South Lake Minnetonka Year in Review
The South Lake Minnetonka area kept strong and busy during 2012, making way for new developments and staying vibrant in the events that make it unique.
Excelsior was presented with new developments, such as new retail space and a grocery store, hotel and new restaurants. Shorewood and Tonka Bay revisited their current and new trail system, and new ways of doing things presented themselves to the councils.
The year also brought an election, which added new faces and brought back some city council veterans.
The business community stayed strong with new additions and ways of doing things.
Some events and notable items that took place throughout 2012 in the South Lake Minnetonka area are listed in no particular order.
Future of the Old Log Theater
Early in 2012, the Old Log Theater in Greenwood presented a possible plan for the future of the oldest continually running theater in the country. Owner and founder Don Stolz and his sons laid out a plan for the time when the theater can no longer be operated as it is now.
With area architect Jon Monson, the plan that was unveiled was for cabin-like housing. Though it was just a scenario, the reception from the public was favorable.
Nothing more than a possibility for the future of the theater has been presented. The Stolz family said it was better to start preparing and getting ideas before it’s too late.
Excelsior band shell
For years it’s been talked about with regards on what to do with the Excelsior band shell in the Commons. In 2011, a committee was formed to explore the funding and support of renovating or replacing the band shell.
In 2012, the Committee for a Better Lake Minnetonka Bandshell and Excelsior Bay Group teamed up to explore what could be done to address the band shell issues.
Interviewing perspective donors in the community, the study concluded that there was not enough financial support to move forward with exploring designs for the band shell.
The Excelsior Commons became partially smoke-free in 2012 when the city council approved a resolution designating areas of the park smoke-free.
Areas that apply are those with the most people gathered – next to the band shell, softball field, playground and beach. The entire park is smoke-free during events that draw 500 people or more.
The decision wasn’t unanimous with those that were opposed saying there was too much government regulation and limitation on people’s rights. All were in favor of providing a healthier place for people to gather, some areas were said to be too broad and enforcement became an issue. Because it’s a resolution, law enforcement cannot write a ticket for scofflaws, making the ban effective by people’s participation.
Shorewood in 2012 was busy with working on the Trail Plan for the city. Establishing trails in certain priorities based on need, the plan identified existing trails to be redone and new trails added. Based off resident input, trails and safe methods of other transportation are highly valued in the city.
The first segment of trail to move forward in 2012 is the west section of the Smithtown Road trail that would connect from Minnewashta Elementary School to the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail at Eureka Road.
Plans were also revisited for trails between Shorewood and Tonka Bay including an overpass over County Road 19 at the border of the two cities. The cities both approved the Three Rivers Park District design for a steel truss overpass to help with safety.
Currently, the trail crosses a busy county road at grade level, and an overpass would provide a safe crossing. The bridge would be funded fully through Three Rivers and grants, as well as the maintenance of the bridge and trail.
Excelsior’s downtown businesses stayed active with new additions of businesses and restaurants.
Long-time restaurant in Excelsior, Ming Wok, moved out making way for a steak house restaurant. A new Mexican restaurant will move in to the former Yumi’s sushi location next to the Dock Cinema. Yumi’s moved down the block on Water Street for a bigger location and expanded menu.
New retail and grocery
Excelsior was presented with plans to redevelop and add retail and a grocery store to the former Mason Motors location. The grocery store, which has yet to be named, will take up residence in the Mason Motors building, and the new retail building will be built at the corner of Water and George Streets.
New retail is also on the corner of County Road 19 and Water Street at the former Red Owl grocery store location. Already open in that section is Steele Fitness, a personalized workout and health center.
Excelsior has sought a grocery store for years. The developer is Oppidan Investment Co. based in Minnetonka. The two houses on the George Street side, one with historic nature, needed to be review for demolition by the Heritage Preservation Commission and approved for new retail.
Traffic flow was a point of conversation because of the increased use of the area. Making sure the buildings fit in with the aura of Excelsior and providing possible entrances on the George Street side were also points of conversation because some felt there need to be entrances to help tie the downtown with the new development.
Yet, the developers said it was up to the retailers whether they wanted entrances on two sides but would try to encourage the idea.
The new Excelsior Library moved forward after being held up on design issues.
After the first designs were presented, a public outcry forced the county to go back to the drawing board.
At issue was the modern-looking design, which many said didn’t fit in with the historic nature of Excelsior.
The new and resigned library will go in at the former Lyman Lumber location on Water Street.
Construction is scheduled to begin in 2013.
Excelsior Brewing Company
The Excelsior Brewing Company opened its doors for business this summer. The brewery, which is located in the East parking lot, also has a taproom for consumption on the premise. This was made possible thanks to a bill in the legislature, known as the Surly Bill, that was supported by the Surly Brewing Co. to allow on-sale on the premise in Booklyn Park. Before a taproom could not be at the building or adjacent buildings.
The brewery has seen rave revues and even in the cold months continues to pack the taproom full. The brewery has also hosted successful events such as the Oktoberfest and Christkindlsmarkt. It was proposed, though not decided, at the end of 2012 to expand the liquor license to allow a roped-off area for people to drink outside during busy months when the taproom is full.
Tonka Bay received a new Sports Court from a Hennepin County Youth Sports grant to replace the worn-out basketball court in Mantiou Park.
The new surface allows for multiple sports to be played on it, and is a surface that will not need maintenance like a blacktop court. It’s also a softer surface being nicer on the body’s joints.
The owners of a proposed Excelsior Hotel came back to the city with revised plans. The project was snuffed in 2010 when it couldn’t get approval because building height issues.
The new building is four stories and still exceeds height requirements, though it has been approved at the Concept Plan Review level. The city’s heritage and preservation commission has denied the Site Alteration Permit because it didn’t fit meet historic requirements of the city.
The General Plan for the 58-unit hotel is still being reviewed by the city council. It would also feature retail and a restaurant on the ground level and ballroom on the top level. Underground parking would meet the parking requirements.
Election and petition
South Lake, the state and nation had an election, and a big one for that matter. In the South Lake area, three of the incumbent mayors decided to step down making way for new faces. The incumbent mayors of Greenwood and Deephaven will be back for another term.
City councils will see a mix of new council members and returning incumbents. Excelsior also voted during a special election on a Charter Amendment to add to the charter more financial reporting of the city. The amendment passed during the election.
Brought to ballot by petition, the amendment drew a lot of controversy because some felt the city needed to be more transparent with how the budget is presented to the public. While others believed the city is in no need of further reporting requirements, and the amendment would only complicate things and add costs.
A petition a year earlier was brought forth by a group of citizens that not only wanted to add to the financial reporting, but also limits the spending of the city. That petition didn’t make it to a ballot because it was deemed unconstitutional, and officials contended it would have bankrupted the city.
Shorewood addresses underage drinking
Shorewood adopted an ordinance that would hold those who provide a place for underage drinking responsible for their actions.
The Social Host ordinance allows those who openly acknowledge underage drinking is taking place to be cited. The measure was presented is in cooperation with the South Lake Minnetonka Police Department and Tonka Cares through the Minnetonka School District.
Shorewood is the first city in the South Lake area to pass such an ordinance, but it is hoped others will follow to keep what’s against the law and what isn’t uniform across the region.
Excelsior looked at a market study to see if they could increase revenue for the city.
Conducted by Sandall Marketing, it explored how events and sponsorship opportunities could bring in not just more people but more money.
The South Lake-Excelsior Chamber of Commerce and the Excelsior Downtown Business Group merged forming one organization that will work together to keep the business community strong in downtown Excelsior and South Lake area.
With the merger, it’s hoped membership will be increased and collaboration between the two will add to the festive nature of the city and area.
The former chamber director also resigned after 14 years, making way for Shorewood council member Laura Hotvet to take her place.
Lake Minnetonka Year in Review
Lake Minnetonka throughout the past year stayed in the news with the continuing effort to try to stop the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species. The weather also shaped the role the lake played in the South Lake area this past year.
The lake, most believe the entity that makes the area unique and sought out, is also what continues to get unwanted attention due to the unwelcome inhabitants lurking in the water.
Zebra mussels were discovered in the lake in 2010. To address that issue, some major decisions were made to stop the spread.
Shorewood AIS ordinance
Shorewood adopted an ordinance that would fine boat owners for launching watercraft that have not been inspected for AIS entering Christmas Lake. The ordinance requires 100 percent inspections for watercraft entering and leaving public accesses of Shorewood.
Because there is no state law regarding inspection, the city and a group of organizations such as the Christmas Lake Homeowners Association and Minnehaha Creek Watershed District stepped in to make it the first city in the state to take action.
If convicted of the misdemeanor offense, violators could face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail. The watershed district, city and homeowners association earlier in the year approved funding for a gate that would close the access during the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., with inspections during all open hours. Though, people could refuse the inspections without penalty until this ordinance.
Lake service providers
Minnesota adopted a law requiring lake service providers to take a course training them on how to properly identify and remove AIS. Providers that don’t comply could face fines and lose of licenses.
Hennepin County unveiled a pilot project at the North Arm public launch in Orono using traffic-like signals with color-coding to help with the inspection process.
Using social behavior, the county hopes that with an easier process to have watercraft inspected more people will take the time to properly take the steps to check for AIS. A social marketing and behavior researcher from the University of Minnesota helped with wording, colors and advice on displays.
With areas better marked on what to do, the lights will give a visual reminder of the process. Being the third-busiest public launch on Lake Minnetonka, the location was selected to try to reach as many people as possible since it’s not possible to fund inspections at all sites.
The five-bay milfoil treatment on Lake Minnetonka was deemed effective at helping reduce milfoil. The program is funded through contributions from lakeshore property owners. Since it began in 2008, it has expanded to the five bays – Carmans, Gideon, Grays, Phelps and St. Albans.
Warm winter, early spring
Continuing the trend from 2011, the unseasonably warm weather led to one of the earliest ice-outs. Because of the mild winter, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources banned motor vehicles on all county lakes and ice houses had to be removed up to a month earlier than normal.
Not only warmth, but also the lack of precipitation caused water levels to be drastically low, forcing a Low Water Declaration by the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District in the spring.