Monday, January 28, 2013

Educating myself on the "Other point of view"

One 'suggestion' given to me after I gave my presentation to the Mound City Council was that I should read, and research opposing points of view. The suggestion seem to be that perhaps I was only looking at the situation Mound was in with a certain point of view.

This bothered me a lot, and I honestly didn't think it was fair, nor true. However, I vowed to take the Mound City Council's suggestions seriously (as I hoped they took mine seriously), and I took a second look at the both the resources I regularly read, as well as sought out other points of view that I honestly have generally ignored, or dismissed as nonsense.

Ok... time to meet and talk about what to do for Mound. "A Place in Mound" is more than just talking... it's about doing. Let's put some ideas together, collaborate, and make Mound a better place.

Tuesday night, I'm going to be at the Mound Caribou at 7PM with pens, paper and looking to DO something. How about you? Come with ideas, and some gumption.

If you can't be there, let me know and I'll keep you in the loop. This is to be the beginning of a beautiful thing!

I first decided to try to find writers and groups that were contrary to many of my regular read like Atlantic Cities, Strong Towns, and the like that I frequently mention. I didn't find anyone regularly writing scathing articles or deeply analytical criticisms of people friendly streets nor more productive land use. Sometimes someone like Joe Soucheray will write a thoughtful article discussing the crazy bikers, and the wasted space of a bike lane, but it's very infrequent, and in the end, their goals are often the same as mine, they just might have some different priorities. That's great. I have always read pieces like this, and will continue to do so.

I then decided to try to read and understand the "Agenda 21 conspiracy" that I've heard about occasionally over the last few years. I have watched several videos and read much in the last couple months and can safely tell you that the City of Mound will not be accepting International Building Codes nor move everyone off the Island to live in a run down apartment building in downtown. These people are scared that the local government is going to not let you use your land the way you want to, and force you to farm in certain ways, and your lives will be tightly regulated. It's really crazy. The people preaching this nonsense can be the same camp of folks who believe the US Government took part in the 9/11 attacks.

Not sure if this is what was meant by the city council, but trying to be open, I have spent some time the last couple weeks reading updates on the ideas of having a "Private Rapid Transit" (PRT) system of transportation. The idea is an older one, I remember reading about it 10 years ago. There used to be a couple of very vocal local promoters of this idea here in the Twin Cities I read about back then. The main idea (with some variations) is that you may not own a car, but an automated one would come pick you up when you needed one, and the computer driven vehicle might pick up another rider or two, and get you to your destination with little or no guidance from you. It's regained some traffic lately since Google has had some success with their computer driven cars. The concept of PRT however is so grandiose, that I have difficulty seeing it being implemented anytime soon, if ever, considering the political, structural, and financial logistics.

Exhausting any ideas on who else I could read, it occurred to me about a month ago that I really didn't have to read "other points of view" to challenge myself and the things that are written on the webpage. We LIVE in the opposing view! I can simply walk my kids to school Monday morning to appreciate streets built for fast cars, and leaving people like my children as after thoughts. I can drive the posted speed limit of 30 MPH, and have the "opposing point of view" impatiently tailgating me all the way up Tuxedo Blvd wanting to drive 35 MPR(or more). I can take my family for a bike ride to church along Shoreline Dr, and have the "opposing point of view" drive by my wife and children as if we weren't there.

The most ironic piece of all this is...my journey to get to this point of view I hold, all started because I was seeking "an opposing point of view".

I will continue to read and contemplate all views that I think are serious about making Mound a better Place. Whether it the streets, downtown, our neighborhoods, or our parks. These all need attention, and often need "another point of view" as we work to improve them.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Moonlight Trail Walk

The walk is tomorrow night. There will be HUNDREDS of luminaries, and dozens of campfires. You have no excuse! I hope to see you out there. There will be free continuing bus service from Gale Woods, to the Transit Center, to the Minnetonka Drive In.

I will be manning the Westonka Community and Commerce booth from 7:30-8:00 by the Transit Center. Come and say Hi!

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Don't miss the walk!
 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Time for some ACTION!

Here's an opportunity... this property is for sale...

http://minneapolis.craigslist.org/hnp/bfs/3564878004.html

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This property, without question, is one of the most unappealing properties in Mound. I have written about it before, several people commented on it at the Mound Magic meeting last October. City officials said, at the meeting, they have inspected the property, and since there's no code violations, they throw their hands up in the air to say "There's nothing we can do about it!"

I spoke with one of the two owners of the building last Winter. I've been thinking about starting a bicycle business, and this location being a block or two off the Andrew Sister's Trail, and Dakota Trail, seemed like a place to consider. The gentleman I spoke with was pleasant, and talked about how sturdy the building was with it's concrete block construction, and it's view of Lost Lake from the roof, would be a good place to do business. He seemed genuinely interested in a serious discussion, but it was also clear that the place would need a lot of work.

Frankly, the price they are asking on this property ($195,000) seems high. Looking at all the commercial property for sale (and there is a lot of it!) all these old, but still usable builds. Kirby's is asking for $170,000, the Tonka Tunes record store (which, at least, is currently being used) is asking $190,000. The county is listing the Market Value for these properties for much less... generally around $100,000. Some of these buildings are barely being maintained. Why put money into a building, when we've all been expecting some big developer to sweep in, buy it, and tear it down to put in a new building on location.

We should DO something about this.

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So I say, let's do something. Let's take any one of these desolate buildings, and make it a place for a weekend or two this summer. Perhaps during the Spirit of the Lakes weekend, or Dog Days. Assuming it will continue to sit unfilled, let's get one of these land owners to find it in his heart to open up one of their place for local volunteers to come in, and make use of for a weekend that is sure to have lots of visibility and traffic.

Of course this is going to take work. We will have to get our hands dirty, get a permit, spend time making decisions, not take no for an answer... but if we keep our eyes on the goal... imagine the smiles of people seeing an empty building suddenly come to life? Imagine we had a place where people could stop and visit for a bit before, during or after the parade?

What idea's do you have?! What do you say Westonka Community and Commerce? City of Mound officials and staff? Local congregations? Mound Westonka Rotary? Westonka BNI? Mound Masons?

Or how about YOU?!

Comment here, on Facebook, email me, phone me your ideas. The only guidelines are our imagination. Let's take an eyesore, and truly make a Place in Mound!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Quicknotes

Our Lady of the Lake School - The Archdiocese has announced the closing Our Lady of the Lake school in Mound. Lots of people are upset about this, and there is a group of families trying to create a new private school in the facility. They are having a rally tonight (Tuesday) at 6:30 to convince church officials to lease out the space. It's important for communities to have choices for their children in education, and with the closing of OLL after Mt. Calvary closed a couple years ago, the local options for our children are very limited. We are fortunate to have the outstanding staff of Mound Westonka schools working for us, but one size doesn't fit all for children. We wish the families of OLL success in their new endeavors. You can find out more about their plans at their website - http://lakeminnetonkaacademy.com/

Drug Abuse meeting - The planned meeting on Drug abuse in our community for next week at the Gillespie Center has been moved to a later date. I had the date, but cannot find my notes, and I will update this webpage as soon as I find it.

Moonlight Trail Walk - It's happening this Saturday, 6-9 at the transit center in Mound. This is one of those events that can only happen because a group of individuals in Mound step up and put it all together, with the support of our local businesses. There will be lots of campfires to warm yourself up, and some fun activities. It's going to be a great event, and I hope you all will be there! http://moonlighttrail.com/

WeCAN has an event coming up -
Enjoy breakfast made to order, and support a great organization which services those in need in the community on Sunday, February 10, 2013, 9:00 a.m.– 12:00 p.m. at the American Legion Post #398, 2333 Wilshire Blvd, Mound MN 55364
Omelet Breakfast cost is $9.00. Tickets available at WeCAN or call 952-472-0742.
Breakfast includes build your own omelet, hash browns, bacon, sausage, biscuits & gravy, milk, juice, coffee & dessert.
Browse through the WeCAN Silent Auction items and find the perfect Valentine’s Day basket for the special people in your life. Themed baskets for Valentines of all ages, wrapped, full of love and good wishes, and ready to give (or keep for yourself).
Proceeds from the breakfast and silent auction will benefit WeCAN, which serves nearly 500 local families each year through programs such as Holiday Adopt-A-Family, the Birthday Shelf, Back-to-School Supply drive, Meals on Wheels , Emergency Assistance, Job Center as well as referrals to other available county and other services.
Western Community Action Network (WeCAN) is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit working with low-income individuals and families in our community.

Big kudos to Pastor Michael Michalk of Mt. Olive for spearheading a project to truly make a great place in Mound. Pay attention next time you drive by their church  and you'll notice a small wetland to the west. He, along with the city of Mound and the neighborhood are looking to create a place around the wetland, including cleaning up the invasive species, and perhaps eventually creating a walking path around the wetland. Cool idea!

Congratulations to Mound Evangelical Free for getting their church reopened after the terrible water damage they suffered last summer.

With the election of Senator Osmek to the state senate, Mound city council has an opening. Applications were accepted until last week, and the word was they received 9 applications.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Showcase - Westonka Horticultural Society

When in the midst of Winter, our minds often think about the upcoming Spring and Summer seasons. If you are a gardener, you may already be considering what plants you are going to plant as the ground thaws. Mound is lucky to have a group like the Westonka Horticultural Society in our midst to help us as we plan and grow our flowers and vegetables.

I often note as I walk about our city how much people care for their gardens, and the places near where we live. We have many parks with small flower boxes that the neighborhood attends. The city staff do a great job of caring for the plantings and bushes along County Road 15, keeping them pruned and clearing out garbage that tends to collect there. There is one home along Tuxedo Blvd, where I saw a gentleman nearly every time out in his front yard tending what I think was a vegetable garden that encompassed most of his front yard! I have several neighbors who do such wonderful work and create such beautiful places for those of us walking. There are some who have vegetable gardens, and seem to enjoy showing my daughters their growing produce, and even letting us take some home from time to time!
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A neighborhood shows it cares about it's parks by tending to these flowers.
This last summer, as my kids and I were walking by Carbones on Lynwood and Commerce, I noted this planter pictured below. A closer look revealed it to be a beautiful plant, adding some green and color to the pleasant fountain and brickwork that make up this corner.

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Wetonka Horticultural Society doing it's part to make Mound a better place!
The Westonka Horticultural Society donates this planter,the plantings, and takes time to tend it. (update - The WHS saw the planter empty for several years and approached the commercial realty owner for permission to plant them. They then make a donation to our society.) Since there is no water tap near here (I believe they couldn't use the fountain for some reason(update - the fountain water contains chemicals to keep the fountain clean that they can’t use it for plant water) they actually bring their own water to this planter regularly. Not an easy feat considering the nearest parking is by the Verizon store. Their dedication here is admirable.

The Horticultural Society serves Mound in other various ways, including preparing and assisting with the Community Garden at Bethel Church, and answering questions from anyone (such as novices like me) at the Mound Farmers Market and other community events. Look for more information about their big event of the year on Saturday, March 13. They will be hosting their annual Horticultural Day at the Mound-Westonka High School. (Look forward to their annual plant swap in May)

Thank you Westonka Horticultural Society for helping make Mound a great Place!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The creaking and groaning of code

At our last Planning Commission meeting we had a longer than usual agenda on various topics that I could write at length on. Today I want to briefly point out the absurdity and uselessness of the systems we have built, and are governed by.

One topic we spent a fair amount of time on was the parking determination of the proposed Main Street Covenant church, which is planning to take over a large section of the Stonegate Shopping Center, which currently houses the Dollar Store, Early Chilldhood Education class, and others office and retail. The issue was of parking spots, and whether the Stonegate could handle the influx of church goers using the facility.

So our city's code has a section that identifies the minimum requirements for parking, usually based on square footage. So for the school facility (ECFE), the code requires 76 parking spaces . For for the retail spaces (Dollar Store and Dominos) 43 parking spaces. Banks, offices and the proposed church space had similar numbers... and after adding it all up, the Mound city code suggests that Stonegate should have 203 parking spots.

Stonegate has 137 parking spaces on location.

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Stonegate Shopping Center - Do we really need to worry there's not enough parking spaces here?
Think about it. Does ECFE really need 76 parking spaces?! How often does the Dollar Store need 30 parking spaces?

Then think about all the times you've driven past this location, and how empty the parking lot is.

So during the discussion, we, of course, all realize how absurd this all is, but because our code has these numbers, we have to meet, educate everyone on the issue, laugh politely about it, make up a pretend number  so all the uses of the facility will "fit" and approve the "Parking Determination" for Stonegate, and Main Covenant Church.

And it was pointed out towards the end, there is lots of on street parking on Wilshire and Eden.

The crazy part is... we have this big thick book of city code that is supposed to have the answers for these questions. Since this project (like apparently most projects in Mound) didn't fit nicely and neatly into our code,  we had to essentially ignore it. We talked about it for at least a half hour, and I don't want to think about how much staff time was spent on it for the previous weeks.

I understand the need for transparency, and I can appreciate guidelines like our city code contains. But when simple, common-sense, logical solutions are hung up by the creaking and groaning of out dated city code and the fear of phone calls from folks who complain, we have a problem.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Wilshire/Brighton Intersection

We all have witnessed the major street reconstruction around Mound the last few years in our neighborhoods. I appreciate the work done on my home street, and believe a lot of good was done with the reconstruction. There is one issue that became apparent to me last Fall that I need to dwell on today.
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Recently rebuilt Wilshire/Brighton intersection
Brighton Blvd is the neighborhood street on the Island that connects Wilshire to Tuxedo Blvd. It's an old street, initially built for the people that live there. At first glance, it looks like it would be a great street to live on. It goes next to Wychwood Beach/Commons, a public beach near Wilshire, and Swenson Park. It's laid out nicely, following the contours of the hills and meanders around the intial cabins and homes built there.

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Brighton Blvd in red, Wilshire (north side) and Tuxedo (south) in green.

Unfortunately Brighton Blvd is also a shortcut, that connects Wilshire to Tuxedo, and get's lots of use for people wanting to cut through the neighborhood. There is a palatable sense of disrespect for the neighborhood and street users by the automobiles that go through here everyday. Despite the fact it's a narrow street, houses close to it, Swenson Park, sharp turns and people on it, cars drive through too fast. I would've hoped that this could have been improved during the reconstruction of this street last year, possibly with stop signs, paint, police enforcement, and at worse, speed bumps, but I fear it was rebuilt the same way, and could possibly be worse at the intersection I'm about to focus on.

For the last five years, I have walked a group of small children from my house, along Wilshire to Brighton so we could play at Swenson Park. We only did it a couple times a summer, in part, because of the disrespectful traffic on the streets. One of the worst parts about the walk was crossing from Wilshire to get to Brighton. Wilshire has barely tolerable walking shoulders for the most part, with the exception of the bridge, which has sidewalks, but traffic still rushes by making a person feel insignificant. Brighton, is a better street, but the intersection of Wilshire and Brighton was (before reconstruction of Brighton) a nightmare.

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Intersection of Wilshire/Brighton before reconstruction last summer.
Now the city of Mound just invested in rebuilding Brighton, and they changed how this intersection works, the main change is stopping Brighton traffic who are going east. Right before the snow fell last Fall, I walked my daughters out this way for the first time since they finished construction. It appears that there is still little consideration of people (engineers call them pedestrians) on this intersection.

Walking eastbound on Wilshire, to then cross Wilshire to get onto Brighton, now one has to walk onto a turn lane.

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Someone walking eastbound would have to cross here. Where are they supposed to walk?
Walking westbound, on Brighton, to then just walk on to Wilshire, there is no accommodation for people. A person has to hug the curb, while cars coming at you from Wilshire have no need to slow down.

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Walking westward here, note the sidewalk coming to an abrupt end/beginning.
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The same mailboxes from the previous picture. It's clear the priority of this intersection is that cars move fast through here. It feels that there was no consideration of people here. 
The point of all this is that when our city starts reconstruction of the MSA streets in a year, will the focus remain on getting cars to move fast, or will it focus on creating an atmosphere for people, and for a neighborhood the street is on. I worry that this intersection is a sign that people are not a consideration of the engineers rebuilding our streets.