Study could improve housing near U

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The University District Alliance is conducting a study that could lead to improvements in off-campus housing.

The study, which will take six to eight months, will address land use and development concerns in the University district. It will focus on parking, occupancy, design standards, zoning, inspections and the development review process. But to do this, those involved chose to restrict housing construction in the area.

In August, Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon, whose ward’s residents include many in the University community, got Minneapolis City Council approval for a development moratorium in the Marcy-Holmes, Prospect Park, Southeast Como, and Cedar-Riverside neighborhoods. The moratorium, which is in effect until Aug. 22, 2009, prohibits the demolition of single-family homes, duplexes and triplexes. It also forbids new construction of one- to four-unit residential developments.

Gordon’s aide Robin Garwood said the purpose of the moratorium is to make sure things stay as they currently are.

The study is partly a result of the Moving Forward Together Report , which the University completed in 2007 when it was seeking approval for a new Gophers football stadium, Garwood said. That report was meant to gauge the effect of the stadium and campus on surrounding neighborhoods.

“For the first time in a long time, the University wanted something from the surrounding neighborhoods,” Garwood said. “[The University] needed help at the Legislature and they really needed people not to oppose them at the Legislature, so it was an opportunity.”

Garwood said people in the neighborhoods feel the pace of change — from single-family homes to rental properties — is quickening. He said the change in the Southeast Como neighborhood has been speeding up over the past five to seven years.

Garwood said she thinks the University’s success and the quality of the surrounding neighborhoods are connected.

“The University community depends on the health of the surrounding neighborhoods,” Garwood said. “If the surrounding neighborhoods are doing well, then the students who are living in them are more likely to be doing well, and the University itself is more likely to do well.”

James De Sota , neighborhood coordinator for the Southeast Como Improvement Association, said he has seen a lot of single-family homes converted into rental properties or torn down to build a property with the maximum level of occupancy.

“It’s fundamentally changing the nature of the housing stock in the community,” De Sota said. “People are very supportive of the fact that the city of Minneapolis is serious about finally taking a look at what the standards are going to be for the neighborhoods.”

Craig Janssen , owner of Elmwood Properties , has 10 properties in the University district. He said he has a belief in responsible development.

“If a building is constructed or remodeled, it’s going to be here long after all of us have died,” said Janssen. “It needs to somehow fit into the neighborhood in all its respects and characteristics.”

One problem Janssen has noticed involves new rental properties that developers build looking for immediate cash flow. They have a lot of bedrooms and few parking spaces.

“We don’t think that’s necessary or responsible development,” said Janssen. “It’s really greed gone wild.”

Garwood also said she feels that parking is becoming a problem. The city’s current zoning code only requires one parking space per unit. Garwood said that may not be appropriate for a place that has five bedrooms with five tenants who may have five cars. This leads to cars being parked on the street, where cars are broken into frequently in the University area.

Jan Morlock , director of University Relations, said she’s hopeful the study will have a positive effect on the University.

“The hope is to make sure that we have high-quality rental housing being built in the neighborhoods near campus,” Morlock said.