The eight modest homes on Main and 2nd streets have housed generations of northeast Minneapolis families. By the end of the year, a developer hopes to demolish each one to make way for two apartment complexes with nearly 300 units in total.
The apartment construction boom in the St. Anthony West neighborhood has had longtime residents seeing their community change before their eyes. Solhem Cos.’ proposal for two more buildings was enough to bring dozens to a neighborhood meeting to speak their minds last month.
“It’s really felt like it isn’t Northeast for the last three years,” Sheila Biernat, who has lived in the neighborhood for 33 years, said last week. “There’s just so much density happening.”
Northeast has long been known as Minneapolis’ working-class bedroom community, dotted with petite homes, beloved bars and restaurants and a tranquillity that is harder to find in other areas of the city.
The fear of losing those single-family homes is what drove much of the opposition against the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which the City Council adopted last year. But in certain areas of the city, such as St. Anthony West, the demolition of homes to make way for denser housing was already underway.
The reaction to Solhem’s proposal has raised many of the same questions that dominated City Hall last year, such as whether new housing will be available to existing residents, and if the city’s zeal for density is eroding its historic charm.
The neighborhood has gone through “radical changes” in recent years that have put some residents on edge, said Chris Linde, the vice chairman of the St. Anthony West Neighborhood Organization. It has become harder to find a place to own, a cheap place to rent and space to park, he said.
Yet as elected officials look to build more housing for the tens of thousands expected to move into the city over the next 20 years, Linde believes St. Anthony West has to play its part.
“People want to live in this neighborhood, and that should be seen as a compliment,” he said. “And it’s not going to happen if you develop single-family homes.”
Biernat said she has felt the power of homeowners eroding as properties are bought and new apartments crop up. It was homeowners, she said, who contributed to the “small town” feel of the neighborhood, such as a large garden she tends with her husband.
“We put that there because we want our neighborhood to feel like a community and have beauty and have safety,” she said. “But if I was just a renter, I don’t know that I would put that much energy into anything like that.”
For now, most of the construction has remained along the Broadway corridor, a few blocks north from where she lives. “But I can feel it coming,” she said.
More people, more housing
Solhem Cos., the developer that applied for the two apartment buildings, recently opened another complex, the Julia, on Broadway across from the 1029 Bar. A five-story complex for seniors opened on the street late last year, and other apartments are also on the rise along Marshall Street.
The area where Solhem proposed the two buildings is zoned for high-density housing but is occupied by single-family homes, making it a prime location for redevelopment, said Solhem owner Curt Gunsbury.
“It is a beautiful, walkable, urban neighborhood, which is why we want to build there,” he said.
The buildings would be five stories tall and bring a total of 288 units with underground parking. Gunsbury did not have a budget for the projects; Solhem expects to break ground this fall, according to planning documents.
While most of the houses there were built in the 1970s, one of them — a yellow-brick house with a green roof — was built around 1900 and housed workers for the Minneapolis Brewing Co., which later became known as Grain Belt.
When Dan Turpening learned the house might be torn down, he stopped by to take pictures. “It seems like an important house,” he said. “A lot could be done with it.”
Turpening, who runs an accordion-repair shop east on Central Avenue, said he has noticed the surge of new apartments popping up in the neighborhood. While that construction boom has stayed away from Central Avenue, he isn’t so certain about the future.
“It seems like a time bomb to me,” he said.
A ‘lifestyle shift’
Gunsbury, who lives in Uptown, said he cares strongly about being a good neighbor and building “beautiful” apartments. He has worked with the neighborhood association and said he is looking to include a memorial for Grain Belt in one of the apartment buildings.
During last month’s community meeting, neighbors brought concerns that are typically heard when larger buildings are proposed: increased traffic, parking shortages and loss of character. Some also felt there weren’t enough larger units for families.
Council Member Steve Fletcher, who represents St. Anthony West and attended the meeting, understands why some may not want anything built in their quiet street, which has staved off development as the surrounding area has grown. The city needs more housing, he said, but for some, replacing single-family homes with apartments can seem like a “lifestyle shift.”
“When these apartments feel very expensive — and in many cases they are very expensive — compared to the housing stock that’s been in the neighborhood, it feels like this is being built for somebody else,” he said. “I think that people are concerned about that, and they want to maintain the economically diverse character of Northeast. That’s a thing that people have liked about Northeast over time.”
Gunsbury said he understands change is difficult to embrace, but it’s “something that’s occurring across the entire city.”
“That’s part of growth,” he said. “This is already an area of relatively high-density development, and it’s always been envisioned for that.”
A public hearing for the apartment proposal will likely happen in August, according to city staffers.