This week, Edina may impose a moratorium on home tear-downs as the city tries to respond to residents' complaints about giant homes going up next to modest Cape Cods.
The proposed ordinance, expected to go to a City Council vote tonight, would prohibit single-family homes from being demolished until April 15.
Tear-downs that were already in the permitting process would be allowed to go forward, and there would be exceptions for disasters, such as a house damaged by fire.
With aging housing stock and highly desirable neighborhoods, Edina has been at the epicenter of the monster-house debate in the Twin Cities. The city already has modified its building requirements to try to make sure new homes fit in with the old, but Mayor Jim Hovland said it's clear that goal has not yet been met.
"It still doesn't seem like we're quite there at that sweet spot," he said last week. "It's probably fair to say that the Oaklawn neighbors were the tip of the spear here. The [city] council wasn't comfortable anyway, but having those neighbors come to us gave us further pause."
In October, residents of the 5300 block of Oaklawn Avenue began lobbying against construction of a big house on their block of 1930s and 1940s New England-style homes. The new home, which is being built now, will be 5,400 square feet, almost three times as big as the dilapidated Cape Cod that was on the lot.
Some neighbors called the new house an eyesore that would change the cozy character of their street. They put protest signs in front yards and posted a video explaining their stance on YouTube.
That video, which has been watched nearly 7,000 times, is linked to an unflattering clip of City Council members discussing why they couldn't view the video at an October meeting.
The council finally saw the video at a recent meeting packed with dozens of people drawn by rumors of a possible moratorium. Forty people testified during a session that lasted more than two hours. Some homeowners pleaded for action, while developers warned that a moratorium would cause economic damage.
Resident Tony Giannakakis said a moratorium would hurt senior citizens like his parents, who, if they wanted to sell their house, would profit if a developer wanted their land.
"You're handcuffing people. ... That little Cape Cod you could have gotten $700,000 for, it's worth about $400,000 with a moratorium in place," he said.
Giannakakis said he lives in a modest rambler on a block with five big new houses. "Guess what -- we got doctors and lawyers on our block," he said. "I love it."
Scott Busyn, an Edina resident and a homebuilder, said changes to the building code are holding down home sizes and that new construction boosts property values. He called a moratorium "unfair ... the wrong thing for our community."
Minneapolis resident Molly Perry told the council that her family had a contract on an Edina property and had planned to build their dream home there. The home would have fit in with the neighborhood, she said. A moratorium, she said, "would cause families like ours to back away from the opportunity to come into this community."
But Edina resident Bob McGarry said he had heard that a local college class was using his street, Brookview, as an example of overdevelopment.
"I had a Realtor tell me, 'Bob, you don't understand, a Cape Cod house has no value in Edina. None. The only thing that has any value is the land that it sits on.'
"Is that sad? Somebody needs to sit back and look at what's going on."
Brian Belanger, who lives a couple of blocks from the protesting Oaklawn residents, said a moratorium is needed.
"A McMansion is forever; a moratorium is temporary," he said. "I look at these people that have been in their houses for three decades and some outside developer comes in and plops this monstrosity there. For the rest of their lives they have to look at that thing."
Edina already has a moratorium on tear-downs in the historic Country Club neighborhood. That ban ends April 15. For legal reasons, a new citywide tear-down moratorium would end the same day.
While Hovland and three other council members indicated they favored a temporary ban on tear-downs, member Scot Housh suggested waiting to see how building code changes work.
"I think it's a mistake to move too far before we've seen what these restrictions will do," he said. "A moratorium in the whole city scares the crap out of me."
Member Joni Bennett said she thought a five-month moratorium was "not unreasonable. It puts pressure on us to find some answers."
If a moratorium is approved, one of the measures the city would consider is imposing a floor-area-to-lot size ratio on fill-in housing. Minneapolis already has such a rule that states that the floor area in a new house can't exceed half the area of its lot.
Some council members expressed interest in a design review committee that would determine if the appearance and materials used in new housing fit the surrounding neighborhood. Privately owned communities such as North Oaks have such panels, but the League of Minnesota Cities and the Builders Association of Minnesota did not know of other cities that had committees to review plans for individual single-family homes unless they are in historic districts.
Edina also is likely to look at a cap on how much of a lot can be covered by hard surfaces such as buildings, driveways and tennis courts, which can affect drainage to surrounding properties. Bloomington limits such hard surfaces to 35 percent of a single-family lot.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380