Among the hundreds of East Edina teardowns in recent years, one stood out.
For five years, Tim and Michele Pronley negotiated with the city and its Heritage Preservation Board over the fate of their home on Arden Avenue. They finally agreed on a renovation plan for the 1926 house that conformed to preservation requirements in the historic Country Club district.
But once work got underway, structural defects in the foundation led the city to declare the house unsafe. It was torn down last October, surprising and angering some neighbors who felt they weren’t kept informed about the project.
A year later, the Pronleys have moved into their new home. It bears a close resemblance to its predecessor and is built on the same footprint. It’s actually a bit smaller than the home it replaced. And now some neighbors are wondering what all the fuss was about.
“It’s an asset to the neighborhood,” said Tom McFerson, who has lived on the Pronleys’ block for 10 years. “The result absolutely fits in 100 percent. I wish more people would come to Country Club and do what they did.”
Ross Plaetzer lives a couple of blocks away and often walks his dogs on Arden Avenue. He said he watched the new home go up and was “amazed at how well it had been built and how effortlessly it seemed to fit into the block.”
“It looks great,” Plaetzer said. “They did a really nice job.”
Michele Pronley said she and her husband “don’t agree that you should just go in and tear down any house.” But she said there are situations, like theirs, that warrant it.
“We support preserving these older homes. We don’t believe a teardown is the first thing you should jump to,” she said, noting that their original plans would have preserved the existing structure.
“But I can’t tell you how many people have told us they’re happy with the house. I’ve been out cutting the grass and had people stop and tell me they’ve watched it go up and they’re so happy we did it,” Pronley said.
From the city’s perspective, the house meets not only the letter of the preservation law but the spirit, said Joyce Repya, a senior city planner.
“We feel it fits in with the neighborhood,” Repya said. Although the home isn’t an exact copy of the one it replaced, “the height and mass from the front are just the same,” she said.
“We allow flexibility for people to make changes in keeping with the architectural style of the home,” Repya said. “We’re not freeze-drying the Country Club neighborhood.”
Joyce Mellom, an ardent preservationist who lives across the street from the Pronleys, said she’s still unhappy about the process that led to the new home.
“If you want to be on the National Register of Historic Places [as the entire Country Club neighborhood is], you agree to certain rules,” Mellom said. “The city gets money from the Minnesota Historical Society in exchange for preserving this neighborhood. They’ve agreed to protect it, and they have not done that.
“These houses were all built at the same time. They lined up; the styles and the rooflines matched, and they aged together,” Mellom said.
“We’re losing them one by one,” she said. “I see no satisfaction looking at that house.”