Kari Christianson knew the old house in north Minneapolis' Homewood neighborhood had potential when she nudged aside the carpet and saw the oak floors beneath.
Over nearly two decades, she and her husband have replaced windows and doors, torn down walls and put on a new roof. There's still more to do.
"It's a labor of love," Christianson said.
The couple and other residents say they chose to live in Homewood because it's diverse, affordable and close-knit. But a recent move to designate the area as historic has drawn a line through the community.
Some say historic designation is the best way to protect the area from development that could follow the future Blue Line light-rail extension, which is expected to start operating in 2021. Others worry the designation comes with restrictions that will make the neighborhood unaffordable and push out residents who have made the community what it is.
"Folks are on opposite ends sometimes, and it's gotten maybe a little bit ugly, if I can use that word," said Council Member Blong Yang, who represents the area. "It's been tough just seeing all of that stuff, especially in the context of a very tight-knit community there."
Minneapolis' Heritage Preservation Commission approved the historic designation Tuesday. The City Council will have final approval.
Homewood's history is tied to Minneapolis' Jewish community, which found a haven there at a time when the city was considered one of the most anti-Semitic in the country. That heritage, coupled with the neighborhood's distinctive old houses, informed the push for historic designation.
More than 250 properties would fall under the designation and rules that could come with it governing the kinds of changes residents can make to their houses. The neighborhood is one of four sites in Minneapolis — including the Arthur and Edith Lee House and the Tilsenbilt Homes — that have received federal funding for preservation based on their associations with underrepresented groups.
Constance Vork, a real estate agent who moved to Homewood in 2013, nominated it for historic designation when she was serving on the preservation commission. Her main concern is protecting existing homes from high-density development pressures when the light-rail extension is built, she said.
"I just worry about those properties in particular and how they might become very valuable to a developer," Vork said.
For the past few months, a group of residents has been crafting design guidelines that would be more flexible than the federal standards that are in place in the interim. Meanwhile, Yang has asked city staff to explore financial incentives to help alleviate costs for Minneapolis residents making upgrades to historic properties.
Worries about change
Residents agree Homewood's history should be preserved. But some fear the designation will alter the community in a way that goes beyond what the houses look like.
Gayle Smaller's father moved to Homewood in 1969, after Interstate 94 sliced through his home in St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood. Other Rondo residents made the same move, and Homewood became a community of artists and activists, Smaller said.
"It was really this kind of thriving, diverse neighborhood," said Smaller, who lives in Homewood with his wife, Martine, and their five children. "That was the neighborhood I grew up in."
Smaller and others whose families have lived in Homewood for generations say the area has been ignored for years and has thrived despite it. In historic designation efforts, they see city officials and newcomers who only recently started paying attention making suggestions for how the community should operate.
"It's not a neighborhood anybody has ever paid any attention to, really," said Jackie Cherryhomes, a longtime resident who represented the area as a City Council member. "What protects the neighborhood is neighbors banding together and being engaged in their community."
Those opposing designation have said they'll continue to fight, but the next steps aren't yet clear. At the same time, they say the process has brought activism to Homewood in ways that didn't exist before, said Martine Smaller, executive director of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council. Dozens of neighbors attended the preservation commission's meeting Tuesday.
Though the commission's decision wasn't the result Smaller wanted, she said, "I left feeling very inspired by my neighbors — by who my neighbors are."