There’s no slowdown on teardowns in Edina.
Demolition permits are on a record pace, about 26 percent ahead of last year, which also set a record. Recently, seven new applications came in on a single day.
Last year, the city hired a residential redevelopment coordinator to enforce teardown rules, educate builders and deal with frustrated neighbors. In her 16 months on the job, Cindy Larson has barely had time to catch her breath. “There hasn’t been a lull ever since I started, that’s for sure,” she said.
Teardowns have become a chronic, divisive issue in many built-up neighborhoods across the Twin Cities metro area. Minneapolis had a short-lived moratorium on teardowns this year, and St. Paul has wrestled with the issue in its Highland Park neighborhood. But Edina, home to some of the highest house and land values in the metro area, is in many ways the epicenter of the phenomenon.
The pace of teardowns reflects evolving demographics in the affluent suburb, as well as the improving economy and the lure of its vaunted school system. Builders and many residents herald the phenomenon, but it also has some citizens wincing.
The majority of teardowns have been concentrated in several eastern Edina hot spots between Hwy. 100 and the Minneapolis border. But western neighborhoods like Countryside and Indian Hills also have seen significant activity.
Proponents of redevelopment say the city is renewing its aging housing stock and raising the tax base.
“Currently, who lives in these homes are older women, typically widows, and they’re looking for an exit strategy,” said Andy Porter, a partner in Refined Custom Homes, a builder active in Edina. “They win. They move on, and we change the tax base from $300,000 to $1 million. And now there’s a family in that [new] house with two kids and a dog.”
On the other side are residents who regret the changing character of their neighborhoods.
“I couldn’t afford to move into this neighborhood anymore,” said Seth Hannula, watching a backhoe demolish a house on his block of Oakdale Avenue in the Morningside neighborhood last week. Its previous resident — a 103-year-old widow — recently moved into a nursing home.
“People want to live in this neighborhood, but they don’t want the small houses,” he said. “It’s two worlds colliding.”
Money and schools
Why the boom? Money and schools.
Demolition permits all but dried up during the depths of the Great Recession. As the economy has picked up steam, so has the ability of home buyers to replace old, one-story ramblers and Cape Cods with larger, two-story homes. The typical Edina demo and rebuild goes on the market for between $800,000 and $1.5 million — or more.
Then there’s the school system.
“The school district here is one of the driving forces of this,” said Larson, who talks with dozens of residents, buyers and builders every week. “People want to live in proximity to great resources.”
Edina officials last week saw a presentation on changing demographics in the city. One bullet point: an increase in school-age children, said Cary Teague, the city’s community development director.
“We learned that with these teardown/rebuilds come young families,” he said. “This is a popular place. People want to live here.”
The overall effect of redevelopment would seem small. The city has issued 507 teardown permits since 2007; with about 12,500 single-family homes in the city, that’s only 4 percent of the housing stock. But many teardowns are concentrated in a few neighborhoods, dismaying some residents who think the new homes alter the qualities that drew them in the first place.
“The houses being built now are not generational houses,” said Tom Cavanaugh, a Morningside resident who saw a large new house go up in his back yard a few years ago. “They’re being built for that sweet spot — two professionals with kids. But what happens later? That 5,000-square-foot house is not sustainable for empty nesters.”
His opinion isn’t unanimous. A few blocks away, Andy Bennett called redevelopment “generally a good thing. There are a lot of good people coming to the neighborhood, and the new homes that are going up are quite beautiful.”
Bennett lives in a 1927 home that he’s currently renovating. It has “good bones,” he said. Still, he acknowledged that some of his neighbors are happy that he’s renovating “rather than going for the full teardown.”
‘Executor of their dreams’
Mary Brindle, an Edina City Council member, calls redevelopment “a given.”
“It is a problem, but a good problem,” she said. “I don’t think we want to discourage renewal. It does call into question whether the new home fits the character of the neighborhood. But what is the character of a neighborhood when the needs of new families are different from the needs of the families that moved into the neighborhood 20, 30 or 40 years ago?”
Porter, the contractor, said builders often bear the brunt of neighborhood criticism because they’re the ones visible for months on the job sites. But it’s home buyers, not builders, fueling the demand, he said. Typically, 90 percent of the demo/rebuilds Porter’s company does are presold, meaning he’s carrying out the wishes of a committed buyer.
“The builders are reacting to what the market wants,” he said. “It’s all driven by the buyer. We’re just the executor of their dreams.”