Something to understand is the Minnetrista city council would not be having this discussion but for a single property that has been an annoyance to those that live on Deer Creek Road or drive by it regularly. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem but it should put the problem in perspective.
During our work session April 6 I asked how many properties had been the subject of this kind of complaint and our Director of Public Safety answered
“very few” and that most of the issues with them had been resolved satisfactorily, with the exception of this one. When pressed about the number of properties and complaints I asked if it would be fair to say there have been approximately two properties that have been the subject of complaints in the rural areas, and the answer was affirmative, that it would be fair to say there had been approximately two.
Note that most housing developments are governed by their own homeowners associations’ rules regarding these matters. Rural areas, obviously, don’t have HOAs.
Modifying our current ordinance dealing with nuisance properties requires hiring an attorney (Minnetrista does not have its own staff attorney) and would likely cost Minnetrista taxpayers a tidy sum. My question is: If our current city code has been sufficient to resolve our issues with nuisance properties in the past and this is a relatively isolated instance (i.e., not a community-wide problem) should we be spending taxpayer dollars on it?
There is an abatement clause in our current nuisance ordinance that provides for the city to give notice to a property owner of its intention to abate (remove) the nuisance. My understanding is the city has not done that.
This matter was not resolved at the work session and staff was given direction to come back to the council with their ideas at a future work session.
The Minnetrista city council will be discussing nuisance properties at it’s work session Monday evening, April 6, 2020 at 5:30pm. Work sessions do not provide for public comment but the public may “attend” the teleconference (council is meeting online during the pandemic) by dialing into the meeting at the number below. Here is the April 6 Work Session meeting packet to see what is being discussed.
The Minnetrista city council will be discussing the possibility of adopting a nuisance property ordinance at an upcoming council work session due to a property that has been the subject of complaints over the years. I am not necessarily opposed to one but have some concerns to be addressed:
- The difficulty of establishing a definition of a “nuisance.” One person’s art is another person’s junk and the subjective nature of prohibiting certain things on private property is inherently problematic.
- Making a nuisance property ordinance applicable city-wide to all properties requires uniform language. It is literally impossible to take into account the geographic landscape of each property in the largely rural areas where some may have trees/hills obscuring the sight of prohibited things and others without trees or hills are at a disadvantage and would be more scrutinized. HOAs have their own restrictions that may cause confusion.
- Burdening the city with complaints from neighbors that just don’t get along for a variety of reasons. Far too often people aren’t willing to resolve issues with their neighbors face to face and turn to the city as a first, rather than a last, resort.
I sympathize with the residents I’ve heard from and have driven by the property in question which is, indeed, unsightly and looks like a junk yard. If I lived next door I wouldn’t be happy either.
However, if the majority of the council wants an ordinance I believe there must be a process to ensure property owners are protected from frivolous complaints. I would suggest the following:
- Require the Complainant to obtain at least three signatures of other property owners within a quarter mile of the property detailing precisely what the nuisance items are and what the remedy requested is (remove, store out-of-sight). This step would help ensure it’s a real neighborhood concern, rather than a personal quarrel, and warrants the city’s involvement.
- Once signatures are obtained a demand letter from the city could be mailed to, or served on, the respondent giving the property owner notice and timeframe for remedy before being penalized with a fine. Provisions for anonymity should be available for Complainants.
As far as defining what a nuisance is, as long as the above process is in place, a broad definition referencing what a “reasonable person” would consider an unsightly eyesore that impairs their ability to enjoy their property or affects the valuation of their property, would seem reasonable. I’m not a fan of setting limits on types of items or numbers of vehicles, trailers, farm implements, etc. There are just too many variables to consider.
Any time the city decides to regulate what property owners can or can’t do we must weigh the consequences of any restrictions on the rights of private property owners vs. the benefits to the community at large. Restrictions always have costs to one group and benefits to another so we must take great care in weighing consequences to both.
I’ve been meeting with residents in Minnetrista neighborhoods over the last several weeks and invariably someone always asks “What’s so important about this year’s city election?” The answer: Outside interests are running the city and none of them live or pay taxes here in Minnetrista. Outside consultants, contractors, vendors and organizations put pressure on the council to serve their interests ahead of yours. Consequently, taxes go up every year and will continue at an even faster pace going forward. We are growing and have important decisions coming up next year that impact your property rights, taxes, fees and freedoms.
I am also hearing from residents frustrated in their dealings with the city as they seek permits, variances, or access to information. Rather than having an excellent experience they often leave irritated and angry. Instilling a service oriented culture at city hall is important for residents to be treated with respect and for staff to understand their purpose is to serve the community. Unlike private sector businesses that know their survival depends on treating customers well, public sector organizations can become complacent knowing their “customer” has nowhere else to go.
The November election in Minnetrista is of paramount importance to every Minnetrista resident. Unlike the national elections where partisan politics divide the country, every Minnetrista resident can agree that outside interests should not continue running our city and public servants should treat residents with the respect they deserve.
I’ve been a vocal advocate protecting private property rights in Minnetrista from the overreach of the Met Council’s GreenStep Cities program. Some good work today from our friends at the Center of the American Experiment:
Communities Still Wary of GreenStep Cities Program at 10 Year Mark
This week the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) heralds the ten-year anniversary of the GreenStep Cities climate change program that presses local governments to factor environmental sustainability into everything from budgets to ordinances, land use and long-range planning.
The program offers more than two dozen so-called Best Management Practices with 175 actions and lots of paperwork for participating communities. The recommendations include options that could significantly alter daily life like limiting parking places, reducing salt use in winter, mandates and bans on consumer products and packaging, monitoring wood burning in fireplaces, encouraging keeping chickens and bees, even phasing in “bike, foot or horseback modes for police, inspectors and other city staff.” And that’s just the beginning.
Yet an American Experiment analysis reveals that a decade into GreenStep only a handful—a total of 15 Minnesota cities–has completed all five levels of the program. All but two did so within the last year.
At the same time, several cities have postponed or rejected participation in the increasingly controversial GreenStep program. Pushback from a group of concerned citizens led to a contentious public meeting in Little Falls that convinced local elected officials turn down GreenStep last year.
“We went in with about a dozen people and made a big stink,” said Greg Smith, a Little Falls resident. “We did our homework, we knew what we were talking about. We brought up all these issues and they promptly shut it down.”
The East Grand Forks City Council also recently discussed GreenStep but ultimately had as many concerns as the last time they passed over the program in 2014.
“At this point, it’s not on our front burner,” said David Murphy, East Grand Forks City Administrator. “We’re way up here in the northwestern part of the state and we try to stay off their (MPCA) radar as much as possible. We don’t go out of our way to invite them up here.”
MPCA dangles the prospect of recognition by the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC), grants and voluntary membership and compliance to entice city officials to join the program. Major funders and supporters include the Met Council and McKnight Foundation, along with leftist environmental organizations like the Great Plains Institute and Izaak Walton League.
But the program’s demands on city staff time, risk to taxpayers and threat to local control led the suburb of Minnetrista to avoid making the commitment.
“What many don’t understand is that the League of Minnesota Cities, the Met Council and the city engineering and law firms on LMC’s advisory boards all work together to promote these initiatives by unelected officials which are designed to grow government, increase taxes and give these organizations more control over private property,” said Minnetrista City Councilor Shannon Bruce.
The vast majority of cities and tribes that do join GreenStep—nearly 85 percent—remain at the program’s lower three levels with benchmarks often already met like tree planting and LED lighting for street lights and buildings.
The GreenStep Cities website indicates Nisswa has remained at the entry level since 2012. St. Cloud, one of six cities where the MCPA will celebrate GreenStep this week, has been on hold at step two since 2011. Hopkins and Newport have remained at step three since 2013.
Very few communities advance to the last two levels of GreenStep, where the program that bills itself as voluntary, imposes requirements to measure, report and show improvement on numerous “city performance metrics.”
“I think cities just find that it puts a lot of pressure on staff and they just abandon it once they realize that,” Bruce said. “That was one of my objections when they came to speak to us.”
A decade into GreenStep Cities, many Minnesota communities clearly remain wary of the program’s objectives and likely impact on their quality of life.
What’s wrong with Minnetrista and the Met Council? One little word, “may,” that appears in our 2040 Comprehensive Plan mandated by the Met Council. Here’s the sentence: “The City of Minnetrista…will not permit activity that may conflict with the Metropolitan System Policy Plans.” That little word, “may,” tacitly gives the Met Council the right to shut down absolutely anything, any activity, they think “may” conflict with their plans, now or in the future. This overly vague term is intentional and designed to make Minnetrista comply with this unelected body’s vision of what it should be.
Watch this excellent history lesson on the Met Council and how they’ve grown from a small, regional governing body for water & sewer to usurping local control over your city. I’ve asked the city council to consider removing this word from our 2040 Comprehensive Plan before adopting it.
Monday was a long night for the city council with a full and challenging agenda. Unfortunately for Minnetrista taxpayers the council chose to adopt (4 to 1) the highest increase (5.87%) presented by staff for the 2020 preliminary tax levy, despite having hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been sitting in unused special funds for years with no foreseeable liabilities against them. We continue to raise taxes and debt while cannibalizing our fund reserves, all the while having access to these public funds which, in my opinion, belong in our general fund reserves to give an accurate view of the city’s balance sheet. If the city needs to buy trees we can budget for them. If the city needs to purchase additional emergency sirens we can budget for them. Setting up “special funds” keeps this money out of the public’s view and, more importantly, out of the general fund and gives a distorted view of the city’s finances, which is used to justify tax increases year after year.
The preliminary levy increase may be lowered before the final levy adoption in December but it cannot increase any higher. December 2, 2019 was the date set last night for public comment on the 2020 final levy adoption. You’ll hear some council members defend their votes citing that the preliminary increase was reduced last year before the final levy was adopted. What you won’t be told is that it was done without cutting a single penny of spending and irresponsibly dipping into our general fund reserves.
The city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan was on the agenda for final approval Monday night. I had some serious concerns about it noted here having to do with private wells, GreenStep Cities, inaccurate numbers projecting future water demand, and making commitments to revise or adopt future ordinances without the council having access to the wording of these ordinances. Council agreed to bring the plan back to a work session in October for discussion.
A private well ordinance to force compliance with city watering restrictions is intended to be adopted by the City of Minnetrista according to its 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The plan is on the council’s agenda Tuesday, September 3 at 7pm for final adoption.
I’m assuming Minnetrista residents on private wells do not support this because they are already financially incentivized to restrict water usage. Many rural homeowners on private wells have their own personal water treatment systems with iron filters and water softeners that require the use of bleach and salt. They typically are frugal with their water use because it’s expensive not to be. There is absolutely no reason to impose this regulation on private wells that don’t impact the city’s water system.
A huge turnout at last night’s presentation on the Met Council and League of MN Cities’ backed program called “GreenStep Cities” indicates widespread concern over the program that bills itself as a voluntary, harmless program promoting sustainability. The problem is the steps in the program whittle away at a city’s autonomy and their residents’ property rights and open the doors to even more central planning and social engineering by the Met Council.
Thirty cities were represented at the meeting last night with mayors, council members, state representatives, and citizens coming together to learn about how to protect their cities from the lure of recognition and awards their public officials get when they sign on to the program. Awards and recognition eventually turn into promises of grants to entice cities to turn over their autonomy as they progress through the GreenStep steps.
Minnetrista has been considering the GreenStep Cities program and actually lists it as a goal in their strategic plan but so far has not signed the resolution the program requires for official enrollment. Hopefully seeing the concern around the region will make them aware that this “voluntary” program is more than what meets the eye.
Thank you CD3 Republicans and Northwest Metro Republican Woman for taking the initiative to bring awareness about this program and the harm that results from it.