Just five years after overhauling its zoning ordinances to control the size of new houses, Edina is taking another run at tightening its rules as teardowns escalate and complaints from residents increase.

Last year, Edina had a record 98 houses torn down and replaced by new ones. Increasingly, replacement houses are being built on 50-foot-wide lots where they sometimes overwhelm their neighbors.

In Morningside, one of the city's oldest and most popular neighborhoods, neighbors have complained about loss of sunlight, increased drainage from altered lots, and retaining walls and basement egress windows that go right to the lot line. In one case, a house was built with retaining walls that prevent easy access to the back yard without detouring on neighbor's driveways.

"We hate to regulate common sense, but sometimes you have to do it," said City Planner Cary Teague.

The City Council is expected to consider new rules after it receives recommendations from the Planning Commission in March. A subcommittee of that group has interviewed residents, city planning staff and builders and later this month will hold meetings to take public input before suggesting changes to the commission.

Teague said new requirements regarding retaining walls are likely. While the city tightened limits on home height in 2007, that issue may be revisited, along with setback requirements and a possible floor-to-area ratio requirement, he said.

Floor-area ratios limit the square footage of above-ground houses and garages based on lot size. In Minneapolis, for example, building square footage is limited to 50 percent of lot size, with some exceptions. Edina considered such a rule in 2008 but ultimately rejected it.

Planning Commission Chairman Floyd Grabiel said many changes are in play.

"We will be looking at all of the options," he said. "Edina's curse is that it's a very desirable place to live. ... The challenge, I think, is to encourage responsible redevelopment in residential areas that do not make overwhelming change all at one time.

"How do we get developers to be responsible? Most are, but some push the envelope."

Yard access at issue

One house that pushed the envelope is in Morningside, where a new large house on a 50-foot lot is flanked by retaining walls that prevent the owners of the new house from getting a lawn mower to the back yard. The options: take the lawn mower through the house or use neighbors' driveways to get to the back yard, which a neighbor has complained about.

Michael Platteter leads the Planning Commission subgroup that is studying the teardown issue. "There's just a lot more of it happening now, really an unprecedented number," he said. "It impacts more people. When you see one [teardown] on the street you may not say anything. But when you see four, that's different."

Platterer believes Edina's zoning ordinances aren't that different from those of neighboring cities, "but many people here are building to the max."

In Morningside, where 50 people came to a neighborhood association meeting to complain about redevelopment, the association produced a five-page resident guide on how to defend their interests when nearby property is redeveloped. Now the group has its own subcommittee working on suggestions to send to the Planning Commission.

"We're trying to find a balance in what's appropriate, but not be the design police," said Scott Smith, who is leading the group.

Common-sense issues

Smith, who works in commercial real estate, said the group is working on common-sense issues. Setbacks are one area that needs to be looked at, he said, judging from two new houses that are so close to each other "that you could reach out a window and shake your neighbor's hand."

On small lots, the city's setback requirement is 5 feet.

"If you have a bungalow built in the '20s, and you have a big new home five feet way, you really feel the difference," Smith said.

Whatever the city comes up with, he said, it should reflect the changing way people live and the reality of how new homes are built.

"This time, we need to [change city ordinances] so we don't have to touch it again for 30 years," he said.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan