LeMond earns yellow jersey in suit against Yellowstone (yes, I thought so too)

If you are a hipster nerd cycling fan you know that we are right in the middle of the Tour de France (and, more importantly, on the eve of RAGBRAI!).  To honor this I bring you cyclist-related litigation.  Three-time TDF winner Greg LeMond just won in a property-related suit against the Yellowstone Club, a (now bankrupt) members only ski and golf resort southwest of Bozeman.  The Montana Supreme Court ruled that LeMond holds a legitimate claim for damages against the club for a promise to deed a five-acre lot at the club to LeMond in exchange for bringing in 10 new members.  The court remanded the case to determine the amount of the award. It will be in the range of $1 million – a whole lot.

Article from the Missoulan is here.  The court’s opinion is here.

News from around Minnesota: Brainerd OKs small homes

Following up with the latest news on my May 13 post, the Brainerd city council has given the green light to 500 square foot homes on lots that would otherwise be unbuildable under current zoning regulations.  The original plan recommended by the planning commission called for houses as small as 400 square feet. Bumping the limit up to 500 square feet now gives Brainerd the same minimum house size as Minneapolis, where houses can be as small as 500 square feet and 350-square-foot efficiency apartments are legal.

According to the article: “Tiny home builders would also have to secure a special permit from the city.”  Does this mean that average-sized contractors – probably 5’10” or so –  can operate as-of-right? Isn’t that discriminatory?

Political ideology even reflected in preferred development patterns

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has just released its third survey of “Political Polarization in the American Public.”  It is a massive 10,000-respondent survey that drills deep on five subjects: (1) ideological consistency; (2) partisan antipathy; (3) political polarization and personal life; (4) political compromise and divisive policy debates; and (5) political activism and engagement.  in a nutshell the survey shows (not surprisingly) that Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and “partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive than at any point in the last two decades.”

Of interest to readers of the BLUZ is the section on community living preferences.  According to the survey, if they could choose anywhere to live, three-quarters of consistent conservatives prefer a community where “the houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores, and restaurants are several miles away.” The preferences of consistent liberals are almost the exact inverse, with 77% saying they’d chose to live where “the houses are smaller and closer to each other, but schools, stores, and restaurants are within walking distance.”  The survey has a number of other interesting findings related to community living choices, reflected particularly in this section, and tables 3.1 to 3.4 (use the links down the right side).

WalMart growth strategy includes smaller stores in urban areas

An interesting article appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek this past week about WalMart’s increasing emphasis on smaller stores in urban areas. It turns out that these are the stores showing the most growth in sales.

In the U.S., Wal-Mart’s comparable store sales, an important measure of a retailer’s health, declined 0.6 percent. ….There was one bright spot: Wal-Mart’s smaller stores. ….The smaller locations (which range in size from 15,000 square feet to 39,000 square feet) had positive comparable sales growth and increases in traffic each quarter of 2013. The grocery stores, called Neighborhood Markets, had sales growth of about 4 percent for the year. Trouble is, there aren’t many of them: 346 to be exact, and only 20 of the even smaller Walmart Express stores. …. Wal-Mart is now planning to open between 270 and 300 smaller stores this fiscal year, a big increase from plans revealed back in October to build just 120 to 150 new small stores.

They are behind the curve, however, compared to Dollar Tree, Dollar General and Family Dollar Stores, who together have over 23,000 stores of that size.

High crop prices leading to dramatic grassland loss in northern Plains

According to A new study by researchers at South Dakota State University, farmers are digging up grasslands in the northern Plains to plant crops at the quickest pace since the 1930s.  The study found that U.S. farmers converted more than 1.3 million acres of grassland into corn and soybean fields between 2006 and 2011, in response to high crop prices and biofuel mandates (right). In states like Iowa and South Dakota, some 5 percent of pasture is turning into cropland each year.  The authors conclude that the rates of grassland loss are “comparable to deforestation rates in Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia.” The loss of grassland affects carbon sequestration, soil erosion rates, and migratory bird habitat.

A Washington Post article on the study can also be found here.

Another reason to ‘get on your bike and ride’

…with credit to Freddie Mercury.

According to the results of a Danish study released late last year, which looked at nearly 20,000 Danish kids between the ages of 5 and 19, kids who cycled or walked to school, rather than traveling by car or public transportation, performed measurably better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles, and that the effects lasted for up to four hours after they got to school.

The Atlantic Cities article can be found here.

Coralville and North Liberty agree to annexation moratorium

The North Liberty and Coralville city councils have approved a 10-year annexation moratorium plan that divides the unincorporated land between the two cities into four zones, including one that only can be annexed by North Liberty and one that can only be annexed by Coralville. A third area is limited to voluntary annexations by Coralville, and the final area cannot be annexed by either city and will remain unincorporated.  This agreement settles a boundary dispute that’s been a point of contention since 2006. While the Coralville city council unanimously approved of the agreement, the North Liberty council’s vote was divided, with three council members voting for the plan and two voting against it. The discussion in North Liberty lasted almost two hours, with residents voicing concerns about transportation issues and the potential for high-density development in North Liberty’s annexation area, “while others simply do not want to be annexed into Coralville,” the North Liberty City Administrator said.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen report about the meetings can be found here.  Annexation moratorium agreements are permitted by Iowa Code sec. 368.4.