Minneapolis council delays action on teardown moratorium

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2014 - 11:00 PM

Minneapolis officials bought some time to look into solutions for southwest neighborhoods.


After more than two hours of passionate testimony from residents, would-be residents, architects and builders, a Minneapolis City Council committee voted Thursday to push the pause button on a proposed residential construction moratorium in southwest Minneapolis.

That sets up another meeting for April 3, giving city officials time to look for quick measures to ease concerns over an escalation of home teardowns and rebuilds.

“We don’t have to have a moratorium in place in order to do this work,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, referring to the possibility of increased enforcement of construction rules, and even of possible zoning changes. The full City Council could still authorize some sort of halt in construction, however.

Goodman was echoing what many of the nearly 40 people who spoke at the public hearing said: Rules are already in place, so work on enforcing them, not imposing a blanket moratorium that shuts down everyone, even those builders who do follow the rules.

“To those of us in the industry, the enforcement issues would be so simple to deal with,” said builder Nick Smaby, whose homebuilding and remodeling has been honored in the Fulton neighborhood for blending in with existing homes.

Council Member Linea Palmisano declared the moratorium on March 7, setting in motion Thursday’s public hearing before the City Council’s Planning and Zoning Committee.

After the public hearing, the committee unanimously approved Goodman’s request for a two-week continuation. Palmisano, who is not on the committee but spoke at the hearing, said she would like to see city officials and builders agree in the next two weeks on some construction management principles.

Neighbors in the affected neighborhoods complained about noise, construction debris and homes they said put their own homes in shadows.

Teardowns and rebuilds in the 13th Ward have been “a train out of control,” Fulton resident Diane Jensen said at the hearing. “The system is broken and needs to be fixed. Enforcement [response] has not been helpful.”

Martha Hewett, also of Fulton, said she’s concerned about the size of the houses: “I’m not saying we don’t want construction, but we want construction that fits.”

Builders, architects and Realtors, many of whom apologized for some builders’ disruptive impact on work sites, spoke against the moratorium, criticizing it as costing jobs and sending a message that Minneapolis doesn’t want to improve housing or attract new homeowners.

Architect Tom Quigley said the moratorium generally has families thinking about not moving to Minneapolis. “We should be thrilled. We should embrace them,” he said.

Others criticized the moratorium as an example of “big government” and as a “blunt instrument” with unintended consequences.

“It’s too sweeping,” said Jonathan Mack of the Lynnhurst neighborhood. A measure with “sensitivity and nuance” would have been better, he said.

In all, nearly 40 people spoke, many going over the two-minute limit. About 150 people filled the council chambers, and a nearby overflow room was also full.

The moratorium could stop teardowns and rebuilds, and some major remodeling projects, for a year in five neighborhoods where smaller, older houses are frequently being replaced by larger, new ones. But it could be lifted sooner.

City staff members are recommending that the city adopt the moratorium. In making the city’s case, Minneapolis Planning Manager Jason Wittenberg showed pictures of construction debris in front of several houses in the process of being torn down and rebuilt. He also cited zoning and environmental issues.

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