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The year 2019 in Review - Burnsville - growth, planning, Trum and Vonn made the headlines

Year in Review: Growth, planning, Trump and Vonn made headlines in Burnsville

by John Gessner Dec 27, 2019 Updated Dec 27, 2019 - Burnsville Eagan Sun/Thisweek News

Groundwork being laid for future redevelopment

A new growth phase continued in Burnsville this year, with apartment and senior projects in the works that are expected to add about 1,000 new housing units by the end of 2020.

Visions of large-scale redevelopment are more distant. The city continued laying the groundwork for a Burnsville Center-area revitalization dubbed Center Village, and continued to push for a cleanup program that will safeguard drinking water beneath the old Freeway Landfill and Dump while opening the properties for development.

Burnsville hired its first female police chief and gained national recognition for its abundance of women in leadership roles.

But they weren’t the only VIPs in town. President Donald Trump and skier Lindsey Vonn made stops in Burnsville this year.

From the pages of Burnsville-Eagan Sun Thisweek, here are some highlights of 2019.

Growth and development

“Coming out of the ground” is a phrase Burnsville Economic Development Coordinator Skip Nienhaus uses often these days.

It means development that has broken ground or is in progress. Between three apartment projects in the Heart of the City and a senior housing project on Grand Avenue, Nienhaus figures 1,000 new housing units will be built in Burnsville by the end of 2020.

“Which is pretty good for a city that’s 98 percent developed,” he said.

Years after the Great Recession, Burnsville is hot again, at least in the booming multifamily market. Two major redevelopment efforts — the Center Village plan for the Burnsville Center retail area and the Minnesota River Quadrant — have yet to get fully cooking.

But the city has laid out its visions, and Nienhaus is counseling patience. After 14 years as economic development coordinator he’s retiring Jan. 3, probably years before any significant action.

“That is probably the hardest hurdle in redevelopment, for people to understand that it takes a long time,” Nienhaus said, speaking slowly to amplify his point. “You put a plan together, and that plan’s not going to happen in a year or two. Like in Center Village, we’re looking at five-, 10-, and 15- and 20-year possibilities.”

The city also launched a branding and marketing campaign in 2019, anchored by the slogan “You Belong Here.”


City officials and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency agree: The top priority in cleaning up the old Freeway Landfill properties in Burnsville is protecting drinking water from contamination.

But while the MPCA appears to be agnostic on the cleanup method, Burnsville is rooting hard for one that leaves the most land for development and tax base growth.

The city reasserted its position at a Nov. 26 City Council work session meeting with MPCA officials. The city wants a “dig and haul” plan that would unearth some 6 million cubic yards of garbage from the Freeway properties and truck it over a private road to the nearby Burnsville Sanitary Landfill.

The MPCA is preparing to go out for bids on two plans: dig and haul and “dig and line.” The latter would unearth garbage from the Freeway properties but put it back into a new, lined landfill on the Freeway Landfill property west of Interstate 35W.

Either way, city and state officials agree, the Freeway garbage — dumped in the days before liners were required under landfills — needs to be moved to a lined facility. When the Kraemer Mining and Materials quarry south of the Freeway Landfill ceases operations years from now, it will stop pumping huge volumes of water from the quarry, the groundwater flow will reverse, and drinking water supplies for Burnsville and Savage will rise into the garbage, officials contend.

The MPCA says it will bid both options, present the costs to the state Legislature and ask for a decision and funding in the 2021 session. The city prefers dig and haul because it would leave more prime freeway land for development than leaving the garbage on Freeway Landfill property.

A Freeway Landfill solution is the top priority on the city’s state legislative agenda. It’s also the top priority among landfills in the MPCA’s Closed Landfill Program.

Center Village

The city will again in 2020 seek the state Legislature’s approval for tax-increment financing authority to build infrastructure and incent redevelopment in the Burnsville Center area north and south of County Road 42. Efforts fell short this year.

But as officials continued to pursue the Center Village plan the City Council approved in late 2018, some council members wondered aloud if the mall’s owners and managers are doing enough on their own to revitalize the 42-year-old regional mall which, like many malls, has struggled with vacancies.

“I think our biggest problem, or biggest opportunity, in the mall is the ownership,” Council Member Dan Kealey said during a council work session in October. “We’ve been hearing lip service for the last three and a half, four years, and I’m, quite frankly, tired of it. And I think they need to get off it, move on, or get serious about investing in that center.

“And there’s not much we can do as a council. But I’m tired of listening to chatter and seeing absolutely nothing happen there other than backfilling at low rents and not taking care of the place.”

The mall is owned by Tennessee-based CBL Properties, which also manages it; Seritage Growth Properties, which owns the Sears space that closed in 2017; and Macy’s and J.C. Penney.

“I will say that the Burnsville Center is not high on my priority list personally, as a council member, until they decide it is high on their priority list,” Council Member Cara Schulz said. “We do have other parts of this city that are revitalizing.”

New chief

Tanya Schwartz, a 23-year Burnsville police veteran, was promoted from captain to chief May 9 by City Manager Melanie Lee. Burnsville’s first female top cop replaced retiring Chief Eric Gieseke, who endorsed her for the job.

Her connection to policing can be traced to Augsburg College, where the Minneapolis Edison High School graduate majored in psychology and minored in sociology.

“I really wanted to work with kids and families,” Schwartz said. “That was really my passion.”

After graduating she worked briefly with disabled adults but didn’t chart a career path until a friend at the Eden Prairie Police Department got her on a ride-along and she spent a summer as an Eden Prairie park ranger.

“Psychology is really about human behavior,” Schwartz said. “You get an up-front seat to seeing people and their behavior and what they’re going through, and I just saw a lot of compassion in that from law enforcement.”

Women in leadership

With Schwartz’s appointment, female leadership in Burnsville reached a “critical mass,” said Elizabeth Kautz, the city’s mayor since 1995. The former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, who served from 2009 to 2011, said she checked around with colleagues from across the nation and was assured Burnsville’s abundance of female leadership is an anomaly.

Nine of those leaders, including Schwartz, Kautz and then-newly hired School District 191 Superintendent Theresa Battle, were interviewed on July 8 at City Hall for NBC’s “The Today Show.” The others were Lee, Dakota County Commissioner and board Chair Liz Workman, District 191 School Board Chair Abigail Alt, City Council Member Cara Schulz, Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Harmening and Experience Burnsville Executive Director Amie Burrill.

Codes and inspections

In actions initiated by City Council Member Cara Schulz, the council took steps in 2019 to relax property codes and inspections.

A council majority agreed at an Aug. 13 work session to rewrite its the ordinance for trash enclosures at commercial and apartment buildings, dropping requirements that they have roofs, gates and building materials compatible with those of the principal structure. Among 15 comparable cities, only Burnsville and St. Louis Park required roofs.

On Dec. 3, council members voted unanimously to drop the screening requirement for trash and recycling bins in Burnsville neighborhoods. Bins stored outside in single- and two-family neighborhoods will no longer have to be fully screened from view, hidden behind fences, shrubs or trees.

On Dec. 17, the council voted 3-2 to end street-level inspections of each single-family neighborhood every three years and return to mostly complaint-driven responses to code violations. Mayor Elizabeth Kautz and Council Member Dan Gustafson cast the dissenting votes. Supporters were Schulz and council members Dan Kealey and Vince Workman.

But the council voted unanimously against Kealey’s proposal to inspect each rental unit every six years instead of every three. Code inspection and fire officials opposed the change.

The multifamily and single-family proactive inspection programs were the city’s responses to decrepit conditions at Country Village Apartments in 2011 and 2012 that led to the city emptying the buildings so they could be repaired and relicensed.

Trump on Tax Day

In a Tax Day visit to Burnsville, President Donald Trump said Republican tax cuts he signed in 2017 have fueled an economic boom in the country.

“We promised that these tax cuts would be rocket fuel for the American economy,” Trump said Monday, April 15, “and we were absolutely right.”

His private, invitation-only appearance at Nuss Truck and Equipment on Dupont Avenue in northwest Burnsville was billed by the White House as a “roundtable on the economy and tax reform.”

The hourlong program doubled as a rally for Trump’s re-election campaign. He reminded the audience of about 350 that he “almost won” Minnesota in 2016, losing to Democrat Hillary Clinton by 1.5 percent.

About 200 Trump supporters and roughly the same number of detractors gathered along Dupont Avenue as the daily business in the industrial park continued with semi-trailers rolling past and vehicles arriving with invitees.

“Everything went great,” said Burnsville police Capt. Jef Behnken, the scene commander for local law enforcement and the main police liaison with the Secret Service. “Nobody was hurt, and all was peaceful.”

Nearly 70 officers from local communities were involved in providing security, he said.

Lindsey Vonn at Buck Hill

“Anything is possible,” Lindsey Vonn told wide-eyed young skiers Sept. 23 during a dedication ceremony for the tow rope that ferried a young Lindsey Caroline Kildow hundreds of times to the top of Buck Hill in Burnsville.

The tow rope, which was christened “Kildow’s Climb,” includes markers along the way that tell the story of Vonn’s rise to becoming the world’s most successful female skier of all time.

The Kildows lived in Apple Valley during Lindsey’s early years, and she trained under Buck Hill Ski Team coach Erich Sailer, who helped guide several skiers to international success.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” Vonn said. “I would sit up at the shack at the top with Erich sometimes when it was cold.”

Sept. 23, 2019, was designated as Lindsey Vonn Day in Burnsville. Mayor Elizabeth Kautz read and presented a framed copy of the proclamation to Vonn.

Dick Ames dies

Richard “Dick” Ames, whose work as a contractor is spread across the nation and legacy as a philanthropist is abundant in local communities, died Jan. 30 of pneumonia. He was 89.

Ames was the local legend who stayed put, keeping the headquarters of his company, Ames Construction, in Burnsville even as it opened offices in other states and became one of the nation’s premier civil and industrial general contractors.

He built and rebuilt Burnsville’s Nicollet Avenue in the 1960s when it was a gravel road. Decades later he did the grading for the Denver International Airport, one of the megaprojects that vaulted Ames Construction to the top of its industry.

He and his family company donated millions. His name is on the Ames Arena in Lakeville, the Ames Sculpture in Burnsville and the Ames Center, Burnsville’s performing arts center, for which he bought the naming rights. He received the first Director’s Award for his donations to the University of Minnesota Athletics Department.

“I’ve lived a fairytale life,” Ames said a few days before his death, according to his obituary. But you couldn’t tell, say many who knew him, describing Ames as a blue jeans-wearing common man who grew up with the land and still planted crops later in life at his farm in Green Isle, Minnesota.

“When he was in his communities, his Lakeville, his Burnsville communities, he was just an everyday guy,” said Bob Erickson, a former city administrator and current School Board member in Lakeville. “He would always reach out to people. You didn’t have to go to him and say, ‘I’m so and so.’ He would always come to your table. He would always come to you.”

DFL upstarts not seeking re-election

Two Burnsville-area Democrats who unseated Republican members of the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2018 won’t be on the ballot next year.

Rep. Hunter Cantrell, DFL-Savage, announced Nov. 12 he won’t seek re-election in District 56A. Cantrell, 24, said he’ll leave the House to complete his bachelor’s degree, which he put on hold after being diagnosed with cancer in 2017.

Rep. Alice Mann, DFL-Lakeville, couldn’t be reached to confirm reports that she won’t seek re-election in District 56B. But another DFLer, Burnsville resident Kaela Berg, announced her candidacy this fall.

Mann and Cantrell were part of the 2018 wave of DFLers whose victories in mostly suburban districts helped the party gain majority control of the House. Mann defeated two-term Rep. Roz Peterson, R-Lakeville, and Cantrell defeated two-term Rep. Drew Christensen, R-Savage.

Cantrell represents part of northwest Burnsville and all of Savage. Mann represents southern and east-central Burnsville and part of northern Lakeville.

More candidates

Pam Myhra, a former Republican state representative from Burnsville who served two terms before seeking higher office, is running for her old seat in the House of Representatives.

Myhra announced her bid at an Aug. 19 meeting of Senate District 56 Republicans, after local party leaders launched a “Draft Pam Myhra” campaign. Myhra is seeking the House District 56A seat held by first-term DFL Rep. Hunter Cantrell, of Savage.

A longtime Burnsville resident and 1975 Burnsville High School graduate, Myhra was a local party officer before her first election in 2010 in the old District 40A. She was re-elected in 2012 in the newly drawn District 56A.

Instead of seeking re-election in 2014, Myhra ran for lieutenant governor on the ticket of Republican gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert, who finished third in a five-way primary. Myhra briefly sought the 2016 Republican nomination for Minnesota’s 2nd District congressional seat.

In 2018 Myhra was the Republican candidate for state auditor, losing to DFLer Julie Blaha.

DFLer Jessica Hanson, of Burnsville, has announced her candidacy for the 56A seat.

In Senate District 56, two DFLers are competing to face Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, who is seeking re-election. They are Lindsey Port and Robert Timmerman.

Meeting protest

The Oct. 22 Burnsville City Council meeting collapsed into an angry mass of shouts, chants and profanities as protesters demanded the release of evidence in a fatal shooting by police.

Siblings and supporters of 23-year-old Isak Aden said their early July request for Burnsville police evidence, including body and dash camera footage, had gone unanswered, though the data are public under state law.

Burnsville City Manager Melanie Lee says the city had withheld the data lawfully.

Burnsville was one of nine law enforcement agencies at the scene of a July 2 standoff with Aden at a parking lot on Seneca Road in Eagan. Protesters wanted evidence in the Columbia Heights man’s shooting, which authorities said followed nearly four hours of negotiating with him to drop a gun and surrender. All Burnsville officers wear body cameras.

“And I expect an answer at the end of this, otherwise we will disrupt the meeting,” said Isak’s sister, Sumaya, who delivered as promised near the end of the 35-minute confrontation, which started during the meeting’s open comment period.

She flung council members’ nameplates from the dais, commandeered a microphone and hurled profane insults at Mayor Elizabeth Kautz.

Reviewing the events Nov. 12, council members agreed to review city policy on responding to data requests and to omit rarely invoked references to a 10-minute limit for comments during the citizen comment portion of meetings.

Also in November, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom concluded that police officers, including four from Bloomington, were legally justified in firing their weapons in the fatal shooting.

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