REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK | Rezoning South Minneapolis

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The Story: The Minneapolis Planning Department is proposing zoning changes that would affect properties from France Avenue to the river. Most of the changes proposed involve areas near the Midtown Greenway and Lake Street, but also include Hennepin Avenue and Lyndale Avenues from Franklin Avenue to 36th Street.

How can citizens respond/participate?

We want to hear from you!  Please comment below to offer your opinions about this issue, or email sheila@tcdailyplanet.net.  Also, two public hearings have been scheduled for the Midtown Greenway Rezoning Study. The public hearings on the Midtown Greenway Rezoning study are as follows:

PLEASE NOTE:  CORRECTION MADE

Neighborhoods East of 35W October 13, 2009, 4:30 pm Room 317, City Hall. Neighborhoods West of 35W October 26, 2009, 4:30 pm Room 317, City Hall.

Some residents are unhappy with the proposed changes because they say there is a disparity between the treatment of Midtown versus Uptown. Brian Finstad, of Central Neighborhood, has been a particularly vocal activist against the changes. Finstad said that the 3000 blocks- those between 31st and Lake Street – are protected as “neighborhood character areas” in uptown, but not protected in Midtown. Finstad is concerned that Midtown is proposed to be “upzoned” which will “incentivize historic homes becoming ‘tear downs’ for multiunit buildings or commercial expansion.”

What’s at stake: Proponents of the zoning changes say that it is consistent with planning documents already in place.  One commenter on Minneapolis Issues Forum wrote that “We live in a free market society.  When a demand does exist for high-end condos there are two primary choices:  allow infill development along busier corridors, or face the alternative of condo conversions in what is currently rental stock.” 

Another commenter on the forum wrote that increasing density in Midtown is the more environmentally friendly option: “Those who prefer an environmentally-friendly Minneapolis will welcome higher-density zoning and the new neighbors it brings,” wrote Alex Bauman (http://forums.e-democracy.org/r/post/6C71wBitPD7FgbtrhJFKZN) “and those who prefer the”traditional” suburban Minneapolis want to build ever-higher fences aroundtheir backyard to keep their neighbors out.”

Opponents of the changes say that proposed changes would threaten historic homes and further destabilize Midtown neighborhoods. “Let me get this right-” wrote Dyna Sluyter on Minneapolis Issues Forum “We’re supposed to throw thousands of good citizens out of their bungalows and duplexes in the 3000 blocks from Yuptown east. Then we tear down their homes, replacing them withtacky “industrial” and other trendy looking condos that no self respecting robber baron or Wobbly would be caught near… All in the name of progress and increasing the tax base?”

Opponents also say that planning process did not involve Midtown neighborhoods and that while the Uptown and Lyn-Lake land use plans had requirements of two resident seats per Steering Committee each, the Midtown land use plan did not involve neighborhood participation. According to Brian Finstad, in the Midtown Plan, there was no resident representation from Central or any neighborhood east of 35W involved in the process, nor did city planners communicate with Lake Street Council.

What do we know so far? Finstad points to this map from the city’s website of the proposed zoning from Hennepin Avenue to I-35W.  The white areas signify protected neighborhoods, and the yellow areas signify “upzoned” areas.  “The reason I point this out,” writes Finstad, “is that there also happens to be a correlation between the white vs. yellow areas as well as demographic changes at those same points in terms of race and economic status.

For more information about the zoning study, also check out here for an overview, and here for the city’s recommendations.  Here is a timeline for the proposal process.

Also, Fox9 news did a piece on this issue which you can see here.

 

Update:

Brian Finstad writes in to say that the issue is more complicated than a condo/ anti-condo debate.  “The real story is about how to achieve the balance of density while preserving historic integrity and residential livability,” Finstad said.  “It is about how to achieve density without incentivizing the wrong things or unintentionally destabilizing those blocks.”

Finstad writes: 

“If you look at the 3000 blocks in Lyndale, there is density, but not necessarily condos. The city had upzoned on those blocks a long time ago. The result is small, slummy walk up apartments. Our 3000 blocks, comparatively to the surrounding neighborhood have seen quite a bit of disinvestment. I believe that is due in part to their fate following the decline of Lake Street through the mid to late decades of the last century. However, as Lake Street is rebounding, I see great possibilities for these blocks. Owner occupied home ownership creates stability. It has been the goal of the neighborhood to increase this as well as to utilize our historic housing stock to leverage revitalization efforts.  The 3000 blocks contain a wealth of historic homes. I envision a future of vibrant residential blocks where it is considered desirable to live near the commercial corridor. Where your favorite restaurant or coffee shop might be just around the corner. But people do not invest where there is not confidence. This was brought into discussion numerous times last year during the debate revolving around the Pauline Fjelde House. There must be a static and unchanging boundary between what is commercial and what is residential on the 3000 blocks in order for people to feel confident in investing there. Otherwise there is risk that part of the block could be ripped down for expansion or parking, thus degrading the residential character of the block. Similarly, this proposed upzoning threatens to destabilize these blocks even further. The rezoning is not strategic, but rather a blanket approach – basically upzoning just about anything. This part of town (at this point in time) is not a magnet for high quality development. Even within this part of town, the 3000 blocks in particular have not attracted high quality development. And certainly considering the current real estate market, there is not a lot of development going on anywhere. So what would upzoning in a blanket approach at this current time do? It would provide incentive to carve houses up into multiple units or incentivize historic homes becoming “tear downs” for low quality multiple unit buildings. It would degrade the historic and residential character of those blocks – not to mention the livability. People would be even less confident than they are now in choosing those blocks for an owner occupied residence and it would endanger our historic housing stock – and both of those just happen to be two of our biggest tools for revitalization.

“It is true that the Midtown Minneapolis Land Use and Development Plan calls for Medium Density in these areas; however, it does not specify how to increase this density. The plan also calls for enhancing the residential character along 31st Street” and “reinforcing the existing housing south of Lake Street.” I feel both of those statements support a thoughtful and somewhat protective approach for the 3000 blocks. It is easy to say what NOT to do, but I think it is very important then to point in a direction of what TO do. I think it would be very good for the article to point out that we are not against density per se. It is more or less HOW to achieve it. I don’t believe the current “blanket” approach is a good idea. I think it is well intentioned, but it will have unintended consequences. It should be done strategically. For example, the historic homes on these blocks should remain R2 B. However, where there are small four plexes (such as on the 3000 blocks of Clinton) that are in poor condition anyhow, I could see the neighborhood supporting even higher density developments on those sites as long as it was an upgrade in quality. Also, Sabri Commons facing 2nd Ave looks horribly blighted and is such an underutilization of the site. I feel it should be zoned for Mixed Use, permitting future development to have first floor commercial space with residential above. Much of the commercial frontage along Lake Street, I feel, should be redeveloped as Mixed Use as well. There also are blighted warehouse buildings on the 3000 blocks of both 5th and Clinton (the one on Clinton looks really rough – would make a great photo). Those sites are just screaming for redevelopment and would make ideal locations for high density residential development, which would not only create a higher density of residential units along the transit corridor, but also strengthen and reinforce the existing residential character of the 3000 blocks. The land use plan also calls for a completely residential district between Park and Portland Avenues that would be strickly high density residential development. But the rezoning plan does not seem to address or reflect this. The stated purpose of this is to break of the current “strip” pattern of development along Lake Street into a rhythm of character defining commercial “nodes.” It is a great concept. Even thought the land use plan calls for this, the rezoning study does not seem to address this. Certainly, those businesses currently in operation should be permitted to remain, but there are vacant sites in this area currently that should be rezoned now so that future redevelopment is appropriate with the land use planning.

I think it is very important not make it an argument of houses vs. condos or high density vs. low density. The plans call for “medium” density and have been adopted by the city council. So we have to live with that. The real question is HOW we increase our density. The current “blanket” approach? Or something more “laser” and “strategic” – best achieved with neighborhood input? I believe the latter is the right answer.”

More Comments: 

Ian Bicking Writes:

Here’s my thoughts, after learning that my (3000) block is being upzoned from R2B to R3, and reading up on what that zoning change means:

When I look at my block, I see a block that *should* be R3. Many of the buildings on the block are more dense than is allowed under the current zoning — either because they were grandfathered in, or because they are defying zoning by adding additional units illegally (like an attic apartment). This does not harm the character of the block. Rezoning of this block and several (but not all) of the neighboring avenues IS maintaining the historical character of the blocks.
Ian Bicking writes:

When a block was built up in a relatively dense manner (with many duplexes or four-plexes) I don’t expect the rezoning to cause negative changes. New construction is very expensive, and the real estate market isn’t going to easily support it for some time. I think fears of existing housing being replaced with unwanted higher-density housing are unrealistic. I honestly don’t know what the city will look like when that time comes when new construction makes sense again, what kinds of buildings people will want, or what kinds of buildings will be economical to build. But right now the only way we’ll see teardowns is when a building becomes impossible to rehabilitate. I think the only reason buildings will fall into this state is because obstructive owners who won’t repair their buildings or sell them at a reasonable price, and because the city makes it too hard to rehab housing. Zoning is one of the obstructions the city puts up when doing a rehab; upzoning will help at least a little bit.

“Cedar Phillips” writes:

Here’s my two cents, for what it’s worth: I think it’s an excellent article, but I think it would help if you clarify that condos are essentially a form of ownership. People in Minneapolis seem to get very confused on this point (many people seem to equate “condo” with large, often upscale buildings) so I think it would be worth it to clarify the definition of a condo if you’re going to bring them into the discussion. Condos are not a housing style, they can be in small multi-family units, they don’t have anything to do with density (although they do have to do with home ownership) unless you’re discussing blocks zoned strictly for only single family homes. That may be the case, but given comments like Dyna Sluyter’s I think there are many people out there who simply don’t understand what a condo is and isn’t. (like some the recent comments like “condos are fine for downtown, but not in the neighborhoods.” That suggests to me that the poster, like so many others, believes condos to be large buildings, not simply a different form of ownership in a multifamily residence.)

 

UPDATE 9/24

Crystal Trutnau, Executive Director of Phillips West Neighborhood Organization, wrote in to say that the Midtown Greenway did come to the Phillips West neighborhood to solicit input for their Land Use Plan and that Tim Springer, from the Midtown Greenway, participated on the Pilllips West Master Land Use Planning Committee. Trutnau pointed toward portions of the Phillips West master Land Use Plan which explain why the neighborhood supports medium/high density along the greenway within their neighborhood boundaries.

From the Phillips West Land Use Plan (Provided by Crystal Trutnau):

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Sensitive Grown

Creating stability and continued interest in investment for the Phillips West community and preserving the remaining single family homes are guiding urban design principles for this land use plan. Balancing these two principles will no doubt be a challenge in future development in Phillips West, however residents are supportive of the primary development opportunities which are to:

• Phase out the Industrial uses along the Greenway and replace them with high density residential. Residents support the idea of 4-story residential structures that
front onto the Greenway, preserve solar access to the Greenway, and have parking behind or below the
buildings.

• Revitalize Lake Street, the primary commercial corridor in the neighborhood. There are several immediate opportunities to redevelop vacant parcels and other low density, low lot coverage parcels. The neighborhood
supports redevelopment that would increase density along Lake Street with 4-9 story mixed-use that has parking behind or below the buildings.

HOUSING: Infill and Stabilization

There is wide variety of housing styles, types, and densities in Phillips West including detached houses, duplex/triplexes, condos, apartments, and high rises.
The largest assemblage of continuous residential land use is along Portland Avenue, which is predominantly single/multi family detached homes in a variety of styles
from Moorish Victorian to modest mid-century duplexes.
Many structures have fallen into disrepair or have been condemned. Wherever possible, existing residential structures should be rehabilitated and preserved. Along the Greenway, high-density residential should be phased in to replace the existing industrial land uses…

…URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD –
MEDIUM & HIGH- DENSITY REDEVELOPMENT

Enhance and realize full potential of the Midtown Greenway. The “Midtown Greenway Land Use Development Plan” adopted by the City of Minneapolis on February 23, 2007 indicates that the entire area from 28th Street to the Greenway between 5th Ave and Columbus Ave should become High-density Housing (40-120 Dwelling Units
/ Acre). The number of dwelling units called for in this plan could be achieved while also respecting the Phillips West Community’s desire to maintain Low-density Single Family Detached houses…

… It is important to plan for the significant future growth expected in the Phillips West community and by designating limited areas for medium and high-density housing, it serves to protect other low-density areas from redevelopment. The land immediately surrounding the Greenway is the best suited to accommodate future growth because of it’s proximity to the Midtown Exchange Transit Station and the potential for rail-transit on the Greenway. This transit-oriented development would concentrate new housing near public transportation and would reduce dependence on automobiles. It would also
serve to support existing and new businesses on Lake Street and Chicago Avenue. It should also be mentioned that a diversity of people and socio-economic levels is desired by the Phillips West Community. Affordable housing should be included in redevelopment plans.

Urban Neighborhood – Medium & High-Density Redevelopment
As indicated by recently adopted planning policies for the midtown greenway and in order to accommodate future population growth, the neighborhood would like to see 4-story townhomes replace the light industrial uses that are currently along the greenway. By concentrating new housing units along the greenway, it is intended that this will accommodate future growth and allow other residential blocks within the neighborhood to remain at their current density. New residential development along the greenway should be consistent with the guidelines already set forth in the Midtown Greenway Land Use Development Plan as well as the Midtown Minneapolis Land Use Plan. Specifically, new development should respect and protect solar access to the greenway and anticipate an increase in pedestrian, bike, and rail users.

 

Meanwhile, Carol Pass from East Phillips Improvement Coalition (EPIC) wrote in to share with us that EPIC supports a delay in the rezoning process, and expressed concern that their community was not involved in the planning process.  Pass shares the position letter regarding the Midtown ReZoning of the lower third of our neighborhood, sent to the city planner on September 21st: 

(To Paul Mogush, Principal City Planner, dated 9/21/09)

This letter is to inform you that the community membership of the East Phillips Improvement Coalition passed the following motions unanimously concerning the City ReZoning project at their September 14,2009 general
meeting.

MOTION: EPIC Board and membership support a 2-month delay as proposed by city councilmember Gary Schiff on the input process for rezoning of property within the Midtown Greenway Overlay District. Furthermore, EPIC insists that our board and members be included in this process and not
just informed of its outcome after the fact.

MOTION: Concern was expressed by EPIC members that residents from the Latino/Somali population were not at the hearings or involved in these conversations and/or notifications, therefore EPIC insists that the city send out the notices in Sprnish and Somali and have interpreters at the hearings in addition to giving EPIC time to prepsro its response to the city staff’s recommendations for R3 zoning for residential lots.

MOTION: EPIC Board and membership support the lot-by-lot study produced by Joseph Spangler requiring the zoning for existing Rl and R2 residential lots remain Rl and R2 as agreed with the city Planning Department when the Overlay housing density districts were created 2-3 years ago.

MOTION: EPIC Board and membership support our commitment to our heritage of affordable homeownership and therefore opposes the blanket R3 zoning of one third of our neighborhood, namely all blocks from Lake St and 28th St. EPIC Board and membership support the inclusion of designated “Neighborhood Character Areasil such as are found in the Uptown part of the plan.

Group Comment from the meeting: EPIC Board and membership believe we can accommodate higher density housing, but it needs to be done in a more “laser-like” approach and not a “blanket” approach. The citizen participation in the Uptown plan is clearly evident not only by the designation of “Neighborhood Character Areas” but also by the language itself. It pays a lot of attention to transitioning between commercial and residential areas as well as “strengthening the existing neighborhoods.” The Midtown plan’s lack of attention to the residential aspects of it is glaring and obviously atfributable to the complete lack of resident representation in the initial planning of this.

We hope these motions and remarks indicate clearly where the residents of East Phillips, especially those most impacted, stand on this issue.

Carol Pass, President, East Phillips Improvement Coalition, EPIC

 

UPDATE 10/8/09

More from Carol Pass:

Our issue in Phillips is somewhat different…we are not just trying to preserve ‘ Healy Block” housing, we are trying to preserve affordable home ownership in the city, period! (A species threatened with extinction) We do not really have hardly any fancy homes (historic, yes, fancy, no) in most of Phillips to incentivize investment…we have working people of very modest means who want their own homes, backyards and gardens. Why should we have to be either affluent or have priceless antique housing to be heard in this futuristic planning?? Why should the low-income persons of color be left out of the planning process and the opportunity to speak out for the concerns of this socioeconomic group???

The thing is that the modest-income ethnic groups that populate Phillips usually cannot afford the financing for a historic house. This category still leaves out those folks that Phillips is populated with, for the most part, and most who are being treated differently…and not just DIFFERENTLY, but NEGATIVELY when compared with the neighborhoods west of 35W. As the following writer states, “to proceed [with this zoning plan] is to blatantly treat areas of differing racial and socioeconomic demographics differently from one another and effectually create different land use planning along those lines”.

The amenity of the Greenway will not stop the destruction of our heritage of affordable homeownership close to town, which is our concern. We have already been battling the big-box low-quality apartment complexes. Our 1 and 2B zoning has helped us stay in the driver’s seat. The blanket R3 will disempower the neighborhoods of Phillips and place the developer in the driver’s seat. That is clearly the intention. It is obvious that that is where the authority to decide development will reside and we will be on the reactive side. One need only to glance at the current situation in St. Louis Park where a developer bought up several lots of residential housing and proposed to remove them and change the area into a nonresidential business node…to know how this works.

We will fight this as the racist, anti-low-income home ownership policy that it is. Shame on any Democrat who supports it! They have left the ethos of the DFL in the dust. Frankly, such a policy is worthy of the current Republican Party. I think if we had such a functioning group of Republicans, we might remember who we are as Democrats. We would not be so confused regarding our identity as the Party of Obama and might start acting that way.
Carol Pass

 

And here’s a letter Finstad wrote to Councilmembers Schiff and Glidden  on the issue, and Schiff’s response:

Dear Council Members Schiff and Glidden,

As you know, I have been very concerned regarding the disparity between the treatment of the 3000 blocks in Midtown as compared with Uptown in the proposed rezoning study. In Midtown, these blocks are to be upzoned. In Uptown, they are protected as designated “Neighborhood Character Areas.”

I just reviewed the staff report for the first time today. The language of the report that speaks to these concerns is as follows:

Some of the public comments submitted to date have expressed concern about this policy, citing problems with past low-quality duplex and triplex conversions that have contributed to neighborhood disinvestment. Staff analysis of this issue suggests that past practice in this regard is not likely to continue in the future as a result of the following factors:

• Some low-quality conversions appear to have been carried out without proper building permits, a practice which has been the subject of increased enforcement by City housing and zoning inspectors in recent years.
• Recent building code changes have made low-quality, low-cost conversions infeasible as a result of requirements for soundproofing and fire suppression. Conversions to three- and four-
unit apartments now require substantial investment just to meet building code regulations.
• The Preliminary Development Review (PDR) process is now triggered when property owners
propose changes to impervious surface ratios or parking lot configuration for three and four unit buildings. In most cases, the zoning code requirement of one off-street parking space per unit will require some change to impervious surface ratios or parking lot configuration. As a result, the requirements of the site plan review chapter of the zoning code apply, requiring additional
investment in landscaping and screening. The end result is either a financially-infeasible project or a conversion that enhances the visual quality of the property.
• Not all newly-R3 properties will have rights to a multiple-family dwelling. Multiple-family dwellings, as well as duplexes, require a minimum lot area of 5,000 square feet. Of the 513 residential parcels recommended for an upzoning to R3, about half are existing single- and two- family homes that meet the minimum lot area for a multiple-family dwelling. The remainder are either less than 5,000 square feet and therefore do not qualify for a multiple-family dwelling, or already have a multifamily dwelling on the property.

The basic sentiment I gather is “Not to worry.” If that is the case however, these changes should be just as good for Uptown as well. However, I know the response to that position would be that these areas fall into different plans which call for different treatment of their 3000 blocks. As there was citizen representation on the Steering Committee in Uptown but not in Midtown, that simply does not fly with me.

I don’t believe that the Midtown Greenway Rezoning study is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t believe that Midtown Land Use Plan is a bad plan. But I do believe that the proposed upzoning of the 3000 blocks will result in a slow chiseling away and degradation of these blocks of our neighborhood. These blocks do not have an amenity such as the Greenway that is going to attract high quality development. The asset that is going to (and has) attracted the best investment is the historic housing stock – which will be threatened by these changes. The protection of Central’s historic housing stock has been recognized and is promoted by our neighborhood strategic plan.

I understand that the issue in Central is not the rezoning study but actually the underlying land use plan – and there is a legal necessity to having the zoning match the land use plans. However, the disparity in process between Uptown and Midtown in citizen representation is glaring. There were not any neighborhood representatives for any of the neighborhoods east of 35W on the Steering Committee of the Midtown MPLS Land Use Plan. Subsequently, this is highly evident in the differing treatment of the 3000 blocks. The protected “Neighborhood Character Areas” in Uptown have everything to do with their resident representation in their planning. I am cautioning that to proceed is to blatantly treat areas of differing racial and socioeconomic demographics differently from one another and effectually create different land use planing along those lines. Even if not intentional, you are now aware and with that awareness will be responsibility should that occur. Again, I am not speaking to the entire rezoning study, but specifically to the treatment of the 3000 blocks.

To point to the justification of something (especially something with long lasting, if not permanent consequences such as zoning and land use planning) simply because it is “already in the plan” is a fool’s position. As I said, on this side of Lake we do not have an amenity to attract quality development. Our historic housing stock is our amenity. To jeopardize that is to jeopardize the revitalization that has been occurring in this area. Simply because something is in the plans is not a good enough reason when it is bad planning. At one time it was in the pans to close off Nicollet and build a K-Mart.

I hope you will take this into consideration. As the rezoning study has so many different implications for so many different neighborhoods and specific areas, I don’t believe the answer is to slow down the study, but rather to break it down. Even if it proceeded at a snails pace, as a whole it will be difficult to vote on this as in the end, simultaneously you will inevitably be voting in some very good things and also voting in things with negative consequences. It needs to be broken down and reviewed and approved on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis. A blanket rezoning is not the correct approach for the Central portion of this rezoning. We can accommodate density but must do so in a strategic manner that will not jeopardize the amenity of our historic housing stock or incentivize slum lords. This might seem tedious to do; however, considering that we will be living with these changes for a long time and they literally have the potential to reshape the face of our neighborhoods, in the long run having the best possible plan is the right way to go. Not to mention that the residents will be more likely to support it and respect your decisions.

Sincerely,

Brian M. Finstad

P.S. The full staff report can be found at:

http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/cped/docs/MGRS_Staff_Report.pdf

 

Gary’s Response:

 

Thank you Brian for writing. I will not support the proposed rezonings to R3.

Brian found the key reason here in the staff report: “Of the 513 residential parcels recommended for an upzoning to R3, about half are existing single- and two- family homes that meet the minimum lot area for a multiple-family dwelling.”

Why should the city adopt a policy that will encourage over 260 properties in south Minneapolis that are single family home “survivors” or duplexes and allow them to be converted to triplexes? Why the push for basement and attic units? I do not believe this will stabilize our neighborhoods, nor do I think this will provide quality affordable housing.

I believe the large-scale blanket rezonings in a few south Minneapolis neighborhoods to R2B in the sixties contributed to the destabilization of these neighborhoods. Many single family homes were subdivided into lesser quality rental units. Today, absentee managed duplexes are disproportionately sited as problem properties, and more likely to be foreclosed and boarded.

I’m support transit-oriented development in our transportation corridors. But to get there, I believe we need to focus on building quality housing and quality density, not repeating the mistakes of the past.

Gary Schiff

 

 

 


 Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer. Email sheila@tcdailyplanet.net

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