Excelsior’s moratorium on home teardowns ends in two weeks, potentially opening the door to new ordinances regulating the replacement of older homes with bigger new ones in an effort to preserve the city’s small-town charm.
The Excelsior City Council froze residential redevelopment this winter until May 2 to give it time to review and rewrite its single-family home zoning ordinances.
Teardowns and remodels from recent years are noticeable because they often resulted in much larger homes, said Excelsior Mayor Mark Gaylord. The city has seen 25 houses torn down and replaced in the past five years.
Although the city has a variety of house sizes and styles from its 150-plus years, Gaylord said that some new homes are influencing the new ordinances.
Historical homes “[make] Excelsior what it is,” said Mark Macpherson, chairman of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. “[We’re] not just another ring of the suburbs of the Twin Cities, and it helps to maintain that quality of life that a lot of people … move there for.”
Other communities, such as Edina’s Morningside neighborhood and Linden Hills in south Minneapolis, have faced similar tensions over changing neighborhood identities because of teardowns and new developments.
The first thing many new residents do, Gaylord said, “is consider tearing down the house that makes up the charming neighborhoods. It’s a strange position to be in.”
Excelsior officials hope to lessen the impact new homes have on the city’s character by updating its ordinances. New regulations of house setbacks, heights and footprints would keep new homes smaller, said Excelsior city planner Patrick Smith.
An 11-member task force was assembled in February to review and develop regulations for “modernizing” Excelsior homes. The task force is considering recommending more space between homes.
Increasing setbacks — how far a building must sit from a street, yard or other structures — would limit the area where a house could be built. The task force might also lower the maximum height for a house by 1 or 2 feet for all lot sizes, according to city documents.
“What we’re trying to do is make it so [that] it isn’t obvious that there’s huge houses next to small ones,” Gaylord said.
In addition to listening to concerns raised by residents, city officials enacted the redevelopment freeze in hopes of beating the spring construction season.
“What’s important for our residents and City Council is that we retain the historic charm of our neighborhoods while still letting … our housing stock evolve over time,” Gaylord said. “We’re not looking to stop progress or limit what people can do to their properties.”
At the same time, the preservation committee is encouraging some homeowners to seek historic landmark designation of their homes, making them harder to demolish.
Thirty-seven homes are recommended for historic status based on a consultant’s survey of 65 properties, according to a city report.
“[We’re trying to] put some of those properties in a different light so that Excelsior doesn’t lose all of its historic resources,” Macpherson said.
At the end of the moratorium, the task force will make a recommendation to the City Council on its proposed updates to the single-family home zoning ordinances, Smith said.
“It’s going to take a while. It’s not an easy fix,” he said.
Kelly Busche is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.