Tension builds in Edina over teardowns

  • Article by: STEPHANIE AUDETTE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2012 - 3:35 PM

 There have been dust-ups aplenty in Edina, on a record pace to demolish and rebuild homes this year.

Janet Skalicky and her family have felt like prisoners in their Edina home.

If it's not dust blowing in the windows in the summer, it's construction traffic and noise that has her kids wearing headphones to do their homework. Entertaining on the back patio? Forget it.

"We look forward to enjoying our yard and our patio all winter long and we haven't been able to do that for at least two summers," said Skalicky, whose 50th and France-area neighborhood is the epicenter of teardowns in Edina.

While teardowns -- razing an older home to build a new one -- happen throughout the Twin Cities, the pace appears to be unique to Edina, which had a record-tying 52 last year and is on track for even more this year.

But as the level intensifies, tension is building between neighbors who say the construction is a noisy nuisance and the builders, who say they're in the business of helping families build their dream homes and creating jobs and additional revenue in the process.

Caught in the middle, the city is finalizing its response: a construction management plan, to be signed by the builder, that will be a new condition of obtaining a permit going forward.

"It won't solve all the problems but this will be a good jumping-off point," said Steve Kirchman, Edina's chief building official, of the plan, which addresses issues such as parking, dust control and cleanup.

Three blocks, 20 teardowns

City Council Member Josh Sprague has heard the concerns loud and clear since the peak of construction season last summer. Sprague and Community Development Director Cary Teague came up with the plan, which also spells out everything from the times construction can take place to where workers can park their trucks and equipment.

"Complaints are pretty divided among all the issues you have with new construction -- parking, trash, noise and an early start in the morning," explained Kirchman. "Nobody wants to be awakened at 6 in the morning by loud trucks."

Skalicky is skeptical that the plan will really change anything. "The construction management plan I've read doesn't address the issues needed to alleviate future construction headaches," she said. "The amount of time a builder is allowed to disrupt a neighborhood in the evening, on weekends and on holidays is, to me, the biggest issue."

The demolitions are concentrated north of Crosstown Hwy. 62 and in east Edina, where lots tend to be smaller and the houses older. Halifax Avenue S. falls into that area with a heavier concentration of teardowns. Residents estimate more than 20 houses have been torn down and rebuilt on a stretch of Halifax between 51st and 54th Streets.

"In the last three years there hasn't been a day where there hasn't been a dumpster for tearing down houses between 51st and 54th," said Karel Laing, a Halifax Avenue resident.

'Respect the Neighborhood'

With several builders vying for the teardown business, expertise in minimizing the impact on the neighborhood can vary greatly.

Skalicky said one builder, Great Neighborhood Homes, has worked hard to make the process go more smoothly.

The company, based in Edina, holds meetings for neighbors when a teardown is upcoming and puts up "Respect the Neighborhood" signs on-site, asking workers for the various contractors to clean up the site daily and avoid playing loud music, among other requests.

Company president Scott Busyn acknowledged the noticeably higher concentration of construction on Halifax Avenue in the past few years, but is quick to point out his firm's efforts. "Construction is dirty, noisy and messy. We want to make it the least disruptive possible."

The upside: Jobs, revenue

Standing in front of a teardown most recently owned by an elderly couple in the 5300 block of Kellogg Avenue last week, Busyn said the demolition and rebuilding of one house alone utilizes 75 trades, from masons to excavation crews. With all the activity, he said, "hundreds of jobs are being created in this small area here, which is awesome for the economy."

Of the construction management plan, he said: "I think it will be a good tool to ensure consistency across different builders."

As far as the city is concerned, the redevelopment is positive on two fronts.

"Aside from the revenues that come with the redevelopment of its residential housing stock, it brings a vitality to our community," said Edina City Manager Scott Neal. "But we definitely understand the inconvenience that it created for the neighborhood."

Commercial and residential permit revenue is expected to bring in $1.5 to $2 million in 2012, he said.

In addition, he said, construction of new, more expensive homes creates a larger tax revenue stream.

City Council Member Joni Bennett said the teardown trend represents a strong, still-growing community and a place where people want to live.

"We have a wonderful school district, our location is ideal, we are a pretty ideal community," Bennett said. "With the neighborhoods on the east of the city, we offer the closeness of places like 50th and France, so people who want to get to places on foot find it pretty easy to do that."

Edina Realty agent John Everett echoed those strong selling points that make Edina the total package for younger families, but he added that the existing homes in the area aren't always functional.

"Younger people today want a modernized home in a desirable location," he said. "It's always been location, location, location."

Stephanie Audette is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

 

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