The Truth About Drug Treatment Centers

A petition against the NuWay drug treatment center.

The executive director of the Whittier Alliance neighborhood organization believes “people in [addiction] recovery tend to bring about drug dealers.” This idea went completely unchallenged in a City Pages article about the NuWay Counseling Center which recently opened at 2118 Blaisdell Ave. It’s a sentiment that’s been repeated often over the years when the issue of “too many treatment centers” in Whittier comes up.

I’m sure this idea feels true to many people. Most people reading the article will nod and go on assuming that it is true. But is it actually true that drug treatment centers are crime magnets? I can find no evidence that this is true (I tried hard). Instead, there are two studies saying treatment centers do not cause an increase in crime:

There’s an important lesson here: when a man on the street, especially someone with a neighborhood organization, tells you why a thing is about to destroy the neighborhood, always do some extra journalism.

It’s unfortunate this idea went unchallenged in the article, because last year City Pages was good enough to print a response from NuWay’s executive director addressing the Whittier Alliance crime concerns:

That’s a really interesting theory. That’s a closely held opinion of the Whittier Alliance, but there’s just no evidence. Center City is not a hotbed for drug dealers because Hazelden is out there. Anybody who knows anything about recovery knows that’s really not true.

Here’s another true thing that wasn’t mentioned, but deserves to be: people living in transitional housing while undergoing treatment for addiction are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The City of Minneapolis is legally barred from denying them equal access to housing. So even though Minneapolis has a spacing requirement intended to keep drug treatment centers geographically dispersed, federal law says that’s not okay. Because of this, most cities have done way with spacing requirements. Minneapolis has maintained the requirement, but doesn’t enforce it.

Minneapolis Zoning Board of Adjustment transcript

I understand the impulse to want to choose your neighbors. I hate noise and criminals and people who are terrible. Even though I’m personally very good at pre-judging who the terrible people are, most of society is very bad at it. We can’t choose our neighbors, and we shouldn’t be able to. We should protect our homes and neighborhoods with laws against crimes, not laws restricting where certain people live because they belong to a group we wrongly anticipate will destroy the neighborhood.

Neighborhood Group Votes for More Parking, Higher Rents

The Southwest Journal reports on a housing competition in Minneapolis:

Lyndale neighborhood residents heard two competing development concepts Monday for 3329 Nicollet Ave., and voted 20-11 in favor of the pitch that provided the most parking. 

The developers’ concepts ranged from eight-unit townhouses rising three stories with garages, to a four-story apartment building with at least 32 units and nine surface parking spaces.

The article gives the impression that this vote was a referendum on parking, and how to build as much of it as possible. For anyone who’s been to a neighborhood development meeting, this preoccupation with parking should sound familiar. Local landlord Carol Greenwood, speaking about about new people moving to the Lyndale neighborhood, said, “they all have cars, and they all want a parking spot.” It’s worth pointing out that 32% of Lyndale households own no vehicle. You might say an apartment building with reduced parking is compatible with the existing neighborhood character. is a great tool car-free residents can use to prove they aren’t mythical creatures.

Despite having a significant number of car-free households, new apartment buildings in Minneapolis were required starting in the 1960s to provide parking at a minimum ratio of one space per dwelling unit. Parking minimums are a problem because parking is expensive to build. Overbuilding parking for people who don’t need it is a bad idea, if you care about housing affordability. In 2015, with an eye towards easing the cost of housing, the Minneapolis City Council enacted parking reform which allowed developers to build less parking at locations near frequent public transit. The vacant lot at 3329 Nicollet Ave is one such location.

People complain a lot about private developers building unaffordable luxury housing. Here we have a case where the city is selling the land; unlike with those other, luxury projects, the city gets to choose. It would be great if we could favor the proposal that provides the most affordable result.

City Pages shows how to slam Vogue for not knowing where stuff is in Minneapolis without knowing where stuff is in Minneapolis

Vogue got some deserved criticism for their geographically-challenged article touting Minneapolis as a weekend getaway. But in the process of doling out that criticism, the writer of a City Pages article (“Vogue magazine shows how to endorse Minneapolis without actually visiting it”) left some Wedge and Whittier residents to wonder if he ever left the office to pay them a visit.

Milkjam creamery is in Whittier, not the Wedge.

In criticizing the Vogue writer for telling people to “stroll” two-plus miles from Yum! Kitchen and Bakery to Milkjam Creamery, the City Pages writer makes the mistake of placing Milkjam in the Wedge neighborhood, when it’s actually located across Lyndale Ave in the Whittier neighborhood. We are simultaneously amused and offended by this mistake, but also a little flattered to be noticed.

Take it from a local: skip Whittier’s ridiculous line for fancy ice cream; that’s for tourists with no self-respect. For some real local flavor, try the gallon bucket of store-brand ice cream at Cub Foods, which is authentically located in the Wedge (in the historic Rainbow Foods building at 1104 Lagoon Ave).

Line for ice cream in Whittier makes me glad we don’t have ice cream in the Wedge.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) July 3, 2016

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.

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.

One Block, 32 Apartments Too Many

Inspired by the New York Times’ recent analysis of Manhattan buildings that would not be legal under current zoning, I undertook a far less ambitious analysis of one block of the Wedge neighborhood. By today’s zoning standards, on this one block, there are 32 apartments too many. Seven out of 23 buildings have too many dwelling units; these nonconforming buildings range from triplexes to a 23-unit apartment building. This is largely the result of the neighborhood’s 1975 downzoning.

2400 block between Colfax and Dupont Ave S.
21 units too many (2446 Colfax)

This one block isn’t unusual in my neighborhood, or the city. By historical standards, Minneapolis is underzoned. This has consequences. As the New York Times points out:

Such limitations can quickly decrease the supply of housing, and most likely drive up rents. If every tenement in the city were reconfigured in these ways, they would be less crowded, but there would also be fewer apartments to go around.

18 units too many (26th & Aldrich)

There’s another zoning wrinkle currently working against more affordable multi-family housing: many properties zoned for duplexes (R2) can’t become duplexes because of minimum lot area requirements implemented in the 1990s:

From 1963 to 1994, two-family dwellings in the R2B District required a minimum lot area of 2,500 square feet per dwelling unit. In 1994, a zoning code text amendment increased that minimum lot area to 10,000 square feet. The minimum lot area for two-family dwelling units in the R2 District from 1963 to 1999 was 6,000 square feet per dwelling unit. In 1999, this minimum lot area in the R2 District for a two-family dwelling unit was amended to 12,000 square feet. As noted above, these regulations remain in place today.

This policy is more restrictive than many other cities in Minnesota. But it could change in the near future. City Council Members Lisa Bender and Kevin Reich recently introduced a proposal to cut those minimum lot area requirements in half. This would be a small reform–like parking reform last year, and the ADU ordinance in 2014–to bring Minneapolis closer to allowing the historical housing types it’s been fighting against for the past 40 years.

As the city updates its comprehensive plan over the next two years, we should take advantage of the opportunity to do much more, to build the kinds of housing that many people say they enjoy: duplexes, triplexes and old apartment buildings that make up much of our city’s naturally occurring affordable housing. Buildings that were common 70 or 100 years ago, but that wouldn’t be legal to build today.

St. Paul Bike Lane Trilogy

If you’ve ever wondered what the essential difference is between Minneapolis and St. Paul, I would argue it’s the degree of wackiness happening at public meetings about bike lanes (and how those bike lanes affect things like traffic and parking). Minneapolis has largely accepted them, while St. Paul is still fighting the good fight.

I didn’t set out to make movies about St. Paul, but people kept Tweeting me links to weird videos. So I was compelled to create what critics will soon be calling the definitive three-part series about the people and culture of St. Paul.

Part I: Business Interests: The Choo Choo Bob Lobby. Previously unknown St. Paul character actor, in the role he was born to play, warns that “pool halls would like to enter into Choo Choo Bob’s.” Choo Choo Bob is a train store, not a person. Also something about bike lanes leading to “vulgar sex shop paraphernalia places.” [EROTIC THRILLER, 2 mins, R – suggestive dialogue]

Part II: The Bike Lanes of Ramsey County. County Commissioner Janice Rettman, formerly of the St. Paul City Council, karate chops her way through a wonky analysis of St. Paul traffic, while mixing in touching personal stories. [MARTIAL ARTS/WESTERN, 5 mins, PG-13 – graphic depictions of traffic on the way to Dollywood]

Part III: The Taxpaying Homeowners of Upper Afton Road. They paid for those roads. They park their RV right out front. They host family gatherings on Christmas and the Fourth of July. Your bike lane just cost them a customer at a garage sale–and they’re not gonna take it anymore. These taxpaying homeowners are a ragtag team of underdogs pulling out all the stops to save the children of Upper Afton Road from certain death at the hands of killer bike lanes (or maybe bike-mounted killers?). [Farce/Comedy, 6 mins, PG – slapstick violence, 4-wheeler footage]