City Council – Ward 13
Neighborhood Development Guidelines: Teardowns and In-fill Housing
July 20, 2006
Introduction by Council Member Betsy Hodges
Council Member Hodges welcomed residents who live in houses that were built on properties where a house was torn down as well as people who live near them, developers, City Planning staff, and speakers. She described hearing about this issue while door knocking during last year’s campaign. People expressed concern about the character of their neighborhoods and affordability of housing. She noted that character and affordability are both affected by replacing smaller homes with larger ones as well as converting apartment buildings into condominiums.
CM Hodges emphasized that the purpose of the meeting is not to air our grievances about changes we don’t like or about our right to make those changes, but to think about what qualities we want to preserve and encourage in our neighborhoods in the face of development pressures. She emphasized that it is good that people are investing in Ward 13 and that people want to live here, but that it’s important to make sure that as wide a variety of people as possible can afford to live here and that we don’t lose the things that draw people here in the first place.
She introduced the agenda, and noted that she wants to hear what neighbors’ priorities to inform how the City should move forward.
CPED Presentation – [More detail of this section to follow]
1. Neighborhood Character
People tend to value openness, naturalness, maintenance, and historical significance, among other things. A neighborhood’s character includes its natural features, designed landscapes (public and private), individual buildings and their architecture.
2. Examples of variety in roof forms, setbacks, materials and details, and in height and bulk.
3. Case Studies: CIDNA, Audubon Park.
Noted the effect of natural forms on perception of some buildings. Provided examples of recent projects that seemed to match the neighborhood, as well as some that did not.
4. Potential Tools
Included suggestions of social encouragement through direct contact with neighbors, education and awareness, policies and guidelines, regulatory changes, review boards and commissions.
1. Do setbacks include egress windows?
2. Are building plans public info? Specifically regarding the square footage of a plan.
Answer: Plan information is public, but since plans are copyrighted, they cannot be distributed to the public. Anyone can look at the plan with City staff.
3. Is there a trend toward more variance approvals? The audience member indicated he thinks more variances are being approved without demonstrable hardship and despite neighborhood opposition.
Answer: CM Hodges said that though she does not know the actual numbers, it is not her experience that that is the case, and that each variance is treated on its own merits.
4. What are the regulations regarding noise from air conditioning units?
Answer: The zoning code regulates the location of AC units in a number of ways, including their proximity to neighboring windows and conforming to setbacks.
5. What can someone do about the drainage from a new construction into the adjacent property?
Answer: The building code addresses drainage. A resident can call 311 or the Council Member’s office for specific building code issues.
An audience member suggested that Richfield has design standards that address many of these issues and wondered whether Minneapolis could adopt something similar. CM Hodges noted that it seems clear that people would like the City to have a say in decisions that it currently doesn’t, and that this is the reason for the meeting. She suggested that there are things that neighborhoods can do to address the problem as well, including creating development guidelines. She said you’re more likely to get what you want if you ask for it.
Small Group Discussion Example
The group began by discussing a specific example of a resident’s experience living next to a teardown. One person mentioned that it seemed likely that the building exceeded the 60% lot-coverage limit. A suggestion was made that neighborhoods be shown the building plan prior to construction. One person noted that increased enforcement of the current zoning code might help the situation. A group member suggested that neighborhood zoning committees be more involved in the approval process and that perhaps the City should require neighbor approval of plans. Many in the group agreed that the disconnect between developers and builders and the neighborhood is a problem given that the developer often does not live in the home they build. It was noted that many residents are reluctant to speak in opposition to a neighbor’s variance request because they don’t want to start a fight. Most agreed that increased notification of plans, demolition, and construction is needed, but that changes to the zoning code are a good idea as well. One last suggestion was made to require more review of plans by lowering the threshold for review.
Small Group Presentations (given by self-selected group representatives)
Noted that the discussion is about quality of life, and so is difficult to quantify. Suggested that we should think about requiring height variances, but that it is important to enforce the current zoning code before and during construction.
Identified openness, greenspace and grass, some variety in size (though not extreme variation), and sightlines through backyards as positive qualities to protect. Reiterated a desire for a building height restriction. Protection of available sunlight for adjacent neighbors, maintaining space between houses, and providing some recourse for drainage from adjacent properties. Emphasized a need for enforcement of the code and improved communication to neighbors about planning reviews and enforcement processes. The group thought the idea of neighborhood design guidelines is a good one, and suggested the possibility of requiring good quality architects.
Expressed a preference for greenspace, green landscaping, walkability, charm, and open sightlines in front and back yards. High percentage lot-coverage is an environmental concern. Would like to see the lot-coverage percentage addressed, but also as it compares to that of adjacent lots. Concerned over the loss of privacy as large homes look down on their neighbors, the effect of large new houses on area property values and property taxes. The group was concerned that developers and builders who don’t live in these new houses have less incentive to ensure that they fit into the neighborhood. Also concerned over large lots and double-lots. Suggest that increased involvement in neighborhood meetings can help.
[Here a note was made that the Fulton Neighborhood Association recently passed a resolution urging Minneapolis to make teardowns match area size and style]
Noted that other groups had already voiced much of what they had talked about. Concerned that builders are not notifying residents of teardowns or new construction, and reiterating the concer of developers not living in the buildings they create.
Preferred greenspace, the ability to talk with their neighbors over fences. Concerned about height and size, problems with drainage, and the lack of windows in some new houses. Would like to see a neighborhood development plan and more advance notice of projects.
The group would like to see economic and age diversity, both of which are affected by affordability, distinct styles, durable, quality building materials, great views(which is what developers are selling!), and walkability. Concerns include the loss of walkability, unattractive design, teardowns masquerading as renovation, enforcement of the Shoreland Overlay District, and unscrupulous buyers. Suggestions include an increased notice to all residents within 1000 feet of a new home, some requirement of neighbor approval, a height limit of 30 feet with the possibility of variance up to 35 feet, adopting LEED standards(Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design), and the development of guidelines rather than restrictions.
Suggested the creation of a review board, and requiring a variance for all attached garages. Expressed a desire for fewer variance approvals.
Suggested lowering the lot-coverage percentage and requiring a sign be posted on the property prior to demolition and construction with information about the process and the planned building. Concern over sightline obstruction with front-yard fences higher than four feet.
Condo Conversions Presentation by Alyse Erman, JCA
Alyse noted that since 2000, over 3,000 apartment units were converted to condos, including over 1,000 defined as affordable. Noted that while we subsidize and try to encourage the construction of new affordable units, we are allowing the loss of existing ones through the condo conversion process. When a building is converted, tenants are adversely affected. Many are not being given the required 120 day notice. Protections also needed for buyers of these converted units. Truth-in-sale of Housing regulations passed last year help. There is currently proposed ordinance language being reviewed in the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, and a public hearing likely will be held sometime in the fall.
Closing Remarks by Betsy Hodges
CM Hodges thanked everyone for their work and interest and reiterated that she would be taking the comments and suggestions from this meeting and using them to help guide her work with staff and the community to address this issue.
Last updated Sep. 27, 2011