In Edina, where the number of housing teardown permits set another record in 2013, the addition of a redevelopment point person and some new policies seem to be blunting anger over noise and construction mess.
The number of issued teardown permits increased slightly last year, to a record 105 from 101 in 2012. But after years of taking flak from angry residents, planning department officials and the city manager say they’re not getting as much heat over construction as they once did, probably because the calls are going to one person — the city’s new redevelopment coordinator.
Cindy Larson, the point person for upset residents and contractors with questions, started her job in June. With no previous perspective, she said she doesn’t know if complaints are up or down. But she said she was “very busy” in 2013.
“I didn’t count the questions; I basically jumped in and saw what the issues were and dealt with that,” she said. “Now, with winter, things have slowed down.”
Parking and congestion on streets with construction are still big complaints, Larson said. But a new requirement that builders have a neighborhood meeting for people who live within 300 feet of a pending teardown seems to be helping ease tensions between builders and neighbors, she said.
“I think they’re very effective,” Larson said. “People always want to know what the plans are, and that’s what the meeting is for.”
Kris Aaker, assistant city planner, said “communication is the key.”
“A lot of times, we used to hear that people went off to work and came home and there was no house next door. Sometimes they didn’t know what was going on unless they called the city.”
Aaker said people seem to understand that the meetings are informational, not public hearings. Just meeting the developer or contractor and being able to share concerns and get questions answered helps, she said.
Sometimes the meetings have been held in the house that’s scheduled to be torn down, ending with neighbors asking if they can take a door or rescue the hosta outside.
“It’s great if someone can reuse some things,” she said.
With teardown questions being routed to Larson, Aaker said her department is getting fewer calls. City Manager Scott Neal said he hears from fewer residents, too.
“It hasn’t eliminated complaints, but we manage them more effectively,” he said.
Last year, Edina tightened requirements for height and setbacks for new homes depending on lot size. But the new code did not take effect until Jan. 1. Aaker said some of the permit rush the city saw at year’s end — 125 new home permits were applied for, another record — was from developers who had designed homes that would not fit the new code.
Construction on those homes could stretch out for many months to come, and some residents may be confused as to why they appear to break height or setback requirements, she said.
“Anything date-stamped before January 1, and we had a whole bunch, is under the old code,” she said. “We won’t see the result [of the changed code] for about a year and a half. We’re in kind of a transition time.”
Aaker said all Edina neighborhoods are affected by teardowns, though they are still most common in the eastern part of the city. Neighborhoods that border France Avenue, including Arden Park, Chowen Park and Minnehaha Woods, have large numbers of teardowns, along with Morningside.