John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nature in the Neighborhood

On Saturday, October 4th, Maplewood is running a "Nature in the Neighborhood" workshop, with a focus on south Maplewood. The city's press release reads:

Nature in the Neighborhood Workshop

The City of Maplewood and its partners present Nature in the Neighborhood: A Workshop and Field Trip. Join us October 4, 2008, 9:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m., to explore natural resources in a suburban neighborhood and learn how homeowners can protect and enhance backyard habitat. Call Maplewood Nature Center (651-249-2170) to register. $10 fee, includes lunch.

The workshop will focus on a neighborhood in south Maplewood but the information will be applicable to much of the metropolitan region. It includes classroom sessions, field trip and lunch. Dr. Kim Chapman from Applied Ecological Services (AES) will present sessions on neighborhood ecology and enhancing backyard habitat. Sarah Strommen from Minnesota Land Trust will present a session on conservation easements for private landowners. On the field trip, participants will visit the “grand canyon” of Fish Creek and a tour a home on Snake Creek where the owners are enhancing backyard habitat.

This workshop is made possible by a grant from Embrace Open Space. Workshop partners include City of Maplewood, Ramsey County, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, Applied Ecological Services, and Minnesota Land Trust.

Embrace Open Space is a collaborative that serves as a catalyst for greater citizen and elected leadership to conserve and steward natural areas and parks, lakes and rivers in the eleven-county Twin Cities area.
There is also an informational flyer that you can easily download and print out for yourself or to share with neighbors.

This workshop extends the city's efforts from earlier this year regarding Natural Greenway Corridors, which has been part of our comprehensive plan update process. At a joint commissions meeting on March 18th, we learned about the city's greenway corridors and the idea of preserving and enhancing those corridors across public and private land. This workshop and field trip takes the discussion a step further, by actually visiting properties in one of the identified greenway corridors.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Friends of Maplewood Nature Picnic & Fundraiser

This Saturday, September 20th, the Friends of Maplewood Nature are holding their 2nd Annual Picnic & Fundraiser from 10:30 am-1:00 pm. at the Bruentrup Farm. The purpose of the event is to increase the Friends Group membership and raise funds for the new Outdoor Nature Play Area kids climbing rock.

The schedule of events includes a "Protect Your Trees from Winter Class" by a certified arborist; a picnic lunch; a silent auction; and a farm tour, including a short hike into the Open Space Prairie.

The event is free to all Friends Members. New members are welcome to join at the party; membership donations are $15 for a household. RSVPs to the nature center are encouraged (651-249-2170, or contact Oakley at, and I'm sure it will help them plan the right number of picnic lunches. But if you're reading this late and don't have time to RSVP, you should just stop by the event anyway.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Town Forum on Immigration

Going out of town means I'm not just missing tonight's comp plan meeting; there's also A Town Forum: Immigration and Building Healthy Communities, at Arlington Hills United Methodist Church. This forum is sponsored and organized by Arlington Hills, Galilee Lutheran Church (Roseville), Roseville Lutheran, Bethany Baptist Church, ISAIAH NE Region, and the Karen community. All citizens and public officials interested in immigration trends in Roseville, Little Canada, and western Maplewood are invited to attend. It sounds like there will be a particular focus in this meeting on the Karen refugees living in Maplewood and Roseville. Registration (and Karen music) begins at 6:30 this evening, and the program starts at 7:00.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Comp Plan and the South Leg

On Tuesday, September 16th, the Planning Commission will be holding another hearing on the city's Comprehensive Plan. This hearing will focus on issues in the South Leg, particularly the future land use guidelines. It looks like the commission's discussions with staff and the consultants will revolve around the question of density for the Rural/Low Density Residential land guidance category.

The issue is made more complex by the change from gross acreage to net acreage for density calculations. The terrain of that neighborhood means that there is a big difference between gross and net acreage. The report to the commissioners uses an example of one actual lot of land in the area at issue. This lot is 6.9 acres (gross), but only 2.9 net acres after slopes, wetlands, etc., are excluded. So under the old idea that the neighborhood should have two-acre lots, this land could have had 3 homes built on it. With a new standard of simply 0.5 units per net acre, it would only be able to have 1 home on it (in other words, no change from its current use with a single house).

This is a difficult policy question, and the Planning Commission will be trying to come together and make a recommendation to the city council on what to do. If you are interested in this issue -- especially if you are a south leg resident in the area where the new land use category will apply -- I strongly encourage you to attend the meeting and share your views. While I unfortunately won't be able to attend this hearing in person (I will be out of town on business), I will be paying close attention to its outcome and to all of the citizen comment that is received.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

LED Street Lights

An article in today's Pioneer Press discusses something that the new Maplewood Green Team may look into: LED street lights. Earlier this year I read an article in the National League of Cities newspaper talking about the energy savings from these light-emitting diode fixtures, and I wondered if it was something we'd be seeing in our neck of the woods. Now Xcel Energy is trying them out in some Brooklyn Park neighborhoods. "The utility will test the lights for output and clarity and their performance in harsh weather for one year," the article states. If the test results are good, maybe we'll see more of them around the metro, including Maplewood. These lights cost more up front, but save money over time as they use 25%-50% less electricity and last 4-5 times as long as the conventional technology.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Support or Sabotage?

On Monday, my wife and I received a mailer from Bob Zick, who filed to run as the Independence Party candidate for House District 55A (Leon Lillie's seat). But the mailer was not telling us to vote for Zick or for anyone in the Independence Party's primary -- it was telling us to vote against Lillie:

At first glance, this seems written to support Diana Longrie, who was campaigning against Lillie in the DFL primary, by encouraging Republicans and independents to vote for her. You'd expect it to be carefully targeted at non-Democrats, to encourage them to cross over and vote on the DFL part of the ballot. However, I and other DFLers received it.

Was this a result of sloppy mailing list creation? Or was it intentional? If you send this postcard to a bunch of Democrats, with its implication that Longrie is only on the ballot to create chaos in the Democratic primary, aren't you effectively rallying the DFL base to turn out in favor of Lillie?

So Zick could have been intentionally trying to torpedo Longrie's chances of winning without actually endorsing Leon. Or there may have been a simple list-generating mistake. (Maybe someone meant to exclude DFLers, but instead did the opposite.) Or a third option: maybe it was cleverly intended to sabotage Longrie, but with plausible deniability, since it could be easily explained as a mistake.

I've heard it suggested before that Maplewood politics would make for a great Spinal Tap-style mockumentary. Indeed, this mailer calls to mind the immortal words of David St. Hubbins, "It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever." I can't figure out which this is, but it makes for entertaining political theater.


Watching the Returns

Last night, supporters of County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt and State Representative Leon Lillie gathered at a local restaurant to watch their primary returns come in.

Michelle snapped a picture of me with Victoria Reinhardt and Franni Franken.

If we look happy, it's because the results from the polls were good -- Victoria got 68.22%, and Leon got 73.37%, so both advance to November's election in very strong positions. I did some volunteering for both campaigns, and was very happy to see the hard work and planning of the candidates and their campaigns pay off.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Setting the 2009 Maximum Levy

The upcoming Sept. 8th council meeting may have the shortest agenda yet for a regular meeting since I've been on the council. However, it has a particularly important item of business: a resolution setting the maximum tax levy for 2009.

At our last council-manager workshop, we discussed the 2009 budget and the possible levy increase. Staff told us that, under the levy limits set by the legislature and governor earlier this year, Maplewood's maximum possible total levy increase would be 9.2%. From the visitor presentations in our subsequent council meeting, it seems that some residents and commentators thought the staff was proposing a 9.2% increase in the levy. Actually, they were telling us what was the ceiling under the new law, and looking for direction from the council on where to go from there. (I think the council was unified in saying “go lower than 9.2%, please.”)

Be that as it may, you'll notice that this is a much higher number than the 3.9% cap set by the state. The reason is that the new levy limit law sets out various modifiers and exceptions. For example, debt service is outside of the limits, so we need to collect taxes to make payments on the bonds issued in the past two years. For another example, there is a modifier to account for growth in the city's tax base from new construction.

The law says that we must set our maximum levy by September 15th. In December, we will set the final levy, after the Truth in Taxation hearing. The final levy number can be lower than the one we set at our meeting on Monday, but not higher. As we move further along in the budget process, the council will be able to weigh its priorities in terms of spending for 2009 and balancing those needs against taxes and fees.

As you can see from the relevant item in the council packet, the staff took our input at the workshop and came up with a proposed maximum levy of $16,481,820, which in total represents a 6.0% increase over the 2008 levy.

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