Minneapolis teardown hiatus revives divisions

  • Updated: March 12, 2014 - 10:58 AM

Builders, architects, others band together to fight moratorium imposed by city

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Sharon Potter of Minneapolis shovels her walkway as construction has started on a teardown next to her home on the 5100 block of York.

Photo: JOEL KOYAMA • jkoyama@startribune.com,

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Matt Zarracina would never have bought a house in Minneapolis’ Linden Hills neighborhood last fall if he knew the city was going to impose a moratorium on teardowns.

“I can’t afford to wait a year while the city changes how it regulates residential governance,” said Zarracina, whose plans to tear down the house and build a new one are now in limbo.

Spurred by complaints about construction noise and disruption, the moratorium has riled some architects, builders, real estate agents and others, who said they were blindsided by it. They called it an overreaction that will cost hundreds of jobs and bring dozens of projects to a halt. They banded together Tuesday, setting up an opposition website, starting a petition drive and encouraging opponents to attend next week’s public hearing. “This was a great shock to everyone,” Chad Hanson, owner of Sustainable 9 Design + Build, said of Friday’s surprise decision. “I think things could have been done in a much more collaborative fashion.”

Seven years after Minneapolis thought it had resolved the conflict over teardown-and-rebuilds, the issue has roared back to life as their numbers have soared, with permits jumping fivefold in southwest Minneapolis since 2009.

Driven by buyers who want to live close to the city but have the amenities of new suburban homes, the practice clogs streets with construction equipment, crews and new homes that critics contend are too large.

Responding to those complaints in her ward, new City Council Member Linea Palmisano imposed the moratorium on teardowns and rebuilds, and major remodels, in Linden Hills and four other southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods: Fulton, Armatage, Kenny and Lynnhurst.

“It’s a big step and not something I come to lightly,” she said. “Sure, I’m new around here, but this is something I’ve been having personal conversations about with thousands of people throughout the campaign. For many, it’s the biggest constituent matter to be addressed.”

Palmisano said the moratorium could last for a year and will allow city officials and some University of Minnesota graduate students to study the economic and environmental effects of teardowns and rebuilds, as well as to examine city regulations on basic construction issues, including hours and debris. The moratorium took effect immediately and still needs approval by the full council.

Flashback to 2007

Now mayor, Betsy Hodges was facing similar complaints from neighbors near teardowns when she represented the 13th Ward in 2007 and succeeded in regulating the height and volume of new homes, which in Minneapolis nearly always means houses that are replacing older ones. But since then, Palmisano and other critics say architects and builders have in many cases dodged the height limits by measuring from raised or concealed foundations. That has enabled them to avoid seeking time-consuming zoning variances, and to remove requirements to notify neighborhood organizations — and most neighbors.

Palmisano, who succeeded Hodges on the council, said that if architects and builders are going by the book, “We have real problems with the book.”

Fulton Neighborhood Association President Jim Tincher said the builders can put up a house “that’s twice as big and not particularly nice to look at, and not tell anyone. But if you want a chicken, you have to tell your neighbors.”

Hanson bristled at the criticism, saying: “The last thing any builder wants to do is build something that is too tall. I can’t speak for all builders, but I can say from my company that we’re trying to fit our homes into the existing neighborhoods.”

He’s one of many organizers of the online petition, at www.nomoratorium.com, aimed at stopping the moratorium. The site argues it’s bad for the southwest Minneapolis economy and a job-killer.

Gabriel Keller, principal at the architectural firm Peterssen/Keller, said the moratorium could leave some would-be homeowners facing a one-year wait to build the home they’re already paying for.

“It dumps one set of problems on a whole other set of people,” he said, saying homeowners are stuck sorting out loans and places to live. “Homeowners will get caught in the middle.”

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  • Sharon Potter cleared her sidewalk on Tuesday as construction crews worked on a teardown next door in the 5100 block of York Avenue S. The higher taxes that follow the new homes into the neighborhood penalize longtime residents, she said.

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