With Uptown at its epicenter, the 10th Ward has become a hotbed for development controversies, over the height of condo buildings and traffic congestion. Rising crime in the area is also a major issue.
The 10th Ward City Council race has been hot as well, with union organizer and actor Ralph Remington topping two former City Council aides to win the Sept. 13 primary. Former Lyndale Neighborhood Association president Scott Persons finished second.
There is no shortage of issues, but the race has also been marked by personal and sometimes anonymous attacks.
The past year has seen a number of controversial Uptown-area developments, from the six-story Edgewater condos near Lake Calhoun’s northeast shore to a proposed 13-story condo building at Lagoon & Girard avenues. Both buildings were taller than zoning rules permit without additional city review. And this month, developers floated plans to fill more than a block near Lake Street & Lyndale avenue with condo buildings as high as 10 stories.
The building boom excites some but alarms many residents who fear the neighborhoods’ character changing too fast.
So what do the candidates think about the development trend?
Both Persons and Remington cite the need for better area planning, to guard against traffic congestion and other negative neighborhood effects. (See “Hot Buttons,” next page.)
Persons said such an effort is essential to boost transit, and says neighborhoods city officials, institutions and developers must have “a community conversation.”
Remington advocates a similar master plan – especially because the taller buildings have greater impacts that are harder to undo if the impacts are harmful.
“You build a 13-story building and you’re stuck with it for a long time. You’re talking about 50 years or more,” he said.
Remington – who was attacked in a pre-primary Star Tribune editorial as an anti-development NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) – insists he’s “pro-density” and “pro-development,” but added, “I just want it to be smart” and include pedestrian and transit impacts.
With both candidates singing from the community-planning hymnal, it begs the question: do they feel neighborhoods and residents have enough influence in development and city processes? If not, what should change?
Said Persons, “I think neighborhoods should be able to appeal decisions from the [Minneapolis] Planning Commission when the Planning Commission goes against what the neighborhoods recommended Š for free.”
Currently, appeals cost approximately $275 plus postage to inform neighbors within 350 feet of the land in question.
“Neighborhoods do have a say in what happens,” Remington said – recommending actions to the Planning Commission and City Council – but added that they’re not “mobilized” and need good leadership.
Such neighborhood energy “has to be mobilized and focused in a direction to bring about change,” he said. “There’s only one candidate in this race that’s going to advocate for this position, and he’s sitting in front of you.”
One clear difference: taking developers’ contributions – Persons does and Remington doesn’t.
Remington said he won’t take money from commercial real estate developers and none is listed on his Hennepin County campaign finance report.
Asked why he has the policy, Remington said, “It’s too easy to give the appearance of a conflict of interest if you take money from commercial real estate developers. The pressure from developers in the area is too intense.”
Persons’ finance report shows donations from two major Uptown developers doing high-profile projects: Clark Gassen, whose Financial Freedom Realty (FFR) is building the Edgewater development and has done many Southwest-area condo conversions, and Stuart Ackerberg, whose Ackerberg Group is working with FFR to develop the Lagoon site.
When Persons was asked about taking developer money, Campaign Manager Mark Hinds stepped in to answer: “It is ridiculous for anyone that knows Scott to think he’d be influenced by people that write him checks,” he said.
Hinds added that Persons has a “broad base of support” and will work with anyone who believes in his vision.
Some crime categories are on the rise in Southwest’s 5th Precinct this year, making public safety a major issue in the ward.
Part One crimes against people (the most serious type) are up 16 percent through late June, compared to the same 2004 period. Crimes against property are up 18 percent.
Also, SAFE teams – a police crime-prevention effort – have been reduced by more than half since 2002.
How would Remington and Persons propose to improve safety in Southwest?
Persons believes Minneapolis is not proactive in its policing approach, and there are not enough people focused on community policing. “We definitely need to expand SAFE,” Persons said.
He said bike cops could also help with a community policing presence.
Persons also made the connection between area development and crime issues. He said the Uptown’s surge in entertainment businesses has increased nuisance issues, such as drunken behavior, that the city must deal with.
To fight such problems, Persons said he supports a type of ambassador program, with people handing out maps to visitors to remind them that they’re in a residential area, too. Persons walks the walk, literally. He said he’s part of a club in the Lyndale neighborhood called Lyndale Walkers, who keep their eyes open for crime.
Remington said there is a serious shortage of police in Minneapolis. “It’s too small a number for the size city we have.”
Instead of the current 795 sworn officers, he says, the number “should actually be closer to the 1,000 mark,” adding that diversity in the police force is essential.
Remington would pay for new officers with $40 million in property taxes the city’s General Fund will reclaim in 2010 from tax-increment financing districts and by trimming some city departments.
“None of this happens overnight,” he said, adding that it takes time to train officers, too.
However, Remington said more police alone won’t solve Southwest’s problem. He also said community policing is a key component. He said police need a relationship with neighbors, and for ideas, the city should look at what others around the country have done.
Transportation and schools
Development’s spinoff, traffic, is also a major issue, along with its potential solution, transit.
Persons said transit would be “job one” and said he’s the candidate that can deliver on transit initiatives. Citing his work as a Lyndale neighborhood representative on the I-35W Project Advisory Committee, he said he’s got connections. “I’m a candidate that has regional relationships,” he said, rattling off a list of area representatives he’s worked with from throughout the metro area. “I can actually get my calls returned on regional transportation issues.”
(Persons has been part of a group called SMART, which supports the I-35W Access Project to expand the highway, add and move ramps, and provide mitigation of any adverse neighborhood impacts. For more on the issue, see the “Hot Buttons” sidebar.)
Remington has a specific vision of what he wants to see. “We need to run a street car on the Midtown Greenway,” he said. “ So you have the linkage from east to west and north to south.”
Accusations from the past
At times, the race has gotten nasty.
Before the primary election, the Journal received an anonymous packet of anti-Remington materials. The packet included documents from Remington’s 2001 personal bankruptcy filing, and its contents questioned his ability to manage public funds.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court documents show Remington with assets of $26,500 and liabilities of $47,876, mostly credit-card and other consumer debt.
Remington said this attack takes the focus off the issues. While not addressing the bankruptcy documents and claims in detail, he said, “I understand the real problems of real people because I’ve had them,” adding, “in the public realm, I’ve had a stellar record.”
Remington said that he’s had experience raising money and managing funds for numerous organizations, including the Pillsbury House Theater and Media Artists Resource Center and budget management for Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage.
Persons said he does not know who sent the packet and denied sending it. The candidate offered no comment on the issue, but Campaign Manager Hinds did. “If that [a personal bankruptcy] is the case, I think Ralph should have acknowledged it early on,” Hinds said. “I think that truly plays into someone’s ability to manage finances.”
Persons also faces an attack on his ability to manage public funds – this one from a named source, Wendy Pereene, a former Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA) Steering Committee member and current talk show host for Air American Minnesota.
Pereene alleged in an e-mail that while Persons was LNA’s president from June 1999 to June 2002, the organization mismanaged money. She cites an $82,023 write-off in 2002 after the Neighborhood Revitalization Program did not reimburse the expense, and $8,000 in annual phone expenses in both 2001 and 2002.
A 2003 e-mail to Pereene from Persons and three other LNA members stated that the $82,023 write-off resulted from changes in the way staff time was accounted for and reimbursed in 2000. The money stayed on the books while LNA negotiated with NRP.
The e-mail said the issue was discussed at three open meetings.
Auditor Michael S. Wilson, who reviewed LNA’s books, responded to Pereene’s complaints. He wrote, “it is not accurate to describe the loss as ‘misappropriated, possibly illegally.”
For her part, Pereene said in an e-mail posted on the Minneapolis-Issues discussion list, “While I do not believe Scott Persons had a hand in how that $82,000 was spent, he was hostile to my request for a full investigation and full disclosure to quell neighborhood questions.”
As for the phone expenses, Hinds said that during that time, LNA shared office space with the Lyndale Development Corp., paying the phone expenses for both groups and a combined staff of eight to 10.
Hinds noted, “This was a consistent expense during these three years for the organization. In 1999, 2000, and 2001, phone expenses were always around $8,000, down significantly from $25,000 in 1998 – the year before Scott became president.”
Remington said he has no comment on the Persons allegations, but added that he would be interested to learn more.