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Straddling past and future, Burnsville focuses on development 2018

December 28, 2018 the Burnsville Eagan Sun/Thisweek News looks back at the year 2018.

Year in Review 2018: Straddling past and future, Burnsville focuses on development- by John Gessner


Straddling past and future, Burnsville focuses on development


Straddling its past and future, the city of Burnsville focused on development in 2018 — brainstorming ways to revitalize Burnsville Center, welcoming new apartment proposals after years of rejecting them, adopting new tools to more aggressively court business and eying a landfill-closure plan that could be a winner for both the environment and the tax base.

Burnsville also saw changes in leadership, including the surprise resignation and replacement of City Manager Heather Johnston and the flipping of two state House seats from Republican to Democrat.

Here are some highlights of 2018, from the pages of Burnsville-Eagan Sun Thisweek.

Burnsville Center

The 41-year-old regional shopping center and retail area it helped spawn along County Road 42 were under the microscope this year.

Stung by national retail bankruptcies and changing consumer habits, the 1.1 million-square-foot center faces problems shared by many shopping malls.

Mall manager and co-owner CBL Properties estimated more than a year ago that 19 of the center’s 150 retail spaces were vacant, resulting in about 300 job losses, according to the grant application.

Surrounding strip centers had lost about 16 tenants and 155 jobs, according to information compiled by the city.

The entire retail area employs about 7,000 over 600 acres, 96 occupied by Burnsville Center. Unabated vacancies at the mall could force it to close, spinning off closures in the rest of the area, the city said. Declining property values and sales would depress property tax collections and state sales tax collections.

Much has happened since last year, when the revitalization push gained force. A city-hired consulting team worked with officials and landowners and came up with a “Center Village” plan with reimagined North and South neighborhoods on both sides of 42.

The South neighborhood is characterized by mall renovation and new development, offering shopping, entertainment, housing, public spaces and other uses in a walkable environment.

The North neighborhood would include new, smaller blocks of streets accommodating a mix of uses. It would include a “neighborhood-scaled park,” according to the plan.

The city will ask the state for special legislation allowing creation of a tax-increment financing district to woo developers and build public infrastructure.

The earliest phases of a redevelopment plan that could take up to 20 years to complete would be south of 42, according to the plan. Real estate values and taxes generated south of 42 could skyrocket with full build-out, consultants estimate.

Apartments

Looking to Burnsville’s next growth phase, City Council Member Dan Kealey said after his re-election in November the city had five live apartment proposals — three senior and two market-rate — and three more brewing behind the scenes.

“We have a couple hundred million dollars in development that’s going to happen,” promising “significant tax relief in the form of new property tax revenues,” Kealey said.

The election of council members Dan Gustafson and Cara Schulz in 2016 cemented a pro-apartment majority, reversing years of council refusal to consider land-use measures allowing new projects even as they sprung up in other cities.

The biggest proposal is for a 458-unit housing project on the southeast corner of Interstate 35W/35E and County Road 42. The project took a step forward this month when the council accepted an environmental review of the plan, proposed by Healey-Ramme.

The developer wants to build 412 apartment units in two six- to eight-story buildings and 46 townhomes.

In June developers Roers Cos. gained approval for a 134-unit senior building and 15,000-square-foot office building on six acres southeast of Grand Avenue and north of 145th Street East.

Roers Burnsville Apartments LLC bought the remaining 1.75 acres of city-owned property next to the Ames Center parking deck in the Heart of the City. The company is building 138 apartments and 1,500 square feet of ground-floor retail.

Another Heart of the City apartment proposal remains tied up in court. Chase Development has council approval for up to 172 units and 8,000 square feet of ground-floor retail at the northeast corner of Nicollet Avenue and Travelers Trail. The owner of the adjacent Nicollet Plaza retail center sued the city and Chase, alleging a parking shortage between the two properties. In August, Dakota County District Judge David Knutson ruled in favor of Chase. Nicollet Plaza LLC is appealing.

City manager

Heather Johnston, who came to Burnsville in 2011 as chief financial officer and administrative services director and was hired as city manager in April 2013, announced her resignation in May. It occurred less than a week before the council was set to approve her new contract and a 3 percent raise following her annual performance review.

Johnston said she wanted to spend more time with her family while her children are growing up.

But council members Cara Schulz and Dan Gustafson blamed the departure on a pattern of ill-treatment toward Johnston by Mayor Elizabeth Kautz and Council Member Dan Kealey. It included going around Johnston to other city staffers, judging her management style based on gender, giving inordinately low marks on her latest review and frequently criticizing her, Schulz and Gustafson said.

Kautz and Kealey rejected the characterizations.

More division followed with the November selection of Hastings City Administrator Melanie Mesko Lee to replace Johnston. The council split 3-2, with Schulz, Gustafson and Bill Coughlin backing Mesko Lee, and Kautz and Kealey backing internal candidate and interim manager Dana Hardie.

Mesko Lee begins work Jan. 14.

Landfill grand solution?

A potential grand solution to Burnsville’s nagging landfill conundrum was unveiled in October.

It involves the three major landowners in the northern portion of the city’s Minnesota River Quadrant, which is dominated by two landfills and a limestone quarry.

For years the city and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have been on a mission to clean up the old Freeway Landfill, a federal Superfund site just west of Interstate 35W and south of the Minnesota River. Officials say when the Kraemer Mining and Materials quarry to the south ceases mining in many years, the rising water table will mix with Freeway Landfill garbage, contaminating groundwater and threatening drinking water.

The MPCA has proposed unearthing garbage at the landfill — which operated without a liner under old environmental laws and stopped accepting trash in 1990 — and relocating it on the property atop a liner in a trash “pyramid.”

Kraemer and Waste Management, which owns the active Burnsville Sanitary Landfill west of the quarry, have a different idea.

The 5 million cubic yards of Freeway Landfill waste (and 1 million cubic yards of waste from the Freeway Dump east of I-35W) would be relocated to the active landfill. Kraemer would then mine the rock under the Freeway Landfill waste, removing any contaminated limestone and further safeguarding groundwater.

The cost: about $100 million, Kramer estimates, the same as the MPCA’s estimate for relocating Freeway Landfill waste on site.

But the Kraemer-Waste Management plan would free up more land for development on the Freeway Landfill property, owned by the McGowan family. Representative Michael McGowan and the MPCA have fought for years over the amount of functional land that would remain after the MPCA remediation.

Waste Management would need new landfill permitting from many layers of government before it could accept the Freeway waste. Any grand solution is at least a few years away.

Economic

development

Saying Burnsville hasn’t kept pace with development and redevelopment in other mature metro suburbs, the council approved an economic development strategic plan in November.

Its top goal is ensuring the sustainability of Burnsville Center, followed by improving the images of Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 and the city, continuing development in the Heart of the City, developing a strategy to maintain existing homes and businesses, and continuing to position Burnsville as a regional destination in the south metro area.

The city also has newly adopted programs for buying and assembling land for sale to developers and helping businesses tear down old buildings. A $1.1 million grant from Dakota County is the first effort to fund them.

The council is expected to debate adding a local-option sales tax to fund economic development — an idea floated this year but tabled until 2019.

Norwood Inn

In work sessions in January and May, council members blasted the Norwood Inn and Suites on Aldrich Avenue west of Interstate 35W as a complaint- and police call-generating problem child among Burnsville’s nine hotels.

On Dec. 18 the 84-room hotel failed a health and safety inspection by the Minnesota Department of Health, which revoked its lodging license. It has since closed.

The hotel, which has been under department scrutiny since an initial inspection in May, failed to correct 12 of 13 violations of the state lodging code. Most of the violations related to cleanliness and maintenance.

Elections

The November elections brought change to Burnsville’s legislative delegation, with Republican state Reps. Roz Peterson, District 56B, and Drew Christensen, 56A, losing seats both had held for two terms. They were unseated by DFL challengers Alice Mann, 56B, and Hunter Cantrell, 56A, who joined a blue wave on Election Day that returned control of the House to the DFL Party.

In the City Council election, newcomer Vince Workman defeated Jim Bradrick to gain an open seat. Incumbent Dan Kealey was the race’s top vote-getter. Council Member Bill Coughlin didn’t seek re-election after two terms.

In Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191, incumbent and current board Chair Jim Schmid was ousted in a five-person race for four seats. Incumbent Abigail Alt was the top vote-getter. Newcomers Jen Holweger, Scott Hume and Lesley Chester were elected. Board members Dan Luth and Bob VandenBoom didn’t seek re-election.

Burnsville resident and former Republican state Rep. Pam Myhra gained her party’s nomination for state auditor but lost in the general election.

Police station

In February, police took occupancy of a newly renovated station that includes a 31-stall garage — a first for Burnsville, which had always kept most of its police fleet outside.

The garage is part of a nearly $10 million building renovation that also expanded work and storage spaces, modernized the department’s evidence-processing infrastructure and enlarged and improved the main entrance.

The renovation brings order and efficiency to the two-level building, which had become a cross-functional jumble as the department grew and technology advanced, police officials say. The police building, attached to City Hall, was built in 1989.

Murder charge

Uriah David Schulz was charged in September with second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, 41-year-old Burnsville resident Elizabeth Victoria Perrault.

Perrault had gone missing from her Burnsville apartment and her last known contact with anyone was on Nov. 1, 2017, according to search warrant applications filed by police. Her frozen body was found near the Minnesota River in Burnsville on April 22. The case was “highly suspicious,” said a police filing.

According to the criminal complaint, Schulz claimed to friends and detectives that Perrault had entered a treatment facility and he had not seen her since she disappeared last November.

During the investigation, officers found her blood in an apartment Schulz shared with her on the 14200 block of Irving Avenue and inside his vehicle’s trunk.

On April 22, a fisherman discovered her body along Black Dog Road under the Interstate 35W bridge in a holding pond south of the Minnesota River. It was identified using dental records.

Ames Center profit

City officials learned early this year the city-owned Ames Center turned a profit, the first since it opened in 2009.

The 2017 operating profit was tiny — just $3,600 — but an outsized achievement for the performing arts center in the Heart of the City.

Performing arts centers, arenas and convention centers typically operate at a loss, said Brian Luther, the center’s executive director. They’re quality-of-life amenities and engines for the local economy, not profit makers, he said.

“Considering that when we built it we said it would always lose money, I’m happy to say on that particular point we’ve been proven wrong,” said City Council Member Dan Gustafson, who was on the council that built the $20 million building, whose major funding was $16.5 million in general obligation bonds being repaid over 20 years.

In June the council awarded a new five-year contract to the center’s management firm, VenuWorks, which was challenged for the contract by the firm that manages U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

South River Hills Day

It’s not as big as it used to be, but South River Hills Day is a Burnsville tradition that refuses to die.

June 2 marked the 45th anniversary of the day when swarms of shoppers roam dozens of garage sales in South River Hills, the northeast Burnsville neighborhood bounded by Cliff Road, Highway 13 and the Eagan border.

When Bill and Tress Gladhill announced the previous April their pending departure as leaders of the event, a neighborhood institution stepped up to replace them.

It’s Detlefsen Insurance, the State Farm agency owned by longtime civic booster and 1969 Burnsville High School graduate Kirk Detlefsen, who opened his office building at Cliff Road East and River Hills Drive in 1978.

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