Golden Valley has put the brakes on redevelopment in its oldest neighborhoods.
Some residents are concerned about a growing trend toward subdividing large lots and putting two or more homes where only one stood before. A rising number of parcels have been slated for subdivision — particularly in the Tralee and North Tyrol Hills neighborhoods, where large, leafy lots are often far above the minimum building size.
Last month, the City Council passed a six-month moratorium on new single-family subdivisions. On Tuesday, the council will consider expanding the moratorium to include not only future subdivisions, but also applications already made that have not yet been approved.
"It's about continuing development in a smart, methodical way," said Mayor Shep Harris. "So we're just taking a timeout."
Developers, meanwhile, say the city is trying to change the rules in the middle of the game.
"It's kind of fundamentally unfair that you would change the rules on somebody," said Matt Pavek, a Golden Valley resident who plans to build three homes on a subdivided lot in the North Tyrol Hills neighborhood. "If [developers] were coming in and putting up a grocery store or a high-rise, I could see it. But it's been zoned for this use. People who live there should have expected that there could be homes there."
The oldest parts of Golden Valley were laid out with generous homesites in the days when the area was making the transition from farmland. City code requires a minimum of 10,000 square feet for a single-family building lot — roughly a quarter of an acre. But many of the older homes in the city sit on lots four or five times that size.
Other cities are looking at ways to allow more density on developed properties. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul are considering changing their laws to allow "granny flats": accessory housing units typically built above a garage or as a free-standing carriage house.
Pushing for 'good design'
Diane Richard lives on Paisley Lane in the Tralee neighborhood. Her home dates from 1939 and was the first one built when the land's original owner, Marie Byrne Keefe, opened it for development.
The quiet, tree-lined neighborhood feels like a country retreat but sits only four miles from downtown Minneapolis. Now, several lots are being prepared for additional homes, including one next to Richard.
Richard feels as if she's upholding the legacy of the original owner.
"The position that most of us have taken is, we're not against development. But there's a difference between development and smart development," she said. "What we're trying to push for is good design." Her neighbors fear suburban McMansions like several that have gone up recently in Golden Valley's older neighborhoods. With their vinyl siding and prominent garages, she said, they don't fit the character of the area, which features midcentury homes designed by architects.
But many of the older homes in Golden Valley don't meet modern standards, said Bill Roemer, marketing director for LDK First Impressions, a developer active in the city.
"We get what the frustrations are," Roemer said. "But for the most part, these houses we're tearing down are full of mold and asbestos. They're in rough shape." He agrees builders should respect the area's architectural integrity.
"I agree that we shouldn't bring tract homes into the inner ring," he said. "We want to make sure it fits the lot. We try to build what the public wants, what people will buy."
Residents also expressed concern that clearing land for new homesites could mean a significant loss of mature trees — an ironic turn in a city that prides itself on receiving a "Tree City USA" designation from the National Arbor Day Foundation.
'Caught in the cross hairs'
Drew Dornbusch plans to subdivide a 1.5-acre lot on Paisley Lane into three homesites: one for his family and two to sell. He said it's reasonable for the city to re-examine its zoning laws, but not to halt projects like his, which was approved under the existing code.
"We understand the neighbors' concerns, and we're sympathetic to them," he said. "The lots we're proposing are more than twice the minimum size. But for individuals who operated in good faith under the existing rules, and got caught in the cross hairs of this debate — to me, it runs contrary to the basic rules of fairness."
Jason Zimmerman, the city's planning manager, said the debate really comes down to human resistance to change.
"For most neighbors, the way it's laid out is the only way they've known it," he said. "And it's changing — in some cases, rather drastically. We've had people get choked up when they testify about their property and their neighborhood."