Better ideas than a building moratorium

  • Article by: MULTIPLE AUTHORS
  • Updated: March 20, 2014 - 9:20 AM

We can resolve issues with residential construction in Minneapolis in a manner effective for all stakeholders.

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Photo: JOEL KOYAMA • Star Tribune,

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Editor’s note: The following article was offered by 11 members of the architecture community doing business in Minneapolis. They are listed below.

 

The implementation of a moratorium on new residential construction and additions greater than 1,500 square feet in the 13th Ward of Minneapolis has brought attention to problematic construction practices of some builders. It also raises issues with the design of urban infill housing. While we agree with City Council Member Linea Palmisano that reform is needed, the one-year moratorium — which was implemented on an interim basis earlier this month and is subject to further City Council consideration, including a public hearing on Thursday — creates problems that run counter to our shared goals. The announcement was a rude surprise for architecture firms and their clients, since it has significant financial and emotional impacts on their lives. We hope that stories of these impacts will inform the debate. We also offer alternative methods for a more productive resolution.

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Cathy and Chris Hendrickson exemplify the difficulties that many homeowners face as a result of the moratorium. When they outgrew their southwest Minneapolis bungalow, the Hendricksons looked for a house with more space for four active kids. When they found a 1950s rambler in the Lynnhurst neighborhood that had potential, they consulted with an architect, took time to understand the unusual soil conditions and saved up to invest in a home they could live in for years to come. The renovation will transform the one-story home while keeping the existing foundation. Yet despite its modest height and compliance with all zoning rules, the moratorium has stopped the project in its tracks.

The Hendricksons invested significant resources in architectural fees because they value good design and quality construction. The moratorium will mean that they’ll incur additional fees applying for any “waivers” and exploring other options. As they wait for resolution, the cost of construction will likely increase, and a year from now, the project may no longer be viable.

The moratorium raises concerns that are not new in urban planning, and there are many precedents for how to address them. Close to home, Edina and the western suburbs have rewritten codes and regulations to support more contextual design and orderly construction. Based on these precedents, we suggest the following changes:

1) Enforce existing regulations and codes. Many of the concerns that have been raised (for example, working hours) already have existing regulations. These rules need to be enforced through a clear and consistent process.

2) Establish a “construction manager” in Minneapolis to oversee construction regulations and enforcement for single-family homes. This could be modeled after Edina’s strategy and funded by the rise in permit fees and property taxes. The manager would field all complaints regarding construction practices and provide consistent enforcement and guidelines to builders.

3) Add escalating fines to repeated infractions of building regulations (similar to those levied on false security-alarm calls). This would give additional teeth to existing regulations.

4) Require builders to notify adjacent neighbors within 100 feet of the project before a permit is issued for residential projects costing more than $100,000. The notification would include:

• Project description and construction schedule.

• Existing and/or proposed site surveys.

• Exterior elevations.

• Contact information for the builder and the city construction manager.

5) Require additional submittals for all new construction, demolition of existing houses and significant additions, including:

• Site plan, including grading, erosion control and stormwater drainage.

• Geotechnical report for all new construction.

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