Barker and Hedges Real Estate Blog

Greening Minnesota ~ February / March 2010

The short month of February caught me offguard, so this issue of Greening Minnesota is for both February and March of 2010. Some of these stories date back at least that far. Read on to learn about environmentally friendly practices around the Twin Cities and Minnesota!

Janitors usually do their work after everyone else has gone home. But that has changed at the Hennepin County Government Center and other heavily used county buildings as of March 1. About half of Hennepin County's 63 buildings are vacuumed, wiped down, swept and emptied of trash during the daytime rather than at night. By shutting off the lights and turning down thermostats at night, the county expects to save at least $100,000 a year in energy costs. It's thought to be the first public entity in Minnesota to move to day cleaning, a trend that has gained popularity in the private sector.

Rep. Paul Gardner, DFL-Shoreview, has offered a bill that requires phone book publishers to print directions on the cover for how residents can opt-out of further unsolicited deliveries. The legislation says the directions should explain how to opt out either via a phone call or at a Web address. I don't know about you, but these collect dust on a shelf at my home - the internet tells all. Think of how many trees and how much paper it would save if fewer people received these books and they printed fewer?

The Recycling Association of Minnesota is again offering rain barrels (two design, both $65) and a new design of a compost bin (for $55.) Rebates are offered to residents living in certain areas of the metro.

Woodbury and Washington County are planning to team up to acquire a 66-acre tract of land and turn it into a park. Woodbury plans to buy the land near the junction of I-94 and Manning Avenue from Dale Properties LLC for $3.57 million, using funds set aside after a 2005 referendum that raised $9 million to acquire open spaces and improve recreation facilities. Partnering...

Spring Flower Shows in the Twin Cities

 There are two great flower shows coming up to help get you into the mood for spring!

Starting Saturday, the Spring Flower Show at Como's Marjorie McNeely Conservatory will be abloom in the Sunken Garden with more tulips than would probably ever fit in your back yard. There will also be a few thousand daffodils and hyacinths, accented with snapdragons, irises, ranunculus, hydrangeas, freesias and lilies. If the sight and smell of all those flowers isn't enough to pique your interest, there also will be gardener talks, family activities such as storytelling, games and take-home crafts as part of the opening of the show this Saturday and Sunday, known as the Spring Fling. The Spring Flower Show is free and open to the public from March 27 throug May 2. For more information, visit

Additionally, Macy's is again teaming up with Bachman's to put on a flower show that has become a rite of spring. Starting Sunday, "Spring is in the Air" will be on display in the eighth-floor auditorium of the Macy's building, 700 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.

"In this show you can't just look down at the beds, you have to look up," said Dale Bachman, CEO of Bachman's.

That's because there will be flowers parachuting from the ceiling, trapeze swings covered with foliage, and a two-story-tall hot-air balloon landing in a bed of Diamond Frost euphorbia. The 10 rainbow-colored gardens will be filled with flowers and hardy plants that Twin Cities gardeners can grow in their own back yards. Invasive buckthorn, one overly hardy plant, will even make an appearance repurposed into a twig gazebo.

The free show is open during store hours Sunday through April 11. The two-week show will include in-store events, family fun days, cooking demonstrations and entertainment in addition to springs colors.


Strange But True: Home For Sale, Lot Not Included

There is a 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom rambler for sale in Chaska. Ron Olson is even willing to deliver it to a lot of your choice, as long as it's close to Chaska.

Ron is a contractor who runs an excavation company, acquired with the custom-built house after he was hired last fall to demolish it on a lot in Chaska MN. The home had suffered some smoke damage after some paint rags caught fire during the finishing process. The buyers didn't want it though, so the builder offered to tear it down and build a new one. Rather than haul it to a landfill, Ron decided to recycle the house, which would have sold for $600,000 at its former location.

"It's really a waste to take a perfectly good house that can be cleaned up fairly easily and throw it away like it's garbage," he said. "Ethically, I don't think we should be doing that."

The house is currently sitting on a trailer on Bavaria Road, waiting for a home... Uh... to be moved.


Elk River is the Kindest City in Minnesota

Minnesota Nice. You hear about it all the time, but it's not always apparent. Elk River has brought it back.

After the Elk River City Council declaired February the Month of Kindness, Mayor Stephanie Klinzing challenged residents to commit 1,000 "random acts of kindness." And the Elk River MN resdients didn't hold back. All month long, residents did kindly deeds, then recorded them either on post cards sent to the city or posted them online at

"We are the kindest city in Minnesota," Klinzing declared this week, as she stood beside a wooden thermometer in Rivers Edge Park that registered the city's progress -- 1,300 acts of kindness as of Thursday.

The project was started due to Elk River's size. The city has grown so big, with a population of about 24,000, that residents worried it was losing its close-knit, small-town feel. Then Mayor Klinzing saw a YouTube video about a restaurant in Philadelphia where people kept paying for other diners' meals.

"I got the sense that if we did a similar thing through the entire city, something would change. It would be kind of a climate change. That basically is what happened."

Some of the kind acts included:

  • "A friend helped me with my homework and helped me to feel smart."
  • "I paid for the person behind me's fare on the commuter rail."
  • "I volunteered at a local food shelf."
  • "Cleaned a very dirty and smelly microwave out for others."
  • "My neighbors ... help me to remain in my house. They are always doing things ... that I just cannot do by myself. Their help is beyond question my lifeline to keep me going. Thanks"
  • "My dog, Sarah, & I visited a dementia floor at a nursing home. The residents seemed to be comforted by petting her."
  • ...

Emerald Ash Borer Discovered in Minneapolis

The dreaded emerald ash borer has been discovered in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Agriculture Department confirmed the infestation of four trees at Tower Hill Park, not far from known infestations in St. Paul and Falcon Heights. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will cut down the trees before spring and intensify efforts to find other diseased trees.

This is not an unexpected turn of events. With the discovery of the green beetles last spring in St. Paul and later in Falcon Heights, officials are trying to slow the spread. A widespread and expensive infestation could threaten the state's 940 million ash trees.

Last year, 82 diseased trees were found and removed in the South St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul and one tree in Falcon Heights. Earlier this year, crews in St. Paul began cutting down 355 nondiseased boulevard ash trees in other parts of the city as part of a broader strategy to slow the spread of the beetle. The Como Park neighborhood is experimenting by pre-emptively cutting down 40 undiseased ash trees. In the spring, crews expect to focus their efforts on removing diseased trees in the infested area.

In Minneapolis, crews participating in an ongoing survey of trees recently found D-shaped exit holes and other indicators of the ash borers in the trees, all within a mile of the St. Paul infestation. The new location indicates the infestation is likely part of the original one discovered last year, according to Mike Schommer, an agriculture department spokesman.

"Finding it in Minneapolis is not a real big surprise because we know that infestation had been in place for about three years before it was found,'' Schommer said. "We also know adult beetles can fly up to two miles on their own.''

"Really, this is just sort of a natural outgrowth of that ground zero area,'' added Jim Hermann, forestry program manager for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation...

Home Affordable Refinance Program Extended

The Home Affordable Refinance Program was set to expire in June, but the Obama administration announced Monday that borrowers with little or no equity in their homes will have another year to take advantage of the refinancing program.

So far it has reached fewer than 200,000 of the up to 5 million borrowers federal regulators hoped it would help. However, market conditions have not changed significantly since the program was launched last year. So to give lenders more time to implement the plan and to support market stability, the initiative will be extended to June 2011.

The program is aimed at the millions of borrowers whose home values have been diminished by a weak housing market. It also meant for people who owe more than their houses are worth, making it impossible for them to take advantage of historically low mortgage rates....