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The Healy Project has sent this letter to City Hall, outlining how false testimony played a role in the decision-making process regarding the demolition of the Orth House. The physical evidence revealing these lies is in salvagers’ storehouses, in photos and video, and until demolition takes place, in the Orth House itself.
Please call or write your council member, requesting that they take a serious, objective look at this process. Minneapolis CMs by ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please thank the two council members who courageously voted against demolition: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Healy Project
Preserving the architectural legacy of T. P. Healy
A nonprofit • www.healyproject.org
January 28, 2015
Minneapolis City Council
City Hall, Room 307
350 South Fifth Street
Minneapolis, MN 55415
To: Members of the Minneapolis City Council
SUBJ: Testimony regarding the property at 2320 Colfax Avenue South
The Orth House, 2320 Colfax Avenue South, is on the verge of demolition. That issue is settled. The intent of this letter is to examine the decision-making process. Opinion remains divided on this issue, but no matter where we stand, the process itself can be analyzed separate from one’s opinions and feelings regarding the Orth House.
The Healy Project received an e-mail from a neighborhood resident subcontracting salvage work from City Salvage on the Orth House. We have video documentation of the Orth House interior from this individual. (Please review the attached communication now.)
Compare the reality of the integrity of the interior with the attached statements that were made during testimony to decision-making making bodies. These statements, while inaccurate, were given a great deal of credibility in the decision-making process. They even made their way into staff reports and presentations. These inconsistencies are not within the realm of differences of opinion. Phrases such as “completely rebuilt,” “gutted to the studs,” and “essentially removing the upper two floors” have definite meanings that are not consistent with physical reality.
From this discovery, we of the Healy Project raise four issues related to the process of public testimony that need to be addressed:
1. Real estate development is a profitable enterprise. The Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) and the City Council heard much false testimony regarding the condition of the Orth House. We know that now. Michael Lander, the developer; Tom Dunn, the real estate broker; Michael Crow, the landlord; and Amy Lucas, the consultant all presented information that was undeniably inaccurate. They all had a financial incentive to do so.
City planner John Smoley repeated these inaccurate statements. Smoley argued before both the HPC and the City Council in 2013 that the Orth House should not be designated as an Historic Resource, largely because of condition. In the course of the Healy Project’s Minnesota Environmental Resources Act (MERA) lawsuit, Smoley testified that he first laid eyes on the Orth House in January, 2014.
How can council members be assured that they are getting accurate information and that staff has done its due diligence?
2. During the 2013 testimony, members of the Healy Project testified to important observations, such as the fact that the entire front facade, including clapboard and original bowed windows were intact inside the porch enclosure. That is a significant finding regarding architectural integrity. However, with the updated staff report in 2014, new information that was made available to staff from advocates to preserve the house was not incorporated into either the staff report or presentation. This information was factual and directly observable. However, new information provided by the consultant for the developer was incorporated into the staff report and presentation–information that was not directly observable fact, but rather a matter of opinion and conjecture. Therefore, we ask you to recognize that:
Bias is evident when factual information is neither reported or presented when it does not support the staff recommendation.
3. The Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) in 2014 denied the application for the demolition of an Historic Resource. They also ordered a designation study. City planner John Smoley argued for approval of the demolition permit. Owner Michael Crow filed an appeal to demolish an Historic Resource.
At the appeal hearing chaired by CM Bender, both Michael Crow and John Smoley were allowed presentations in favor of demolition. The HPC’s position was reported but not presented; reporting is not a substitute for a persuasive presentation earnestly defending the HPC’s position. It seems appropriate that some provision be made in cases which staff’s professional opinion differs from the decision-making making body.
Something is amiss when the recommendations of both presentations are in agreement with one another. By nature and definition, an appeal is a scenario when there is one opinion that is not in agreement with another.
4. When the Healy Project sued owner Michael Crow under Minnesota Environmental Resources Act (MERA), city planner John Smoley appeared as a witness on owner Michael Crow’s behalf. Because of his academic credentials and his employment as a city planner for the City of Minneapolis, the Court regarded Smoley as an expert witness.
The consequence of allowing false information to enter the process at the City level is that City staff appeared in District Court testifying under oath to information that we now know to be false.
The Healy Project requests that the concerns raised in this letter be given serious consideration and discussion. In the future, integrity of process is paramount for maintaining the integrity and the credibility of the City of Minneapolis. The integrity and the credibility of the City of Minneapolis has been clouded by a decision- making process dominated by false testimony. It would seem prudent to ask the questions: How did this happen? What is to prevent it from happening again?
Very truly yours,
Anders Christensen, President
Brian Finstad, Board Member
cc: Mayor Betsy Hodges
Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commissioners
Erik Hansen, Burns and Hansen
Erik Nilsson, Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office
**Attachment: E-mail about condition of the Orth House, December 2014
See also the Healy Project blog posts:
Poisoning the Well: Testimony about 2320 Colfax Avenue South
The Truth Will Out: Lies that brought down 2320 Colfax Avenue South
The Truth Will Out II: More lies that brought down 2320 Colfax Avenue South
**See the e-mail here.
To view video and photos taken on December 9-12, 2014, by salvage subcontractor Ezra Gray, click here.