Minneapolis city leaders are considering dramatic new building restrictions that would clamp down on the largest megahomes popping up in the southwest corner of the city.
The changes target ongoing tensions between existing residents and a wave of city dwellers who are snatching up lots and replacing existing homes with models that tower over their neighbors. These supersized homes can drive up property taxes and gobble up a giant share of smaller urban lots.
"We're not saying that you can't still build a very large house in the city," said Council Member Linea Palmisano, who represents southwest Minneapolis and spearheaded the changes. "What we are saying is there are some kinds of architectural structures and designs that if you need to have that, there are places outside the city with a lot more space that are probably better suited to that kind of [design]."
The new rules passed an advisory body unanimously on Monday night and now head to the full council.
The list of zoning changes arrives months after the council passed, and then quickly lifted, a hotly contested moratorium on house demolitions in southwest Minneapolis. That moratorium initially sparked a heated dialogue and helped spur a plan to improve relationships and communication between builders and neighbors. The new changes will address long-term concerns among some residents that new homes are dwarfing old ones.
Architect Tim Quigley said the new changes, coupled with earlier restrictions from 2007, are shrinking new homes by 30 or 40 percent.
The changes are "too extreme, too coercive, too shortsighted and a gross overreaction," he said at a hearing Monday.
So far, the changes have drawn nowhere near the crowd that jammed meetings in City Hall in response to the moratorium. The issue has been most rancorous in southwest Minneapolis, where well-kept, decades-old houses are being torn down to make way for much larger ones. The new changes would limit the height of new homes and restrict how much of the lot the home can take up. The proposals apply to one- to four-unit homes across the city.
Palmisano said the changes are designed to protect the rights of neighbors as much as the new homeowner who wants to build a large house next door. "It's saying they have property rights too, and it gives them a little more comfort in where they live," she said.
Residents in southwest Minneapolis in particular had concerns about new homes taking up too much lot space, gobbling up back yards and pushing out the fronts toward the sidewalk. These new homes often have steep roofs that reach too high, featuring underground garages that allow first floors to practically rise to the levels of second floors of their neighbors.
The new rules include a number of detailed changes that expand on revisions that were made by then-Council Member and now Mayor Betsy Hodges in 2007. Under the changes, one-car garages and certain raised basements would be counted in the maximum allowable size of a house, for example.
City leaders will also look at reducing the maximum allowable height of homes to 28 feet from 30 feet, measured at the midpoint between the peak and eave. To combat steep roofs, the code will now cap the maximum height at any point of the property at 33 feet.
The average height in a sample of 256 recently approved homes across the city was 24.5 feet. Just 7 percent were higher than 28 feet at the midpoint, though the southwest quadrant had the tallest homes in the city.
"For the most part, we have a document that everybody is really supportive of," said Julia Parenteau, a lobbyist with the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, which opposed the teardown moratorium. Parenteau said the industry has concerns with how garages are counted in the new restrictions.
Critics said that the new rules would prohibit homebuilders from creating homes that match some of the most iconic and stately homes in the city, homes that are already common in Kenwood, Lowry Hill, the Lakes Area, Prospect Park and Tangletown. "We're saying, 'No, that's not good.' These are some of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city," Quigley said. "So I really wonder, do we know what we're really doing here?"
The City Council is expected to take up the issue in August, starting with the Zoning and Planning Committee.