Teardowns have hit Lake Minnetonka communities in record numbers over the past two years, targeting everything from little lake cottages to massive multimillion-dollar mansions on prime lakefront.
As the housing teardown trend grows across the Twin Cities, especially in Minneapolis, St. Paul and inner-ring suburbs like Edina, some communities along the metro area’s largest and most popular lake also are seeing an uptick in demolition permits, especially on coveted lakeside property.
“People are willing to pay the price of the property and start over,” said Curt Swanson, owner of Swanson Homes, which has done two teardowns and rebuilds of Lake Minnetonka homes when current homeowners wanted to upgrade. “The water is a huge draw. There are always teardowns being done, and there will continue to be; it’s where people want to be.”
The trend is supersized by the several multimillion-dollar mansions along the lake that have been demolished and rebuilt with bigger mansions or in some cases, subdivisions.
On Browns Bay, two mansions, each listed for more than $4 million a couple of years ago, were torn down while on Grays Bay, a 5,000-square-foot house listed for $1.6 million was torn down and replaced by an 8,700-square-foot house with six bedrooms, complete with a game room, bar and squash court. And off Ferndale Road in Wayzata, three lakefront mansions have replaced former homes ranging from $2 million to nearly $5 million.
However, just as in the inner-ring cities, the lake communities have seen some backlash from the demolition of older homes and larger homes replacing more modest lake cottages, especially in more dense residential neighborhoods.
In Excelsior, concerns about the scale of some new homes have prompted city leaders to re-examine housing restrictions this summer, mulling tighter rules on house heights, footprints and garages, and new construction standards to prevent current residents from being bombarded with crews doing teardowns and rebuilds. The city is also considering financial incentives for historic home renovations, with owners paying less in permit fees.
“Excelsior is getting hit really hard,” said Kristi Luger, city manager of the 1-square-mile town, which has had 11 teardowns since the start of 2014, including three on one block.
Mayor Mark Gaylord, who lives in a renovated home built in 1887, said the city has to balance both sides, preserving historic homes but also allowing rebuilding.
“What we want to do is try to save historic homes that make sense to be saved,” he said.
In Wayzata, the city requires anyone who wants to demolish a home to contact its Heritage Preservation Board, which is documenting every teardown and plans to launch an “In Memoriam” page of former homes; they’re also encouraging preservation, hosting an October event to celebrate renovations of old homes.
“It can be overwhelming how many teardowns there are,” said Elissa Madson, who is on the board and lives in a 100-year-old house she and her husband bought for their young family. “Taking something small and replacing it with something really large changes the landscape of the town.”
Some projects have had to come back to the city with smaller plans, such as the 5-acre longtime estate off Westwood Lane that got city approval earlier this year to replace it with a two-lot subdivision after the city denied plans in 2014 for a three-home subdivision that they said was out of scale and character of the neighborhood.
“A lot of people don’t want to see those beautiful, old houses come down,” Wayzata Mayor Ken Willcox said, adding about rebuilding restrictions: “The city doesn’t have a lot of latitude.”
Starting from scratch
In some cases, developers say teardown houses aren’t structurally sound, and rebuilding is the only option. On the flip side, homes that do get preserved and renovated rarely get the same attention in a community as teardowns, such as a 111-year-old home in Wayzata that will be moved this month and repurposed into an office to make way for a subdivision.
Jon Monson, an Excelsior architect and builder, can see both sides, having worked on teardowns and preservation. Unlike teardowns in Edina or Minneapolis, Lake Minnetonka cities have an older housing stock with pockets of both big and small homes, he added, making it more subjective how a new house fits in after a teardown.
“It’s easier to tear down and start from scratch; [but] you can take something old and breathe new life in it and fit into the neighborhood,” he said. “There are good reasons to save houses, and there are sometimes good reasons for not saving them.”
Not every city on Lake Minnetonka has been hit by the teardown housing trend. On the far west side, for instance, Minnetrista has more new development than redevelopment of homes.
And not all teardowns are massive mansions. A majority of Excelsior’s teardowns have been in the town, not on the lake, with new, larger homes replacing older ones. The same is true in Wayzata, where most of the city’s record 20 teardowns in 2014 were not on the lake but in town to make way for bigger homes or subdivisions.
The record number of teardowns in Wayzata likely was a sign of the housing market improving and also homeowners trying to beat code changes that started in January this year, said building official Don Johaneson. So far this year, he said the city has had four more home demolition permits.
One of them is under construction near Madson’s historic home. While she said she understands some houses are in poor condition, she hopes to help educate the community on the history of other homes before they’re forever destroyed.
“It’s a taboo subject, and money does speak in our town,” she said. “They tear down a small cottage … and in its place goes up a 4,000-square-foot house that towers over the other houses. … We’re losing a lot of the original things that put Wayzata on the map.”