New rules tightening restrictions on the size of new single-family homes throughout the city are heading to the City Council after passing an advisory body unanimously on Monday night.

The laundry list of zoning changes arrives months after the council passed and then lifted a controversial moratorium on home demolitions in southwest Minneapolis. While the moratorium was largely aimed at improving construction site problems, the new changes are intended to alleviate some resident concerns that new homes are dwarfing old ones.

This has largely been a problem in southwest Minneapolis (see photo above right), but the new rules target one- to four-unit homes citywide.

Residents in southwest Minneapolis in particular had expressed concerns about homes taking up too much lot space, having steep roofs that reach too high, featuring poorly placed garages and first floors that are out of sync with neighbors.

The new rules, which the city planning commission passed unanimously on Monday night, must now be debated by the City Council. They feature a number of detailed changes, some of which expand on changes that were made by then-council member Betsy Hodges in 2007:

  • The maximum massing of homes, known as the floor area ratio, was not decreased. But one-car garages and raised basements will now count toward that calculation.

  • Raised basements can only be 2.5 feet above ground before they are counted toward the building's mass, down from 4 feet.

  • The maximum height of homes was reduced slightly, from 30 feet to 28 feet, measured at the midpoint between the peak and eave. Because of problems with steep roofs, a new rule bars houses from reaching higher than 33 feet at any point.

    • To put that in perspective, the average midpoint height in a sample of 256 recently approved homes across the city was 24.5 feet. Seven percent were higher than 28 feet at the midpoint.

  • Exemptions can be granted for massing and height if owners are building an addition to an existing home or if nearby homes already exceed the height limitations. Other waivers might be granted if the rules cause "practical difficulty," according to a staff presentation.

  • New regulations also address the space between homes, requiring larger lots to leave more undeveloped land between the house and the end of the property line.

  • Changes were also made to the point system that determines whether projects meet an acceptable design standard. New incentives were added for keeping height consistent with neighboring homes, planting trees, and locating a detached garage in the rear of the lot.

  • The new language also reduces the maximum lot coverage from 50 percent to 45 percent, and clarifies that basement-level garages count toward a provision limiting garage space to 60 percent of the front facade.

Reaction so far appears largely supportive, particularly since almost no one appeared to testify at the sole public hearing on the changes Monday evening.

“For the most part we have a document that everybody is really supportive of,” said Julia Parenteau, a lobbyist with the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, which opposed the teardown moratorium. Parenteau said the industry has concerns with eliminating the garage exemption when calculating the mass of a building.

Architect Tim Quigley was less supportive, noting that when coupled with the 2007 changes, houses are being downsized by 30 or 40 percent. “The downsizing proposals that are being discussed here tonight I think are too extreme, too coercive, too shortsighted and a gross overreaction,” Quigley said.

He said new height limitations apply too broadly across the city and would outlaw building homes that are already common in Kenwood, Lowry Hill, the Lakes Area, Prospect Park and Tangletown. “We’re saying, ‘No that’s not good.’ These are some of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. So I really wonder, do we know what we’re really doing here?”

The City Council is expected to take up the issue next month, starting at the zoning and planning committee.