Mpls City Council committee lifts teardown moratorium; full council vote next week

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 3, 2014 - 10:08 PM

If City Council approves, ban would be replaced by job site management plan.

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In this March 11, 2014 file photo, Sharon Potter (left center) shovels her walkway as construction has started on a teardown next to her home on the 5100 block of York Ave. S. in Minneapolis.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Minneapolis would add three staff members to ramp up enforcement of construction site rules, and builders would have to communicate better with neighbors as part of a plan to end a controversial moratorium on teardowns and rebuilds in the southwest corner of the city.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Committee voted Thursday to lift the moratorium and essentially replace it with the construction management plan. The moratorium remains in place until the full council votes on the changes next week.

“We want builders to build as if they lived next door,” said Doug Kress, director of development services for the city. “Hopefully, we’ll eliminate the complaints we’ve heard.”

Council Member Linea Palmisano, who invoked the moratorium March 7 in response to construction and design complaints she said were the dominant issue during her run for office last fall, praised Thursday’s vote. The moratorium, she said, led to long-needed intense negotiations in recent weeks involving residents, builders, architects and city officials, and produced the construction management agreement.

The moratorium, which builders and others had criticized for putting the brakes on a needed housing resurgence, could have been in place for a year. But it’s expected to be lifted by the council April 11 as it authorizes the construction agreement, which will require builders to agree to an informational meeting with neighbors before building, and to post contact information on site. In all, there are more than two dozen steps in the agreement that builders will have to sign.

While most of those requirements are already on the books, the council is also moving to step up the city’s enforcement, broadening the powers to tag violators and bringing two more staffers to the job. Three new inspectors will be added to the council’s next budget, Palmisano said.

Beyond the immediate adoption of the new plan, city officials will forge ahead with a study that could likely lead to zoning code changes which could result in stricter guidelines on the layout, design and size of infill housing across the entire city. Those changes could come back to the City Council for approval by summer, Palmisano said.

“I believe it was smart,” Palmisano said, answering criticism that the moratorium had been a political miscalculation two months into her first term. “Sometimes you need to legislate in order to negotiate.”

Council Member Lisa Goodman, in voting for the construction agreement and end to the moratorium, said the city needs to focus on construction enforcement.

“We have problems even in the best of circumstances,” she said, citing a project next door to her, on land she sold to a builder she chose. If builders want to “thumb their nose” at city requirements, they need to be told “there are other places to build,” Goodman added.

Matt Zarracina, who was just about to get a teardown permit for a Linden Hills property when the moratorium was invoked, said the delay has cost him about $5,000 so far. Much of that was in fees to his architect to seek a moratorium waiver, which was approved by the planning committee Thursday but which soon would not have been necessary.

“They’re penalizing the wrong person,” he said. “We haven’t done anything wrong.”

Builder Nick Smaby, who spoke against the moratorium at the committee meeting Thursday and has been honored in the Fulton neighborhood for homes that blend with others, also praised the agreement.

“The good news is that attention’s been called to some serious problems because of the building boom,” he said in an interview. “Competing with builders who don’t [follow the rules] is expensive for us.”

Residents had objected to a wide range of impacts from teardowns and rebuilds, from porta-potties and construction materials on sidewalks to damage to neighboring homes, lots and trees. There were also complaints about the size and expense of the homes being built.

In a public hearing March 20, as well as in numerous meetings and letters to editors, many said the teardowns and rebuilds are changing the character of the neighborhoods.

Others, along with builders, architects and Realtors, have argued that the developments are an enviable trend, keeping investment and homeowners in the city and overhauling an aging housing stock.

The moratorium has been in effect in the Linden Hills, Fulton, Armatage, Kenny and Lynnhurst neighborhoods.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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