In a cityscape dominated by single-family homes, a proposal to allow four-unit residential buildings virtually everywhere in Minneapolis is stirring strong and conflicting feelings among neighborhood leaders.
A draft of the city’s updated comprehensive plan won’t be published until March 22 or completed until December, but the City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey were recently briefed on the high-level concepts, one of which is a historic rewriting of the zoning rules that would allow property owners to build fourplexes on any residential property in the city.
The city’s current zoning prohibits them from roughly two-thirds of Minneapolis and more than 80 percent of its lots.
Frey and Council President Lisa Bender are both advocates of housing density as a means to diversify the city’s housing stock, drive down rental prices and accommodate a growing population.
But many homeowners in neighborhoods are skeptical that density will do anything to keep the city affordable — or even that people want to live in multifamily buildings.
“Apartments are good for young people going to college and old people who can’t keep up a yard, but most people in their middle years want a home of their own,” said Nancy Przymus, who’s lived in Windom Park for 34 years and works for the Bottineau Neighborhood Association. “People don’t want to live in an apartment their whole lives. They want to buy their own place, plant their own rosebush and grow vegetables and have a dog.”
Constance Pepin, a Linden Hills resident who has fought developments over the years in southwest Minneapolis, called the proposal “unfortunate” and suggested it favors developers over residents.
“That just seems unthinkable to me,” she said. “That’s not going to solve the affordable housing problem.”
City planner Joe Bernard spoke on Thursday to the Minneapolis Planning Commission and stressed the need to fight historic inequality in the city by making it more economically integrated.
“In parts of the city furthest from downtown where the built form is primarily single-family homes today, we’re suggesting, to improve access to a variety of housing types, that up to four units should be allowed in the interior of neighborhoods on traditional single-family plots,” Bernard said.
Melanie Majors, executive director of the Longfellow Community Council, said people in the neighborhoods she works for will “certainly have opinions.” They’ll discuss it at their next board meeting on Thursday, and she said allowing fourplexes on interior blocks of neighborhoods will be a tough sell.
“Greater Longfellow is very supportive of the creation of density [and] affordable housing, but they’re very thoughtful about where that housing is,” Majors said. “Around transportation nodes we think it’s specifically better.”
Paul Ragozzino, president of the Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association, said he’s concerned at first glance about parking and how the size of fourplexes would affect neighboring homes.
“On a fourplex you could have 8 to 12 cars for one property, and that wouldn’t fit on a neighborhood block,” Ragozzino said. Duplexes blend in well with single-family homes, he said, “but if you were to double that it would make a fairly significant difference.”
There is a growing recognition, however, even among neighborhood leaders, that single-family homes in Minneapolis are financially out of reach for an increasing share of the city’s residents and that modest measures will no longer suffice for a growing population or for giving people choices about where to live in the city.
“I’m in favor of greater density, even over here in greater Longfellow. Frankly, I’d take a fourplex over the ‘monster’ homes that are mushrooming up around our little bungalows any day,” said Lisa Boyd, a board member of the Longfellow Community Council.
She said she disagrees with any characterization of homes in Longfellow as starter homes.
“They are perhaps affordable for two-income professionals working in the private sector, but as a single person who works for a charitable organization, they are out of my reach, and I have a decent income,” said Boyd, who lives in a condominium in Longfellow. “It’s the multifamily units that are going to be affordable to the demographic that needs housing right now, so I’m really in favor of that.”
Scott Shaffer, who lives in a fourplex that was grandfathered in under the zoning code in Longfellow, said it’s already possible to build a massive building in most of the city under current regulations; it just has to be a single-family home.
“If you don’t like 6,000-square-foot buildings, the single-family zoning that we have now isn’t preventing those from being built,” Shaffer said.
He said older fourplexes already dot the city, and people in his neighborhood aren’t bothered by them.
“I think they’re great. I live in one with my family,” Shaffer said.
Nick Magrino, a member of the Minneapolis City Planning Commission, said there aren’t many neighborhoods where replacing single-family homes with fourplexes makes sense.
“This doesn’t mean that the city would actively knock down homes and build fourplexes on them,” he said. “It would be a very gradual thing that happens over time.”
Today people largely have only two options if they want to build new housing in Minneapolis, Magrino said: tear down a home and build one in its place, or put up a huge apartment building.
“People want amenities in their neighborhoods. They want to be able to support a coffee shop, a pharmacy, a grocery store, and in a lot of places density isn’t necessarily high enough to do that,” Magrino said. “And this is a way to do that that’s less jarring. There’s certainly less impact in building a fourplex here, a triplex there, than leveling a block and building a giant apartment building.”
Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report.