's on, reduced footprint and height limits, and other restrictions.

Speakers expressed concerns about the amendment approval process moving too fast and the impact of blanket zoning changes on the city's diverse housing stock. Some thought the amendments were a step in the right direction, but most weren't ready for approval.

Planning commissioners felt similarly.

&#8220Council Member Hodges is right to push this,” Commissioner Robert LaShomb said at the meeting. &#8220But I don't think we're there yet. There are issues that have come up in the public hearing that lead me to believe this is not a finished product.”

Hodges, who had hoped to get the zoning changes in place before this year's construction season was in full swing, said this summer will be hard for some of her constituents. But she said she could wait if the commission's deliberation leads to better zoning changes.

&#8220It was clear that they were discussing details,” she said. &#8220And I found that to be very encouraging.”

Hodges' staff is working to address the concern of applying the same zoning policy to each home, but she said developing a neighborhood-by-neighborhood solution isn't practical. Her staff is also working to address other concerns raised at the public hearing, as directed by the Commission.

The Planning Commission will discuss the proposed amendments again April 26. A second public hearing is scheduled for May 7.

City officials head to Scotland to study IRV

A group of local officials will travel to Scotland later this month to get an up-close look at Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) in action.

Minneapolis residents voted last fall to use IRV, a voting method in which voters rank candidates in order of preference rather than choosing one, in municipal elections. Scotland will use this voting method in its local government elections May 3, and several Minneapolis officials will be on hand to observe how the process works.

Members of the delegation visiting Scotland include: Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward); Cindy Reichert, elections director for Minneapolis; Michelle DesJardin, Hennepin County's manager of voter registration and election information; Gary Poser, Minnesota elections director; Jeanne Massey, FairVote Minnesota interim executive director and the lead organizer for the Minneapolis Better Ballot Campaign; and Tyrone Bujold, a retired attorney, Minneapolis Charter Commission member and member of the FairVote Minnesota board.

The group will leave for Scotland on April 28 and return May 6. Massey said the goal of the trip is to observe how the elections are conducted using IRV, both from a voter's viewpoint as well as how the elections are administered.

&#8220This trip just informs us that much better about what we might need to look at and consider better in Minneapolis,” Massey said.

FairVote Minnesota, which Massey is now leading, is an organization that lobbied to get IRV in Minneapolis and is advocating for the method in other parts of the state as well. Many of the officials going on the trip received a scholarship from the FairVote Center for Voting and Democracy, the national version of FairVote Minnesota, and the Electoral Reform Society in England. Glidden said her trip will be paid for with a scholarship, something she said she cleared with the city's ethics officer first. Glidden said she's eager to see the practical application of IRV while also getting the opportunity to talk with city, county and state election officials.

&#8220It's going to be a fantastic trip,” Glidden said.

The group will return just in time to help FairVote Minnesota celebrate its 10th anniversary May 8. A celebration event featuring guest speaker Mark Ritchie, the Minnesota Secretary of State and a resident of Southwest Minneapolis, will be held at 6 p.m. at the University Club at Summit and Ramsey Hill in St. Paul. Visit www.fairvotemn.org for more information.

Great City Take Action

Mayor R.T. Rybak launched a new initiative earlier this month called The Great City Take Action that aims to recruit and mobilize residents to get involved in efforts to improve Minneapolis.

The initiative partners the city with Hands On Twin Cities, an organization that links volunteers with volunteer opportunities. Working with the organization, The Great City Take Action will hold four public forums throughout the year titled:

– Reweaving the Urban Fabric with Clean, Green Neighborhoods

– Making Minneapolis a Safe Place to Call Home

– Closing the Gaps with an Economy that Works for Everyone

– Preparing the Next Generation for their Future

The forums will provide residents with information about the most pressing challenges facing the city and connect them with volunteer opportunities with city boards and community organizations working on these issues. The forums are free and open to the public, but registration is requested. Visit www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/mayor for more information.