Editor’s note: 2012 was a busy year for Brooklyn Park. It was full of highs and lows, a mixed bag of good and bad news.
This list of the top 10 stories wasn’t easy to pick, because there were many options. Factors considered included the scope and impact of an event on the community, as well as reader interest and response.
Several worthy contenders didn’t make the list simply because there were only 10 spots. Sometimes it was a toss-up. As for items in the list in order 1-10, that was even more difficult and sometimes arbitrary.
Whether you agree with the choices or not, the Sun-Post hopes you enjoy this look back at some of the biggest stories from the past year.
–Jonathan Young, Community Editor
1. Five April homicides
Brooklyn Park residents were shocked in April by five homicides in a single month. All five deaths occurred within a stretch of about two miles, just south of 85th Avenue North.
The first and worst incident was a brutal triple homicide at a home daycare April 9.
The victims were home daycare provider DeLois Bolden Brown, 59, and her parents, James Bolden, 82, and Clover Bolden, 81. A woman who had dropped off her child at Brown’s home around 6:30 the morning of the murder discovered Brown and Brown’s parents dead. The child was unharmed.
Police announced May 14 that Eddie Mosley, of St. Louis, had been charged with three counts of second-degree murder.
Investigators believe Mosley came to the house intending to kill his half-sister’s daughter, but she wasn’t there. Mosley was facing charges in Wright County for allegedly raping the girl, and investigators think he hoped to keep her from testifying against him.
Prosecutors upgraded charges against Mosley when a grand jury indicted him on nine counts of first-degree murder July 24, three for each victim. If convicted, Mosley faces a mandatory life sentence on each count.
Mosley’s trial is set for Friday, April 19.
Only a day after the triple homicide, another murder took place in the same neighborhood. Late April 10, police found Nicole Ashantai Finch dead of a gunshot wound in the basement of a house on the 8100 block of Hampshire Court. Her boyfriend, Dymond Rene Hayden of Minneapolis, pleaded guilty Nov. 30 to third-degree murder charges instead of standing trial for second-degree charges. Hayden will be sentenced Thursday, Jan. 10, and is expected to get 15 years in prison.
A couple weeks after Finch died, 16-year-old Terrence Creamer of Columbia Heights was accidentally shot by a friend in Central Park. A group of people was at a barbecue April 24 when a disagreement broke out. Deshawn Roberts, of Brooklyn Center, pulled a gun and began firing. One of the bullets hit Creamer in the head. He died five days later.
Roberts pleaded guilty to second-degree, unintentional murder Oct. 11. He was sentenced Nov. 19 to 21 years in prison.
After a tragic April, the city went the rest of the year without a murder to end the year with the same number of homicides as in 2011.
2. Longtime Councilmember Jeanette Meyer dies
Almost exactly a year after former Mayor Steve Lampi died suddenly of cancer, residents were once again shocked when doctors diagnosed longtime West District Councilmember Jeanette Meyer with lung cancer in early March.
Surrounded by family, she succumbed to the disease May 20 at age 58.
Up to the end, Meyer remained dedicated to serving the city she loved. Only two weeks before her death, she attended a city council meeting. Her husband, former Councilmember Terry Gearin, said she answered city-related emails even during the last week of her life.
When someone asked him why he didn’t prevent her from exerting herself, he said he couldn’t.
“Her heart was the city,” he said. “How do you stop somebody from doing … what she loved doing? She was part of the city.”
“She loved her community,” Councilmember Mike Trepanier said. “That was real clear.”
First elected in 1998, Meyer was elected to her fourth consecutive term in 2010. She was the longest-serving member of the current council. Prior to serving on the council, she was a member of the first Citizen Long-range Improvement Committee, also known as CLIC.
Raised in West Concord, a small town in southern Minnesota, Meyer moved to the Twin Cities to study political science at the University of Minnesota. She married Gearin in 1974. They moved to Brooklyn Park soon after.
Meyer was remembered as being devoted to her family and fond of entertaining guests. Outside her family, she was remembered as a dedicated public servant who stood by her beliefs.
More than 100 people gathered to share memories at a public memorial service.
Meyer’s term was set to expire in 2015. Her son, Joseph Meyer Gearin, ran for the seat but lost to Bob Mata. Her husband also ran city council in the general election but was defeated by John Jordan.
3. Target begins north campus expansion
Early in the year a lot of buzz and speculation surrounded the potential size of Target’s plans to expand its north campus. In May the city council approved final plans, and Target broke ground on the project June 28.
The expansion is expected double the size of the campus by 2014. It includes two, eight-story, 325,000-square-foot buildings, for a total of 650,000 square feet. In addition, it will add about 2,000 parking stalls. The existing campus has 561,000 square feet of office space and 130,600 square feet of technical support space.
The new buildings will help accommodate the 2,400 employees and 1,500 contractors Target is moving from its downtown campus. Approximately 1,300 employees already worked at the north campus.
Target is getting help from the city to pay for its latest development. In December 2011, the Brooklyn Park Economic Development Authority approved a renewed agreement with Target to help fund the development.
Target was already receiving tax abatement (partial tax refund) for the most recently constructed building. The city agreed to provide similar help for the addition. But instead of an abatement, the city will make an equivalent lump-sum payment using existing Tax Increment Financing dollars, which are limited in use. Then the taxes Target pays each year will go to the general fund, where they are more useful.
Target’s north campus is the intended endpoint of the proposed Bottineau Transitway light rail line from downtown Minneapolis.
4. MnDOT order causes flap about flags
U.S. flags once again fly on 11 overpasses where they hung for years until the Minnesota Department of Transportation ordered their removal in April.
In 2004 — at the height of its members’ deployments — the Palmer Lake VFW in Brooklyn Park hung flags on five overpasses above highways 610 and 252. It flew them on special brackets and maintained them when they were damaged or frayed. Twice a
year, members replaced the flags — in honor of Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
Then in April, MnDOT called the post and ordered it to take down the flags, because they violated MnDOT regulations and state statutes. MnDOT also required the Coon Rapids VFW to remove six flags it had been maintaining above Highway 10 in Coon Rapids and Anoka.
According to MnDOT, the flags posed a safety hazard. The department also said it had received a complaint about a flag over 610 and had turned down requests to fly other flags on overpasses.
But Lee Ulferts, state commander of the VFW and former post commander at Palmer Lake, thought the decision was an “outrage” and said an exception should be made for the U.S. flag.
After the Sun-Post published an article on the topic the week of July 4, other news outlets picked up the story, and the issue went national within two weeks. Ulferts appeared on Fox and Friends Sunday, July 15, to make his case for the flag.
In the meantime, other concerned citizens in the northwest suburbs raised their voices.
On July 20, MnDOT announced it had come up with a compromise.
“By law, MnDOT must remove any type of device, advertisement or obstruction placed by private organizations that could interfere with traffic,” Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel said in a statement. “… In response to public concern, we took a closer look at this issue and concluded that, if MnDOT, not a private organization, purchases and installs the flags, the agency will continue to meet its safety and legal concerns, while being sensitive to public sentiment.”
The same day, MnDOT installed flags on the 11 bridges where they had flown before.
Two days later, about 100 people gathered on the Regent Avenue bridge over Highway 610 in Brooklyn Park. Originally the rally was planned as a protest, but after MnDOT’s announcement, it became a celebration.
MnDOT said the department would develop “a policy to determine when and where other flags may be installed.”
5. Brooklyn Park celebrates 20-year low
Brooklyn Park announced in February that the overall crime rate in the city hit a 20-year low the previous year. At a press conference, police released statistics showing that crime per 1,000 residents dropped from 138.3 in 1992 to 101.3 in 2011.
At the Feb. 8 press conference, longtime residents Ron and Dar Stong shared how they’ve seen Brooklyn Park’s crime-fighting efforts pay off.
The Stongs have lived on 81st Avenue and Regent Avenue about 40 years. A few years ago a single-family home in the area was rented out to a drug-dealing tenant.
Along with their neighbors, the Stongs formed a neighborhood watch group and began working with the police to address the problem.
“If there was any activity the neighbors became very comfortable calling 911,” Ron said.
“The police department has always been good to us and our community,” Dar said.
Chief Michael Davis praised the work of the city’s leaders and the innovation of its staff, but he said the most important piece of the picture is the work and dedication of residents.
“What’s most impressive about the city of Brooklyn Park is my fellow residents,” he said.
6. Major development opportunities arise
Major redevelopment opportunities arose in Brooklyn Park in 2012. The city approved the transformation of the now-vacant Grand Rios hotel and waterpark site into a CarMax AutoSuperstore. It also heard a proposal from a Twin Cities nonprofit to create a massive, year-round athletic facility.
The city council gave final approval to CarMax in July. CarMax, a Virginia-based Fortune 500 company, plans to build a dealership at the Grand Rios site near the intersection of Highway 694 and County Road 81. The site has sat vacant since the hotel and waterpark on the property went into foreclosure and were shut down in June 2011.
CarMax describes itself as a high-end used-car retailer. CarMax representative John McNamara said the planned facility will serve as the “hub” location for the Twin Cities. The company already owns land for a dealership in Maplewood and may consider a third location.
The facility will have 52,000 square feet of building space, including an area for inspecting and reconditioning all the cars for the company’s planned Twin Cities locations.
According to MacNamara, a typical CarMax store sells 325-350 cars a month. He expects the Brooklyn Park location will inspect and recondition about 700 cars a month. He estimates the facility will eventually create about 145 full-time positions and 30 part-time positions.
Approval for CarMax didn’t come without controversy. It required a rezoning of the site, and some residents didn’t want to see another dealership open.
To complicate matters, the nonprofit AquaPlex Facility Group proposed an aquatic center coupled with a renovated hotel. But plans for the aquatic center would have required assistance from existing Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds that used to go to the Grand Rios developer. The city needed special permission to use those funds, and the governor vetoed the tax bill containing the provisions granting that permission. That ended further consideration by the council.
CarMax is expected to begin construction of its Brooklyn Park location in 2013 or 2014.
In June the city council also agreed to explore a separate redevelopment opportunity. A nonprofit called the Minnesota Sports Center proposed transforming the Noble Sports Park into what it claims would be the largest year-round athletic facility in North America. It would be 408,000 square feet and house two indoor softball fields; three fields for soccer, football, rugby, lacrosse and field hockey; four automated batting cages; two locker rooms; a retail and concessions area; a parents’ lounge and more.
The nonprofit would lease the site from the city and maintain the facility. It would also build athletic fields at alternate locations in Brooklyn Park to replace those displaced by the project.
Despite skepticism from some of its members, the city council agreed to consider the idea further. It approved a memorandum of understanding giving the nonprofit 90 days to complete a market study, draft site plans, submit a detailed budget and work out other details.
This fall the city council granted the nonprofit a 90-day extension to complete its work. The council should receive results soon.
7. Five-vote margin triggers special
A recount was required to confirm the winner of a special city council election in August. Election night results showed Bob Mata leading Winfred Russell by only five votes.
The election was to determine who would complete approximately two years remaining in the term of former West District Councilmember Jeanette Meyer, who died of lung cancer in May.
Election judges inspected and hand-counted the ballots Aug. 21. Mata received 536 votes, and Russell earned 531 votes. The results exactly matched those posted the night of the election.
With consent from both campaigns, officials did not recount the ballots cast for other candidates. Joseph Meyer Gearin got 215 votes, and there were nine write-in votes.
Russell requested the recount, which was permitted under state law because the margin of victory was less than half of a percent. The ballots were locked in a vault between the election and the recount.
During the recount, election judges counted ballots in the city council chambers one precinct at a time, using a three-step process. One judge sorted the ballots so they all faced the same direction. Two judges inspected the ballots and sorted them into a pile for each candidate. Two more judges counted the votes for each candidate and recorded the total.
The city council certified the recount results at its Aug. 27 meeting, and Mata was sworn in Tuesday, Sept. 4.
The results of the recount didn’t surprise City Clerk Devin Montero, who presided over the process. He said the voting machines are typically very accurate. Even when there are minor errors, he said, they are sometimes offset by other minor errors so the end result is the same.
8. Northwest Family Services Center opens
After about 15 years in the making the Northwest Family Service Center had a grand opening Oct. 25.
The center will serve as a one-stop shop for services in the northwest suburbs. Technically located in Brooklyn Center, it’s on Brooklyn Boulevard across the border from Brooklyn Park.
The center is a partnership among Hennepin County, the Osseo School District and the nonprofit Community Emergency Assistance Program (CEAP).
Altogether the building is close to 100,000 square feet. The county and school district each have about 40,000 square feet, and CEAP has about 20,000.
The school district’s portion of the building houses the Adult Education Center, which has operated at the location since 2005, when the first section was built. That section was designed to accommodate an addition, which was completed this year.
For CEAP, moving into the new building marked a return to Brooklyn Center, where it began in 1970. It also gave the organization three times the space of its previous location in northwestern Brooklyn Park, where it served Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park and east Champlin. CEAP opened its offices at the service center Sept. 17.
The county offices opened Oct. 1.
The Northwest Family Service Center is the first of six regional hubs planned by the county’s the Human Services and Public Health department as part of an effort to offer services at community-based sites throughout the county instead of only at sites in downtown Minneapolis.
9. School levies fail
Voters in the Osseo School District narrowly rejected two proposed levies on the ballot Nov. 6.
One of the levies was a 5-year operating levy that would have provided $9 million per year. The other was a 10-year technology levy that would have raised $5 million per year.
The operating levy received 33,792 “yes” votes, or 49.9 percent and 33,908 “no” votes, or 50.1 percent. That’s a difference of 116 votes.
The technology levy garnered 32,470 votes in favor, or 48.3 percent, and 34,757 votes against, or 51.7 percent. The difference was 2,287 votes.
“It’s heartbreakingly close,” Supt. Kate Maguire said. “… Certainly I’m disappointed, and I’m disappointed because I know what it means. We’ve been here before. And I know the good results we’re getting for students in our community. … It’s going to be difficult to sustain that progress with fewer and fewer (staff members).”
Without the levies, the school district originally expected to cut about $14 million from the budget over the next two years. That includes $2 million of reductions to “align staffing with enrollment” that were projected to occur regardless of the election’s outcome.
Since the November vote the budget picture has improved slightly due to recent changes in two financial projections, and the district now expects to cut about $11 million.
The December 2012 enrollment analysis, on which revenue projections are based, confirmed that the district’s enrollment decline is slowing and actual enrollment is higher than projected. This results in about $1 million more revenue over the next two years than previously estimated.
In addition, the fiscal year 2012 audit completed in November confirmed the success of “aggressive cost containment strategies” applied last year. Continuing similar strategies should reduce previously estimated expenditures by about $2 million over the next two years.
In December, the school board directed administration to prepare four levels of reduction to provide flexibility in decision making:
• Level 1 — $3.1 million for the 2013-14 school year.
• Levels 2 and 3 — $1 million each that may be taken in 2013-14 or 2014-15.
• Level 4 — $6.1 million for the 2014-15 school year.
10. Bottineau Transitway chugs ahead
Brooklyn Park was identified as the preferred endpoint of the proposed Bottineau Transitway, which made significant progress last year.
The transitway is a proposed light rail line that would begin in downtown Minneapolis and extend into the northwest suburbs.
The middle of the proposed line would run along the BNSF rail corridor next to Highway 81. At the north end, one option being studied would end in Maple Grove near the Shoppes at Arbor Lakes, and another would terminate at Target’s north campus in Brooklyn Park. In the south, the line could run through Golden Valley to Highway 55 or continue through Robbinsdale to Penn Avenue in north Minneapolis.
All cities along the route have now approved a resolution supporting a “Locally Preferred Alternative” that would send the line through Golden Valley and have it end in Brooklyn Park. The next step is for the Metropolitan Council to adopt this alternative. This is a significant step in pursuing federal funding for the project. About half of the estimated $1 billion cost for the project is expected to come from the Federal Transit Administration.