With a controversial moratorium on teardowns off the table, the Minneapolis City Council is moving ahead with plans to ease the effects of residential construction on neighborhoods.
The council on Friday voted without discussion to cancel the teardown moratorium, which Council Member Linea Palmisano declared March 7. It will be replaced by a construction management plan reinforcing rules for builders and requiring that they better communicate with neighbors.
Spurred by concerns from residents about the construction and design of new houses, the moratorium banned demolition and new construction of single- and two-family homes in five southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods: Kenny, Armatage, Linden Hills, Lynnhurst and Fulton.
Palmisano said the measure was put in place to protect residents’ health and safety and to allow for a zoning study. She said construction has caused “serious issues” in southwest neighborhoods — firefighters evacuating residents in the middle of the night, for example, because nearby excavation affected gas and electrical lines.
“These aren’t temporary, small nuisances,” she said.
From the get-go, the moratorium drew heated debate. Of the neighborhoods it covered, three opposed it and two didn’t take a position.
At a packed public hearing last month, some residents complained about the effects of construction on their neighborhoods, while others — including builders, architects and Realtors — said the moratorium would hurt businesses and discourage new residents from moving to the city.
Minneapolis architect Tim Quigley said he wasn’t able to start work on a new house because of the moratorium. He estimated the project has been delayed about a month, and likely won’t get going until mid-May. “It literally would’ve left our homeowners homeless,” he said.
Quigley, who lives in East Calhoun, said he’s one of many architects whose work was affected by the moratorium, even though it wasn’t directed at the kinds of projects they do.
“For my clients, they’re getting a custom design and they really care,” he said. The problem, he said, is contractor-designed houses.
“I’m thrilled that they’ve finally cracked down on contractors who are bad actors,” he said. “And shame on the city for not cracking down on them before.”
The city’s Zoning and Planning committee had voted April 3 to lift the moratorium in favor of the construction management plan. As part of that plan, builders will have to follow the new Minneapolis Residential Construction Management Agreement.
It includes rules ranging from meeting with neighbors before projects begin, to limiting noise and removing snow. It also includes space for builders’ contact information, which will have to be available to neighbors.
Many rules in the agreement are already in place, but the city is planning to hire additional staff to step up enforcement.
“It’s fair to say that we were having problems with every single topic on this list,” Palmisano said. Friday’s vote also moved forward with the study, which may recommend zoning code changes that would more strictly regulate the design, size and layout of residential projects.
The biggest challenge, Palmisano said, will be making sure those changes work for the entire city.
Now that the moratorium has been lifted, Quigley said, he’s worried that zoning code might become so strict that prospective residents will get discouraged.
“If you discourage people enough, they’re going to say, ‘You know, I can’t really get what I want out of this, I’m just going to move to Edina,’” he said. “That’s what really concerns me about the future of the city.”
Emma Nelson is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.