Garden Plans Brighten North Mpls. Lots Hit by Tornado

Posted at: 08/28/2013 3:12 PM
Updated at: 08/29/2013 8:00 AM
By: Stephen Tellier

Mother Nature destroyed part of north Minneapolis. But residents say - "not for good."
It's been two years since a tornado ripped through north Minneapolis. Many lots remain empty today, but the city is considering giving residents an opportunity to temporarily build gardens on them. Now, the future looks just a little brighter for those vacant lots.
"The scope and the scale of what we had to tear down from the tornado - we have not been able to fill all those lots yet," said Tom Streitz, the Minneapolis housing director.
On Wednesday, Aug. 28, the city council is expected to vote on allowing the community gardens to be built on a few dozen city-owned lots in the tornado zone.
It's a move that could impact up to 75 properties - areas that could be building grounds for homes. But before planting can begin, the city ordinance that says vacant lots should be developed whenever possible has to change.
The city demolished many homes that were beyond repair when the tornado hit.
Today, there's still dozens of vacant lots all across the tornado zone. On the 2600 block of Oliver Avenue North, there are two vacant lots right across the street from each other, and two more just a few houses down.
Dilapidation still dwells two doors down from north Minneapolis resident Linda Dalbey. Where homes have been demolished, long grass and trash have taken their place.
"If the owners aren't going to fix it up, get rid of it," she said. "You look at vacant lots - that's always a bummer."
But the green shoots of re-growth are creeping in all across Dalbey's front lawn - taken over by her new pumpkin patch.
"Our ground is much more fertile than we thought it was," she said, with a laugh. And Dalbey believes the vacant lots of north Minneapolis are fertile, too.
"A fresh garden would really be a good thing, and I think people enjoy it," Dalbey said.
North Minneapolis residents - like Dalbey - are interested in getting the gardens started, Streitz said. "This is something we've heard over and over again from neighbors ..."
Streitz said several new, energy-efficient homes have sprouted in the tornado's wake - but not enough of them. The gardens also could save the city money - potentially more than $100,000 in lower property management costs - if every lot is leased for one year.
"This helps us, number one, prevent blight and people dumping on empty lots," Streitz said.
Streitz said the long-term goal is still to get new homes built on all of the vacant lots. That's why the city plans to only allow one-year leases for those gardens for now. The leases will have to be renewed each year.
"In a perfect world, I'd like to see a nice house built again," Dalbey said.
But in the meantime, Dalbey will settle for turning blight into bloom.
"Anything that is a growing thing, a positive thing, is good," she said.
Suggestions for the community garden lots, according to the city of Minneapolis: