JOEL KOYAMA • Star Tribune,

Minneapolis teardown moratorium is at odds with other goals

  • Article by: Jonathan F. Mack
  • March 21, 2014 - 5:36 PM


I’m for lowering property taxes.

I’m for job creation.

I’m for reducing our carbon footprint and making this a greener city.

I’m for increasing the population of Minneapolis and its density.

I’m for drawing families with children back in from the suburbs.


You’ve heard all of those refrains from elected officials in Minneapolis, but as they continue to consider Council Member Linea Palmisano’s moratorium on so called teardowns in southwest Minneapolis, the City Council and Mayor Betsy Hodges are contemplating an action directly at odds with each of those stated goals.

The term “teardown” — the replacement of an often antiquated home with a new larger home — sounds pejorative, but there cannot be new construction without teardowns in an urban area.

Each teardown results in a substantial increase in assessed value and reduces upward pressure on property tax rates for the neighbors. Teardowns create jobs for construction workers, trades people, architects, landscapers, Realtors, lawyers, decorators and others. Although larger, the modern replacement homes are vastly more energy-efficient. The replacement homes better fit the needs and tastes of affluent suburban families, whose potential return to the city increases revenues and provides added pressure for improved schools.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the moratorium is its overbreadth and disregard for differing circumstances of subneighborhoods and homeowners within the affected neighborhoods.

The new ordinance would apply irrespective of the size of a lot, the size of the existing or replacement home, and the distance from neighbors’ homes. There is absolutely no problem with teardowns on larger lots, and the ordinance easily could have been more narrowly tailored to apply only to lots of less than one-fifth or one-quarter acre. There are vast swaths of the affected neighborhoods where there have been few teardowns. I do not recall any among the several hundred homes closest to mine in Lynnhurst. Nevertheless, the blunt instrument of a blanket moratorium is being considered where sensitivity and nuance would serve the public interest better.

That homeowners could apply for variances is of little solace. A significant restriction on the use of property reduces its market value, especially when that restriction is on the most economically viable use of the property. Buyers who might want to maintain the option of a replacement home will be disinclined to make a purchase that will force them into a variance procedure that might not be successful. The one-year term of the moratorium is also not a saving grace. The precedent of such tinkering — which in this case is more an exercise of blunt force — can have a chilling market impact for years to come.

Complaints that the construction process creates noise or clogs streets are ephemeral and, frankly, inconsequential in the context of the greater issues at hand. Warnings about “changing the character” of neighborhoods are often highly subjective NIMBY tropes. Does anyone really believe that more than one-tenth of the housing stock of southwest Minneapolis is going to be replaced? The change in character, if any, will be slight, and the benefits tangible rather than subjective.

It is ironic that so many politicians who were inclined to spend public money to support “job creation” when it came to construction of the Vikings stadium are not similarly inclined when private funds are fostering the economic benefits of residential new construction. I will not call those politicians hypocrites, but I would appreciate a yearlong moratorium on their claims to support job creation, lower property taxes and the rest of the laudable benefits of replacement construction.


Jonathan F. Mack, of Minneapolis, is an attorney.

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