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.

Wittenberg said the complaints give the city a reason to pursue the moratorium, but acknowledged it could be seen as sending the wrong message.

“It could be seen to send the message that we don’t want investment” in that part of the city, he said.

Two weeks to sort it out

Wittenberg said in the next two weeks officials with the city planning, public works and regulatory services departments will work as a “cross-department team,” discussing gaps in city ordinances and in enforcement of construction regulations.

“Ideally we’d also work cooperatively with the [building] industry to see if they’ll agree to some things,” he added.

Palmisano said constituents she encountered in her run for office last year expressed grave concerns about construction disruption and zoning laws and enforcement, as well as larger issues such as housing affordability and what many see as the changing character of neighborhoods.

Many in the housing business have said they felt blindsided by the moratorium, which they said was imposed without discussion or advance notice. Palmisano has said that advance notice would have caused a rush on teardowns — the very thing she is trying to temper. Officials at the hearing said there is no legal requirement for public notice of a moratorium.

At least two of the five neighborhood associations in Palmisano’s ward — in Fulton and Lynnhurst — have taken positions opposed to the moratorium while supporting her aims in addressing construction issues. The Linden Hills Neighborhood Council is expected to take a position in a special meeting Monday. The other two neighborhoods are Kenny and Armatage.

Since 1998, the city has authorized 16 moratoriums, but only two have targeted single- and two-family housing.

 

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

  • WHAT’S NEXT?

    April 3: The Zoning and Planning Committee will continue the debate on the teardown/rebuild moratorium.

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