The Day the Laughter Died: Acme Comedy’s Parking Crisis

As someone who follows local development politics pretty closely, I’ve been watching a strange new debate unfold at City Hall. We’re used to hearing concerns about parking and neighborhood “character” from longtime homeowners. Now, that same argument is coming from a cast of comedians in support of Acme Comedy Co’s quest to stop the development of a neighboring parking lot into an apartment building.

You’d think that cranky comedians riffing about parking would be entertaining, but this debate is forcing me into an uncomfortable place, confronting familiar arguments from a fresh perspective. I don’t want to be the comedy-hating asshole lecturing about property rights and commanding people to move to the suburbs (I like jokes, I hate libertarians, I’m a cool guy). But I can’t shake the notion that a parking lot on the edge of downtown would be better used as housing for people than occasional storage for cars; it’s good for the city, it’s good for the neighborhood, and it’s good for business (even the comedy business I think).

Not funny: using Prince’s name in vain.

We’re told, by the owner and others, that Acme Comedy Co is an asset to the city, a world-class venue that draws fans and performers from around the state and across the country. We’re also told by Acme’s owner that nobody in their right mind would visit his nationally-heralded comedy institution if they couldn’t park right out front. With the talent and creativity it took to build that kind of success, I’m pretty sure the owner could come up with a way to secure the car parking he says is essential to the survival of his business. Here’s a few ideas:

These are just a few solutions which don’t require forcing the owner of the disputed parking lot to keep it as a parking lot for as long as Acme finds it necessary and convenient. Most of these solutions also allow people to keep driving their cars. I didn’t even think very long or hard to come up with these ideas, so imagine what a guy could come up with if his thriving business was in danger.

While we’re talking about possible solutions, it’s probably necessary to clear up the widespread misconception that the city can force a parking arrangement on the owner of the lot. As a legal matter, the city can’t do that; they would get sued. As a policy matter, the city is rightly eager for people to build on surface parking lots.

Here’s another set of arguments I’ve found to be misguided: the idea that replacing a single parking lot with housing is about forcing people out of their cars and onto public transit; the idea of winter biking as a laugh line; and the idea of walking any distance in cold weather as a practical impossibility. I can’t relate to these arguments, because I’m the weirdo who takes the bus downtown, who bikes for groceries, who walks just about everywhere. I know some people prefer not to live this way, sometimes by circumstances beyond their control. Truly, I don’t begrudge your way of life. But yours is not the only way.

I’m not attempting a “War on Cars” here. But I do think we should want to become a city where more people are able to live and work and go to comedy clubs, without being made to feel as if a private car is the only sane way to get there. I won’t deny this is a long road to travel, made more difficult by decades of auto-centric government policy (favoring cheap and easy parking, among other things). I’m not asking anyone to give up their car, but we should slowly let go of our past mistakes, one parking lot at a time.

No matter what happens with this particular lot, I’m certain that your car trip to this urban comedy club will still be relatively fast, easy, and cheap. It’s just that, maybe paying a little more to park, or walking an extra block, or finding an alternate mode is the price we pay for an incrementally more humane urban landscape: another building, another neighbor, another customer, another opportunity.

Rocket House and the Turkey Guys Explained

World famous Rocket House.

Cards and letters have been pouring in with questions about one topic in particular. So here’s everything you always wanted to know about the master builders of our time: Danny Perkins and Drew Levin, aka the Turkey Guys.

@WedgeLIVE @lisabendermpls I am not sure I understand what a rocket house is and why it is a problem. ?

— Scott Snelling (@SnellingScott) June 18, 2016

@WedgeLIVE question from a newbie: is famed Turkey House the one on Lyndale?

— David Brauer (@dbrauer) June 6, 2016

Who are the Turkey Guys? 

Danny Perkins and Drew Levin are some local guys who made their fortune selling turkey sandwiches at the state fair. They’re also real estate investors and builders who have purchased dozens of properties across the city, including many in the Wedge. And they’ve got an HGTV show about real estate and home renovation called “Renovate to Rent.”

I think I’ve seen their show on HGTV. Is a Turkey Guy the same thing as a Property Brother?

A Turkey Guy is not the same thing as a Property Brother.

Can you make up some biographical details about the Turkey Guys? 

Screenshot of their unofficial HGTV bio.

What sorts of properties do the Turkey Guys own/renovate/build?

Sometimes the Turkey Guys purchase a home, renovate it, and rent it out. These houses are indistinguishable from others in the neighborhood. Other times the Turkeys will purchase a single family home in an area zoned for higher density housing, tear it down, and build a new multi-family house (a Turkeyplex).

The Turkeys have also recently started constructing apartment buildings: there’s one under construction at 28th and Girard, similar to other buildings along the Greenway. For another project, they’re planning the sort of small-scale apartment building that we don’t often see these days: a 10-unit building at 2008 Bryant with almost no parking (which received this reaction from concerned residents).

There’s an argument to be made that the Turkeys are building the kind of “missing middle” multi-family housing that’s far cheaper than the luxury units offered in most other new construction (“Boutique 28” excluded).

Apartments on Girard will be called ”Boutique 28” proving even the Turkey Guys think it will be full of assholes.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) March 26, 2016

What are the defining characteristics of a Turkeyplex?

Side-facing balconies with wooden canopies are a good tool for spotting Turkeyplexes in the wild. The units are often larger than most other new construction, ranging from three to five bedrooms.

Non-famous Turkeyplex in Whittier.
2808 Colfax Ave in the Wedge.

What is a Rocket House?

Some say it’s a doomsday weapon intended to knock the sun from the sky, rendering your solar panels useless; others say it’s a skinny, three-and-a-half story, pointy-roofed fourplex. The Rocket House is a particular kind of Turkeyplex, located at 2743 Dupont. It’s been featured on TV, radioand at shout-y public meetings.

Why do people hate Rocket House?

The people most troubled by Rocket House and the Turkey Guys tend to be the same people who have been greatly agitated since the 2013 City Council election; they continue to grasp for reasons to be outraged. In other words, 2320 Colfax became old news, so now we gripe about Rocket House.

I once sat through a neighborhood association meeting where a board member barked questions over and over at Council member Lisa Bender to get her to admit she’s secretly a Rocket House supporter. Bender did not break.

Matlock moment involving Bender earlier tonight re: famous Turkey house. Basically: do you or do you not support that 5 story monstrosity!!?

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) January 21, 2016

Why is Rocket House so pointy on top?

The formula the city uses to calculate setbacks is determined using building height. As a result, a three-and-a half-story building can be closer to the building next door than a four story building could be. The city is currently looking at amending the zoning code’s definition of “half story” which would make three-and-a-half the equivalent of four stories, eliminating the incentive for builders to construct pitched-roof rocket houses.

Isn’t this all just a corrupt and illegal destruction of the neighborhood?

The construction of new multi-family housing hasn’t yet been made illegal (though not for lack of effort). The Turkey Guys typically do not request variances from the city; they build within what zoning allows, avoiding hassle and uncertainty, as well as a potential shitstorm from concerned residents (one recent exception was a four-unit building at 3621 Bryant, where it sounds like the Turkeys were encouraged to seek a variance by people who wanted to avoid another Rocket House being constructed in the neighborhood).

Another thing that’s not illegal is owning multiple properties. Despite this, the Turkey Guys have become the ultimate neighborhood boogeymen for a small group of concerned residents who plot the location of every Turkey property on a map. The resulting map is unveiled routinely at meetings of the local neighborhood association. When they prop up this big map, it’s hard to know what the point is, other than, “hey, they must’ve sold a lot of turkey sandwiches to be able to afford all those red dots.”

Can you predict future trends in residential rocketry? 

I’m convinced that if we ban the Rocket House style (which Lisa Bender seems determined to do), the house at 2743 Dupont will be known in future decades as a one-of-a-kind neighborhood treasure that must be preserved. Architecture snobs should ask themselves: are people talking about your favorite houses on TV and radio? Is publishing a blog post about the guy who built your terrible cookie-cutter, suburban-style, so-called historic, single family house? Nope. People are talking about Rocket House, built by a pair of architectural visionaries we call the Turkey Guys.

City Council “Outraged” Over DNR Downzoning to Benefit Elected Officials

Two members of the Minneapolis City Council have expressed serious concern over what they see as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources pushing special land-use restrictions that would protect the proverbial backyards of certain unnamed elected officials. The comments were made during a June 9 Zoning and Planning Committee discussion about new rules for the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area. The MRCCA is an area along the Mississippi River subject to “special land development regulations that protect and preserve unique natural, recreational, transportation, and cultural features.”

Council President Johnson called the DNR’s proposal “distressing” and joked that she’d like to make a special deal to protect her own backyard: “If I could carve some stuff out too, I might do that.” The area in question—half of Nicollet Island and an adjacent area encompassing Boom Island Park—includes the homes of State Rep. Phyllis Kahn and former Minneapolis City Council member Diane Hofstede.

Council member Lisa Goodman said she was “outraged” and described the DNR’s proposal as “last-minute changes made for political purposes to provide downzoning and protections for elected officials and their families and not anyone else.” She added that the DNR’s map “boundaries make absolutely no sense” other than as a political favor: “There’s no other explanation for why half of Nicollet Island would be in a further-protected area in the middle of our central business district.”

City Council members suggest the DNR is attempting to “downzone” the area in yellow as a favor to the elected officials who live there.

One consequence of the DNR’s proposed map would be a restriction on building height that conflicts with the city’s current code. Nearly 50 properties currently zoned R5 would fall under an MRCCA maximum height of 35 feet, far less than the existing Minneapolis zoning which allows for 56 feet.

Both Johnson and Goodman expressed a strong desire for Minneapolis to maintain “flexibility” and independence on land-use decisions, with Johnson citing the benefits of “billions and billions of dollars worth of investment” along the river in recent years. Goodman worried it would create another layer of zoning confusion for residents: “Our zoning is what should prevail and not some DNR-imposed fake rezoning that would give people some sort of feeling like we’re going to be capping heights and development and distance from the river.”

A draft response to the DNR proposal written by Minneapolis planning staff notes the area in question contains buildings which are already taller than the proposed limits, and points out this is an urban center designated by city policy for future growth. The letter says it would be “short-sighted to designate this area long term as low density residential” and requests the area be reclassified to match adjacent “urban” districts.

In addition to feedback from the city on these new rules, the DNR is accepting comments from the public until July 6, 2016.

Investigating Renter Trash

Whittier: more renter trash than your average neighborhood.

There’s a new line of argument against new multi-unit rental housing becoming fashionable with concerned residents in the Wedge and nearby neighborhoods. It has to do with trash. Here’s an argument made by the group Minneapolis Neighbors United against a 10-unit apartment building at 2008 Bryant Ave:

Current practice is 1 garbage bin and 1 recycling bin per unit. The Site Plan indicates the use of 4 plastic bins for the garbage and 4 bins for recycling for a 10 Unit Commercial building. Every Triplex on the same street has 3 bins for garbage and 3 bins for recycling; the standard 1 per unit. 10 units should require a total of 20 bins.

I don’t want to give the impression this was their primary argument. Mostly it was the typical kitchen sink strategy: density, traffic, parking, etc. But I was legitimately curious about the trash issue. It was the kind of unfamiliar argument where you think you’re hearing bullshit, but you can’t know for sure. As someone who lives with another adult in a one bedroom apartment, two bins per unit sounds like overkill.

Now there’s a ruckus regarding a fourplex at 3621 Bryant (going before the city’s Zoning & Planning Committee today), involving some of the same residents and the same developer (regular readers will know the developer as the Turkey Guys, builders of the iconic, soon-to-be-historic, Rocket House at 2743 Dupont). And I’m seeing a similar garbage argument. So I poked around behind some apartment buildings to investigate the customs of our neighborhood’s Garbage People (known to some as “renters”).

902 West Franklin Ave: 10 bins (4 recycling, 6 garbage). 
905 West Franklin: one dumpster.
905 West Franklin: four recycling bins.

Our hidden cameras uncovered the following:

  • 902 West Franklin is a 26-unit apartment building with 36 total bedrooms. There are four bins for recycling, and six for trash. Bed to Bin Ratio (B2BR)* of 3.6:1.
  • 905 West Franklin (next door to 2008 Bryant) is a 46-unit apartment building with 71 total bedrooms. There’s one dumpster (conservatively guessing it’s four cubic yards) and four recycling bins. Converting the dumpster to bin size gives a B2BR of 4.25:1.

Let’s compare this to the buildings facing trash-related objections:

  • 2008 Bryant Ave will be a 10-unit building with 19 bedrooms. Four bins each for trash and recycling. B2BR of 2.38:1 (concerned residents were calling for a Bed to Bin Ratio of 1:1).
  • 3621 Bryant will be a four-unit building with 16 bedrooms. The plans don’t indicate how many bins, but let’s say eight, which equals a B2BR of 2:1. Fewer bins would still provide more trash capacity than the existing apartment buildings listed above.

*Keep in mind that I have invented the Bed to Bin Ratio (B2BR). B2BR is an advanced statistic available only to subscribers of Wedge LIVE Premium. B2BR is not intended as a useful measure of anything.