Top ten Plymouth stories in 2012
1. Northwest Islamic Community Center opens
After a debate-filled 2011, the Northwest Islamic Community Center was approved to purchase a building at 3300 Plymouth Boulevard for $770,000.
The building is shared with a U.S. Post Office. The center officially opened on July 7, 2012. The Post Office now leases the smaller space it uses within the building.
It took the group more than half a year and more than $200,000 in renovation costs to complete the initial phase of the center, which includes a large prayer room and two education classrooms for students in English and math.
The building as a community center is permitted in the City Center Public Zoning District, and the Plymouth City Council granted a conditional use permit for the religious activity that will occur in the space.
Board member Najam Qureshi said the center is focused on providing a safe place for children to visit with their peers while also strengthening their religion.
Qureshi also said that the organization plans to hold a number of educational events in the future, open to the general public for interfaith outreach and community building.
The first of these events came in early December, when a comprehensive health expo was held.
At the expo, medical professionals from the Islamic community gave presentations regarding health and physicians provided free flu vaccinations, blood pressure checks and diabetes screening.
“We want to benefit the community,” Qureshi said in December. “We have a lot of expertise in different areas. [The Center] is a group of close to 200 or 300 Muslim families, many of whom are professionals in different areas. We feel we need to take advantage of that to provide education and service.”
While the center is still in its first year of operation, the group has a clear vision for the space. Qureshi said he hopes the families of the center can raise an additional $120,000 over the next five years to complete the second phase of renovation.
Since the city decided to allow for the center based on issues other than religious, the center will play host to a large community of families of different religions and from across the region.
The center is also currently open for all five Islamic prayer times throughout the day.
2. Walmart and residents enter second year in stalemate
The decaying Four Seasons Mall on Highway 169 at Rockford Road was purchased by retail giant Walmart in late 2010 for nearly $11 million; however, the company has yet to make an official move to begin building at the location.
Residents’ feedback harbored mostly resentment, largely because the proposed 150,000-180,000 square-foot building would be erected within 300 feet of residential housing.
In addition to the proximity issues citizens were concerned about, the Four Seasons plot of land is not zoned for a big-box retail store such as Walmart. This means that in order to build such a store, the company needs to apply to the city to rezone the land.
Currently, the area is zoned as neighborhood commercial. Walmart would need to present rationale to change that, and there is no guarantee that it would be rezoned.
While some citizens who gave their opinions at public meetings opposed the Walmart business model in general, most were concerned about neighborhood issues such as increased traffic and the strain on the surrounding infrastructure, increased crime rates, possible decline of property values and noise and light pollution to adjacent properties.
Plymouth extensively researched the Four Seasons Mall site to determine market demand, potential future uses fore the site and guidelines the council can use when reviewing and evaluating future development proposals.
When Walmart does submit an application, it will initially go before the Planning Commission, where a public forum will accompany the meeting. If the Planning Commission then approves the application, it will be pushed forward to the City Council at a regular meeting with a public hearing.
Walmart made no response as to what it would do if the council denied its application, leaving some residents confused as to why the company would buy land it may not be able to use.
Area public affairs manager for Walmart Lisa Nelson explained at an Oct. 10 public meeting that Walmart’s goal is to “get closer to our customers.” She continued, “we’re trying to serve our customers in the area they call home.”
3. Hollydale Project electrifies public meetings
Since two of the region’s energy providers got together in July to apply for major work on Plymouth’s electrical infrastructure, citizens have turned out to comment about the controversial project.
The Hollydale Project includes work between both Great River Energy and Xcel Energy and involves removing approximately eight miles of an existing Great River Energy-owned 69kV overhead transmission line and the construction of a new 115kV line in its place.
The project also involves the construction of a new substation in Plymouth and connecting that station to a modified Medina Substation. The purpose of the project is to bring the electrical delivery system up to match the level of increasing development through the region.
Many residents questioned the need for the project, which the energy companies say is to avoid feeder circuit overloads in Plymouth and to correct general electricity distribution problems.
Throughout 2012, the Minnesota Department of Commerce Energy Facility Permitting Unit held public meetings concerning the project throughout its various stages in development.
At these meetings, impacted residents vehemently cited adverse health effects of electromagnetic fields generated from high-voltage power lines, the resulting loss of property value, the aesthetic qualities of the lines, the environmental impact and potential noise pollution as major concerns.
The project would affect hundreds of homes in Plymouth and representatives from Xcel Energy, Great River Energy and the Public Utilities Commission all attended the meetings to gather feedback and answer to citizens’ inquiry.
The next step for the power companies is to submit a final draft of the certificate of need and go through environmental impact assessments. After successfully accomplishing the requirements, Xcel and Great River can apply for a route permit and move forward on the project.
Public input was compiled in November of 2012, and will be added to the public record to play a role in the PUC’s decision in permit granting.
It is expected that an environmental report will be issued in February this year, a public and evidentiary hearing is slated to occur in the spring and a final Certificate of Need decision could arrive by summer or fall.
As the project moves forward, public meetings will continue in both Plymouth and Medina.
4. Plymouth Police work on squelching prostitution
Plymouth Police Department took to special measures in efforts to stop the illicit human trafficking business, which has been setting up shop in Plymouth hotels.
The issues was first noticed in late March 2012 when two ads on backpage.com caught the attention the department’s Special Investigations Unit.
The website is notorious for advertising prostitution and the ad in question offered a “two-girl special” for a specific amount of money.
Police pursued the ad with an officer posing as a “John.” A St. Paul woman responded to the sting and told the investigator to meet her at the Day’s Inn in Plymouth. The undercover officer subsequently arrested a 21-year-old woman, and the woman from St. Paul faced a penalty of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.
The initial sting got police thinking about how they could further crack down on the world’s oldest profession in town and led to investigators posting their own false ads on the Internet.
Police utilized similar lingo, photos, rates and styles on advertisements on backpage.com and the Erotic Review to lure customers to a female special investigator who in turn established a verbal agreement to exchange sex for money. An arrest team then waits for the signal, and apprehends the “John.”
A sting in May resulted in the arrest of eight male customers and four prostitutes, and a sting in early December led to the arrest of four additional “Johns” and four women.
In the midst of the arrests, Plymouth City Council entertained the idea of adopting an ordinance that would require hotel guests to present a photo ID when checking into a Plymouth hotel.
After much discussion, the council pulled back. Meanwhile, more prostitution arrests continue sporadically in Plymouth.
According to Police Chief Mike Goldstein, the activity isn’t something new to the city; rather it’s something that Police are working to eradicate.
5. Wayzata Schools agree on boundary shifts for 2013-14 year
After feeling the squeeze from growing enrollment at Wayzata Schools, District 284 pushed back in 2012 with a redrawing of district boundaries to take effect for the 2013-14 school year.
A team of principals from elementary and middle schools, district transportation officials, district administrators and representatives from Wayzata Community Education was assembled to work on formulating options to better align the number of students in each of the district’s seven elementary and three middle schools.
Wayzata School District reached a decision Dec. 10 regarding the new boundaries, and as many as 181 elementary school students could call a new school home when classes begin next fall.
Under the plan known as 7A, four neighborhoods have been reassigned to schools within the district. Much of the students impacted reside in Plymouth.
Students who live in Neighborhood 7B – south of County Road 47 in Plymouth – and currently attend Greenwood will be reassigned to Oakwood.
Students from 10E and 13 – both just south of Highway 55 in Plymouth – will be reassigned from Greenwood to Gleason Lake.
Students who live in Neighborhood 30 – east of Vicksburg Lane North in Plymouth – and attend Plymouth Creek will be reassigned to Kimberly Lane.
And students who live in Neighborhood 33 – west of Vicksburg Lane North in Plymouth – and attend Plymouth Creek will be reassigned to Greenwood.
Call for redistricting was made apparent in light of numbers such as Plymouth Creek’s enrolment reaching 120 percent capacity compared to Gleason Lake’s 88 percent.
The school shift is designed to alleviate the stress of overcrowding, and the district projects that it will take an additional 2-15 minutes per trip to bus children to different schools.
While the redistricting temporarily solves over-enrollment issues, the district recognizes that future methods must also be explored to fix the problem long-term.
6. District 281 busing
The wheels on the bus still go “round and round,” but the affiliation of many of the drivers pressing the gas pedal changed this past year in Robbinsdale Area Schools.
The school board approved a bus contract with First Student July 1. By making the change, district Finance Director Jeff Priess said that nearly $1.5 million could be saved each year.
After a number of negotiation sessions, the district entered into a three-year contract with the Ohio-based school bus transportation service. Under the new contract, District 281 held on to 21 of its 27 full-time driver-custodial positions. Priess said the six not returning either chose not to or retired.
The contract stated that the district’s 21 full-time drivers would cover the 17 special education routes in the district. Before the new contract, Priess said workers normally drove for six hours and did maintenance in the buildings or school grounds for two hours. With the new structure, they would “basically be driving for eight hours,” and would also receive a wage increase, he said.
A Feb. 21 school board listening session saw two dozen speakers, many of them bus drivers, who showed up to press their case for retaining the in-house bus transportation system in District 281, rather than outsourcing the service.
When the contract was approved, Priess said students should not see a difference when they start school in the fall and that some may even have the same bus driver as previous years.
If students did not notice a difference, several parents did, and they attended a Sept. 24 board listening session to have their voices heard. Nine people at the listening session had questions or feedback for district representatives regarding bussing. Concerns ran the gamut from buses not running on time to different drivers having different rules.
Priess presented an update at the school board meeting later that evening.
“From an operations and budget standpoint … everything looks on target as far as the number of busses,” Priess said. “We know that we have had issues with our two magnet schools, and I would say we heard from some of those folks tonight at our listening time. It’s our focus – it seems to be the issue we have out there, other than a few others running late here and there.”
Priess later clarified that most calls from parents with busing concerns focused on the routes to the School of Engineering and Arts and Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion. Otherwise, concern from parents “is typically expected for school year start-up.” The calls he tracked in his office were almost exclusively related to the two routes, he said.
The district runs 144 bus routes, 71 of which are being driven by First Student drivers. The district drives 21 routes, and two other companies drive the remaining 51 routes.
7. Music in Plymouth celebrates 40th year
Music in Plymouth, the beloved annual outdoor music event, held its 40-year anniversary July 3, 2012.
The first event drew more than 3,000 and featured the Minnesota Orchestra – which would become the event’s staple musical performance.
The annual event occurred in open spaces within the Minneapolis Industrial Park 1972-80 but because crowds continued to grow, the site was moved next to city hall where the public safety building is located today.
The celebration moved once again, this time to the Hilde Performance Center, which includes a large band shell and open picnic space.
The center was built after Hilde donated around $1 million for the creation of a permanent outdoor amphitheater specifically for the event in 1997.
The event begins with the Plymouth Civic League’s annual 5K race, which helps to fund the $100,000 event.
The 40th Music in Plymouth included two stages featuring music, a puppet show, an aircraft show, fire dancers, concessions and fireworks.
This past year also marked the first for an award honoring an individual, group or company that has made significant contributions to the event. A donation was to the Music in Plymouth Endowment Fund in the recipient’s honor and their name was placed on the monument at the Hilde Performance Center amphitheater.
This year’s Music in Plymouth is Tuesday, July 2 at the Hilde Performance Center, 35th Avenue and Plymouth Boulevard.
Entertainment will begin at 5 p.m. and, as usual, a variety of local artists will perform and culminate in a performance by the Minnesota Orchestra. The evening fireworks display will be choreographed to music.
Music in Plymouth is free to the general public and entertainment is provided for all ages.
8. City advisory committee struggles to find its role
City of Plymouth’s Human Rights Committee had a tumultuous year in 2012.
The committee serves as an adviser to the council concerning human rights issues within Plymouth. The former commission was downgraded to a committee in early 2011 because “it would make it clear that this is an advisory committee to the Council, and they wouldn’t be handling the grievance process,” explained city attorney Roger Knutson at an April 12, 2011, meeting.
Heading into 2012, the committee took on new members and questions of the group’s role continued to plague discussion.
A dialogue was opened in August as to the purpose of having members from the City Council and Police Department sitting as voting members of the committee. As it stood in August, Mayor Kelli Slavik, Councilmember Bob Stein and Police Chief Mike Goldstein represented three of the seven votes on the board.
Citizen member Kelly Guncheon commented at a Nov. 1, 2012, meeting, “For City Council members to sit [on the committee] and have a voting role, it doesn’t make any sense. Because you’re essentially just talking to yourselves.”
Turmoil continued after the group coordinated events in 2012 that were perceived by the council as failures.
The topic dominated a discussion in December that was intended to arrange and schedule the filling of openings within Plymouth’s numerous advisory committees and commissions.
Instead of utilizing the time to streamline the interview process, the bulk of the meeting was used to deliberate the future of the Human Rights Committee specifically.
Members of the council entertained the idea of further dissolving the committee’s role into an ad hoc group, one that would only assemble and work as directed by the council when needed throughout the year and not hold regular session.
The strife was enough to cause the resignation of Goldstein in November, a choice he said he made for a number of reasons.
No decision on the committee’s future was reached in 2012, and interviews for open seats will proceed as planned. The council will continue work toward a resolution in hopes of creating a body that can effectively serve to the human rights needs of the community.
9. Legislative redistricting draws new political lines
Residents of Plymouth are represented by four state house members and as many state senators, adding up to seven representatives for the more than 70,000 citizens who call the city home.
While the number of legislators serving Plymouth didn’t change with 2012’s reapportionment, the faces of those serving did.
When the new district boundaries were released in February, Rep. Sandra Peterson and Rep. Steve Smith were taken out of the Plymouth picture.
In their places, Rep. Lyndon Carlson of District 45A and Rep. Ryan Winkler of District 46B assumed their roles as representatives to Plymouth.
After the 2012 election in November, the seven are as follows:
House 44A (Northwest Plymouth) – Sarah Anderson
House 44B (Southwest Plymouth) – John H. Benson
House 45A (Northeast Plymouth) – Lyndon R. Carlson
House 46A (Southeast Plymouth) – Steve Simon
Senate 44 (Western Plymouth) – Terri Bonoff
Senate 45 (Northeast Plymouth) – Ann H. Rest
Senate 46 (Southeast Plymouth) – Ron Latz.
And while the district boundaries for Plymouth City Council shifted slightly, the council heading into 2013 remains basically unchanged by the reapportionment.
Incumbents Jim Willis and Jeff Wosje beat out respective challengers for their open seats, while Judy Johnson of Ward 1 and Bob Stein of Ward 3 successfully ran unopposed to retain their positions.
Council members expressed satisfaction in the work of the group and confidence in its function moving forward.
“I think we all get along well together,” commented Stein after the election results. “We may have some differences, but we work together for the common good of the city. And we respect each other.”
“The thing that’s most notable about this council is that we don’t always agree with each other, but we can always agree to disagree,” said Johnson in November. “And that’s something so important, and something I think voters want right now.”
The members of City Council and the legislators serving the new Plymouth districts look toward a 2013 and beyond that looms with economic uncertainty and funding issues that could define their political careers.
10. Questions arose over new scoreboard
Folks passing Wayzata High School in Plymouth may have noticed a significant change in the landscape this past year.
A 47-foot-high scoreboard was erected in late summer on the athletic field and features state-of-the-art high definition, a large Trojan logo and advertisements.
The proposal to Plymouth City Council to grant a conditional use permit to allow the school to stray from city code was approved in late March of 2012 to replace an outdated scoreboard installed in 2000.
Plymouth initially approached the proposal with caution, noting that a break in ordinance for the Wayzata High School could lead to other advertisers clamoring to build huge electronic signage.
City ordinance bans “multi-vision” signs with “any visible moving parts.” The idea is to refrain from distracting drivers and avoid lessening the city’s aesthetic.
The conditional use permit granted to the high school continued to ban advertising signs on scoreboards facing the public right of way, but allowed for the new scoreboard to function as proposed.
Much of the opposition to the conditional use permit revolved around the advertisement aspects of the signage. The school retains discretion over the content of the ads it displays, and it can only run them during city- or school-sponsored events.
While some found the addition of advertising to a school sporting event a nuisance, others noted that any additional revenue stream the school could attract is welcomed.
The scoreboard won out and made its debut at a Wayzata High School girls soccer game Aug. 23, and at the Trojans football season open on Aug. 30.
Project Score – an offshoot of the Wayzata Athletic Boosters comprised of parents and community members – was a major proponent in making the scoreboard a reality.
The project was funded through advertising sponsorships and private donations. The scoreboard’s video capabilities will also be utilized to celebrate the accomplishments of students at Wayzata High School.
The scoreboard promotes math club, musical productions, the debate team and any other activities that the high school feels deserve recognition. Students in an advanced television production class offered from the school will also have the opportunity to produce content that appears on the board.