COVID-19, Burnsville Center, landfill still on the agenda

COVID-19 didn’t stray far from the headlines in Burnsville this year but didn’t consume as much of the news as it had in 2020. Familiar topics — such as hopes for redeveloping the Burnsville Center area and cleaning up the Freeway Landfill — were on the agenda again in 2021.

Along with the familiar came some new developments, including the debut of the Police Department’s Behavioral Health Unit, the city’s embrace of the Juneteenth holiday and the Grow Burnsville program promoting nutrition through locally grown produce.

From the pages of Burnsville-Eagan Sun Thisweek, here’s a recap of 2021 news highlights in Burnsville.

Burnsville Center

After three years of lobbying by the city, state legislation was approved this year authorizing it to create a tax-increment financing district to boost redevelopment efforts in the Burnsville Center area.

The new owner’s plans for rescuing the ailing regional mall that opened in 1977 first involve breaking up and selling off parts of the property.

Burnsville Center Capital Holding is an entity of New York-based Kohan Retail Investment Group, which bought about half the mall property at auction in fall 2020. Kohan, which is known for buying and repurposing troubled malls, paid about $17 million — a fraction of the $64.2 million owed. Previous owner CBL properties filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The new owner supports the city’s Center Village redevelopment vision and will consider some residential development as well as a “more diverse and creative retail mix,” according to company representative Felix Reznick.

In September the City Council approved plans to subdivide the company’s property into the mall portion and a northern outparcel that includes Dick’s Sporting Goods, Schuler Shoes and other tenants. The northern parcel includes nine new lots and one new outlot, some of which could be sold to developers.

“We will be selling off outparcels so that we can pay back our investors and the bank and then inject all remaining funds back into the Burnsville Mall site,” Reznick wrote in a report to the city. “Once financial stability is achieved at the mall site, we will be in a more viable position to participate in the longer-term vision and redevelopment of the mall area.”

Landfill

Cleaning up the Freeway Landfill and making the property available for development remains the city’s top priority at the state Legislature.

Landfill cleanup is also a top priority for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which says a change in groundwater flow after mining ceases at an adjacent limestone quarry will bring buried garbage into contact with groundwater and threaten drinking water safety.

The city backs a plan to move the garbage from the dormant, unlined landfill adjacent to Interstate 35W to the nearby Burnsville Sanitary Landfill, opening the Freeway property to lucrative development opportunities. That could create $735 million in new property value, according to the city.

Behavioral Health Unit

A continued rise in mental health crisis calls had the Burnsville Police Department looking to expand a response unit it had launched just six months earlier.

The department wants to more than double the size of its Behavioral Health Unit, which was begun in January through a restructuring of existing police staff.

It’s not enough as demand mounts, police officials said in July. With 398 mental health calls already logged through the first six months of 2020, the department projects 796 by year’s end — an all-time high in a caseload that has grown from 290 calls in 2010. Last year there were 713.

No funds for new positions are in the 2022 budget. The department had also planned to pursue federal grants.

Fire Department staffing

In April, the Fire Department recommended a sharp staffing increase to adequately cover a city where Fire Chief B.J. Jungmann said call volume will continue to rise 3% to 7% a year and 78% of calls are for emergency medical service.

The 48-member department is seeking 16 additional full-time employees, including six for ambulance crews.

Fifty-eight times in 2018 and 57 in 2019, the city’s combined fire and ambulance service had no units available to dispatch to calls, according to a department report.

That was up from 31 in 2016 and 38 in 2017.

“The responsibility falls on the five people at this dais to make the decisions to give you the support you need,” City Council Member Dan Kealey told Jungmann.

None of the positions are funded in the 2022 budget. The department had also planned to pursue federal grant opportunities.

Grow Burnsville

A market garden is a relatively small operation that usually sells its produce directly to consumers. Burnsville’s version is actually a “giving garden,” said supervisor Paige Hawkins.

The 165-by-90-foot garden on Civic Center Parkway across from the city ice arena will help stock the food shelves of Burnsville-based nonprofit 360 Communities and the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District’s Community Pantry 191.

“Instead of trying to make a profit, we’re trying to make a difference,” Hawkins said in August, adding that “the partner list should only keep growing as we actually have food to give.”

The garden is part of the Grow Burnsville program launched this year with $125,000 from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Burnsville is one of nine cities funded through a grant program to prevent childhood obesity and promote environmental sustainability.

The garden is in Civic Center Park, where Grow Burnsville includes a pluckable public food forest and an organics recycling drop-off site. The program also funded a third community garden in Burnsville, at Crosstown East Park at Burnsville Parkway and Portland Avenue.

Juneteenth

This year the city embraced Juneteenth, the new federal holiday (and time-honored tradition in many communities) that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.

Burnsville’s first city-sponsored Juneteenth celebration was held June 19 at North River Hills Park. A city-sponsored event was suggested by the Rev. John William Gordon of Spirit of Truth Church, a mostly Black congregation in Burnsville. The church helped plan the festivities.

In October, the City Council voted to make Juneteenth a Burnsville city holiday. City offices will now be closed on June 19.

Burnsville is a Juneteenth forerunner among Minnesota cities. Minneapolis, St. Anthony Village and Cottage Grove have made it a city holiday, according to Amber Eisenschenk, research manager for the League of Minnesota Cities.

But most cities appear content to let the state declare the holiday, she said. A bill to do that didn’t clear the Legislature this year.

Congress approved a federal Juneteenth holiday in June, which Eisenschenk said spurred discussion of state and local declarations.

Growing diversity

New 2020 census data showed that Burnsville’s BIPOC (Black/indigenous/people of color) population is now 38.6%, a 12.5% increase since 2010. The Black or African American population is 15.3%, a 5.5% increase. The Hispanic or Latino population is 11.0%, a 4% increase.

Burnsville’s total population grew from 60,306 to 64,317.

COVID-19 relief

Officials announced in May that the city would receive $8 million from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act signed in March by President Joe Biden.

Officials have discussed using $6 million to buy down and even out future levy increases, holding them to an estimated 5.7% annually through 2026. Plans for the other $2 million haven’t been set.

Burnsville businesses have received more than $273 million in COVID-19 relief funding from a range of programs controlled at the federal, state and local levels, according to the city.

Apartments lead tax base growth

New apartments are leading the growth in Burnsville’s tax base as commercial and retail properties slip, according to a May report from Ehlers Public Finance Advisors, the city’s financial consultant.

The market value of apartments grew by 8.56% from 2020 to 2021 as the city’s total market value grew by 4.81%.

Commercial market value continued to grow during that period, but apartment valuation as a percentage of city tax base has eclipsed commercial valuation since 2019, a reversal from previous years, according to the report.

Single-family homes remain the largest driver of market value, totaling more than 60% consistently.

Commercial valuation growth from 2020 to 2021 was 3.25%, outpaced by growth in single-family valuation (3.95%) and industrial valuation (6.97%).

Burnsville Center’s market value has plummeted. The regional mall’s value has dropped from $134 million in 2018 to $66 million, he said.

Complete streets

The stage is set to gradually make Burnsville more hospitable for walking, cycling and wheelchairs.

In October the City Council approved a multimodal transportation plan and “complete streets” policy, which have been in the works since March.

The multimodal plan includes analyses of the city’s transportation network and barriers to getting around by means other than motor vehicles. It includes an equity lens, identifying areas where factors such as poverty and high proportions of disabled people create the most need for nonvehicle transportation improvements.

Those areas are generally located along Highway 13 and Interstate 35W and around Burnsville Center.

When the city undertakes new transportation projects, such as street reconstruction or rehabilitation, staffers will fill out a complete streets worksheet that will point to opportunities to make multimodal improvements.

Orange Line opens

The METRO Orange Line, which opened for service on Dec. 4, breaks the mold for transit in the Interstate 35W corridor south of Minneapolis.

The bus rapid transit line is different from the freeway express buses that have run between downtown and the suburbs for four decades, said Charles Carlson, director of BRT projects for Metro Transit.

“The Orange Line’s really about connecting the different places across the corridor” rather than traditional commuter service, he said. The 17-mile Orange Line will provide “all-day service between destinations” at 12 feature-filled new stations in Burnsville, Bloomington, Richfield and Minneapolis.

Burnsville’s two stations are in the Heart of the City — one at the southwest corner of Nicollet Avenue and Highway 13 and a northbound-only station at Travelers Trail and Burnsville Parkway. Burnsville’s Heart of the City municipal parking ramp will serve as an Orange Line park-and-ride, according to Metro Transit.

New fire station

The Fire Department occupied its new Fire Station 1 in November.

The $18.6 million station, one of two in Burnsville, on Newton Avenue south of County Road 42 and west of County Road 5, replaces the current Station 1 north of 42 on West 140th Street.

The old station, which fire officials say grew undersized and obsolete, opened in 1975 as the police station.

The new 44,000-square-foot facility was designed around the latest innovations in operational efficiency and firefighter wellness.

Burnsville’s full-time fire and paramedic crews “spend a third of their life at the fire station,” Fire Chief B.J. Jungmann said. “What can we do to de-stress them, keep them ready to respond, and relaxed? A lot of focus has been put on that, and I think we have a facility that’s second to none, supporting the operation and the health and wellness of our staff.”

Police kill carjacker

Burnsville police fired on an armed carjacking suspect April 18, killing him, authorities said.

Four officers discharged their weapons. The fatal shooting occurred about 3 p.m. on Highway 13 near Interstate 35W.

The white male suspect, 30-year-old Bradley Michael Olsen, of Dresser, Wisconsin, had fired at pursuing officers and pointed a gun at an oncoming vehicle on Highway 13, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

The BCA provided the following recap.

A Burnsville officer saw a truck with stolen plates and attempted to pull it over at about 2:44 p.m. April 18. A short time later the truck crashed into a vehicle at Southcross Drive and Buck Hill Road. The truck kept moving before becoming disabled at Southcross Drive and Burnhaven Drive.

The driver, now identified as Olsen, fled the scene into a restaurant on the 14000 block of Buck Hill Road, where he snatched a customer’s keys from a table and fled in the customer’s vehicle.

Officers pursued the stolen vehicle after spotting it heading north on I-35W. Olsen shot at pursuing officers “several times.”

Olsen took the Highway 13 east exit and at one point slowed the vehicle and jumped out. He ran from the entrance ramp onto Highway 13 and pointed a gun at an oncoming vehicle, whose driver turned into the grass median to flee.

Drinking water good, bad, otherwise?

After years of public kibitzing over the taste and smell of Burnsville’s drinking water, the City Council is turning to citizens for a verdict.

In October council members directed city staff to make a plan for probing public opinion on the topic.

The exercise could be the precursor to a costly upgrade of the city’s surface water treatment system. But the council stopped short of ordering a feasibility study on a $5 million ozone system, preferring to first hear from the public.

Comments about Burnsville water have persisted since 2009, when the city began pumping water from the Kraemer Mining and Materials quarry next to the Minnesota River. In an arrangement benefiting both parties, the city captures upwelling water from the mining operation that used to be emptied into the river.

That surface water now comprises 40% of the city’s supply, alongside its groundwater wells. Burnsville also sells water to Savage, which gets 60% to 90% of its water from the neighboring city. The product is a blend of surface water and groundwater.

Taste and odor complaints greeted the surface water plant’s opening in 2009. An algae bloom in the quarry water at the time affected taste and smell but wasn’t the only culprit.

The city has since added powder activated carbon and granular activated carbon to the treatment process. The carbon absorbs compounds that create taste and odor, said Jeff Radick, assistant public works director.

Grocery stores

A grocery store guessing game began in January, with the Cobblestone Court shopping center working to land an unnamed “national grocer” as a tenant.

Owner Schafer Richardson, a Minneapolis real estate firm, got City Council approval in February to add a 39,978-square-foot grocery store to the mall, located north of County Road 42 on the west side of Nicollet Avenue.

The store would go on the east end of the mall, replacing current tenant T.J. Maxx and Home Goods, which planned to relocate to the Burnsville Marketplace on the west side of Interstate 35W.

It was widely speculated that Amazon would be the new grocery store brand.

Meanwhile, the Sterling Organization, which owns the 16.5-acre Cub Foods property at 1800 County Road 42 W., announced in September plans to replace the existing store with a new 80,000-square-foot Cub store and attached 8,600-square-foot liquor store.

Sterling floated two redevelopment scenarios for the property bounded by County Road 42, County Road 5, McAndrews Road and Irving Avenue.

One would add seven retail buildings in addition to the new Cub. The other would add four retail buildings, along with two apartment buildings totaling 200 to 240 units.

John Gessner can be reached at john.gessner@ecm-inc.com or 952-846-2031.

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