Live Coverage: Lowry Hill, the Comprehensive Plan, and Affordable Housing

Here’s a lightly edited tweet transcript from last night’s meeting of the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. Towards the end of the meeting the organization voted to send a letter of support for a 41-unit building at 1930 Hennepin Ave with a combination of supportive housing for young people leaving foster care, and affordable rental apartments.

Today I will be livetweeting perhaps the most shadowy and secretive organization in Minneapolis. Hardly anyone outside of a tight inner circle knows this meeting is happening. Maybe my most dangerous assignment yet.

I’m here. We have achieved quorum at the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. A guy made a joke about my name, and I told him I’m not that John Edwards.

They’re talking about a plan to “rezone Kenwood along Franklin Ave.” Deadline for feedback is July 22. Nobody said the words “comprehensive plan” but I believe that’s what they’re talking about. They are weirdly uninformed here.

  • “A four story condo could be put up…”
  • “4 story, not just a 4plex…”
  • Then someone throws out the term “R4” (so I think the city’s plan is to legalize the number 4)
  • Hilarious grumbles from Lowry Hill homeowners about lack of affordability. Predictions that any new units won’t be affordable.

Breezy conversation here about latest articles people have read: tax assessment appeals and the recent plan to cut taxes for landlords. A couple landlords on the board here.

Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association annual meeting is happening in two weeks, May 15, here at First Unitarian Church. Guest speaker will be Mayor Jacob Frey. They’re gonna ask him about the “rezoning” (which is not actually a rezoning), among other things.

Board member says, “I would be willing to be planted to ask a question about preservation of the historic character vs redevelopment.”

Talking about Frey and his housing priorities: “…making things affordable sounds great but it’s a fundamentally flawed concept to take a crown jewel in the city and mess with it.”

I may be murdered before this is over. People speaking freely. I’m so glad nobody cares who the strange man is sitting against the wall tapping on his phone. Lisa Goodman is on the agenda tonight, so that’s when things could really get weird for me.

Talking about the wads of cash that flow from the city to neighborhood organizations. Good explanation from a board member outlining the fact that Lowry Hill gets more money than Kenwood because they have more poverty/more renters due to all the apartment buildings along Hennepin Ave.

Somebody asked if there was a journalist in the room so I’ve been outed. Best Website 2018.

Board member talking about how lucky they are that a big chunk of NRP money was invested into affordable housing loan that was paid back to the neighborhood. All that money can now be used for whatever the neighborhood org wants. (I know who helped make that happen: Janne Flisrand.)

LHNA board is now bemoaning the perception this is a wealthy neighborhood. “We are 70% renter.”
Analysis: are there any in this room?

Basically, having a lot of renters along Hennepin should get you cash from the city and immunity from criticism. As you protect the true historic jewel that’s within.

Extended discussion of the bags of cash available for spending here at the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. Annual meeting is next week if some renters want to crash the party, get elected to the board and spend money foolishly.

Somebody said “Hobo jungle.” Discussion of “bleak” situation under an overpass in Kenwood.

Board member wants to get some plaques for neighborhood mansions and other landmarks. Teach people about some historic white dudes.

Anything from the historic committee? Gonna bring in a guy to talk about conservation districts (which is the little brother of historic districts.)

“If we’re looking to stop teardowns, conservation districts are not gonna do that.”

Fear that legalized 4plexes will lead to teardowns and the construction of expensive housing. (imagine: expensive housing in Lowry Hill)

Board member speaking of making a political “compromise with density advocates” by emphasizing ADUs and legalizing maid quarters and illegal basement apartments that currently exist in legal “grey zone.”

What they don’t want are “high priced condominiums.” Very neat how the homeowners of Lowry Hill have embraced the language of concern about gentrification.

Graves Foundation people are here to present update on their affordable housing for young people coming out of foster care. North of Franklin Ave, between Hennepin and Colfax.

Jim Graves: “we’re holding the density down” and they’ve kept curb cut off Colfax. This is in an attempt to satisfy the residents of this block on Colfax Ave. Graves continues, “The planners aren’t with us.” That’s why he wants neighborhood org support.

Board member: “Is there a chance in hell the city’s gonna let you come in off Hennepin?” Talking about curb cut.

Ground floor. Curb cut on Hennepin.

There’s no retail in this proposal. That’s a change from the previous proposal.

Concerns about parking. Proposal includes 13 parking stalls.

Jim Graves trying to smooth over parking concerns, “this demographic [young, low-income] doesn’t have the means to buy a car.”

Board member: “Worst case you’ve got 35 cars parked in the neighborhood.”

Board member worried about crowding on Colfax. They want to a plan that pushes pedestrians and car traffic to Hennepin Ave.

Graves Foundation representative: “All of the foster units will be single residents.” Affordable units could have couples. Graves Foundation has made an initial 10-year commitment to fund supportive services, which they say is an unusually generous length of time.

Board member: “It’s a lot of units for this spot.”
Analysis: 41 units on Hennepin!

Board seeming more favorable to this proposal than the one from last year. Grudging favorability.

Here are some tweets from last year:

“When you go on the nextdoor website we get lot of kids breaking into cars to sell things to buy a hit of drugs… Are these kids curfewed?”

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) September 6, 2017

“Convince us the kids are gonna be awesome.” Convince me you’re not an asshole!

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) September 6, 2017

Jim Graves says they’ve presented to the Met Council and they loved it. He had assumed there would be “pushback” against project’s lack of density.

Security cameras and 24/7 staffing (may allay concerns over “aggressive malingerers” which was a phrase used at the meeting held about this project last year.)

Graves people say there’s support from county, including commissioner Greene. They find out next week if they get those funds. Neighborhood org support would help because it’s a criteria used in awarding tax credits.

Best case, construction starts spring of 2019.

Board member wants to make neighborhood org support contingent on keeping curb cut on Hennepin.

Questions about when Graves needs support. Answer: tonight. I sense some of these Lowry Hill folks want to kick the can.

Graves people vacate the room. Board members deliberate:

  • “This is 100 times better than the original.”
  • “We don’t know if the city is ok with this.”
  • “We’ll withdraw support” if curb cut is moved to Colfax.
  • “The political momentum [for more housing] has increased to a fever pitch” and this might be better than a building with more units down the road.
  • “This may be the better alternative.”
  • “This can help to dampen people’s misconception that this neighborhood is upper middle class homeowners against affordable housing.”

Graves people spent a lot of time working with neighbors on the 1900 block of Colfax, as well as Lisa Goodman, trying to satisfy concerns.

Board member trying to soothe traffic concerns: “25,000 cars go down Hennepin every day… I don’t think [this new building] it’s that big of an impact.”

Someone says: “if Colfax residents are comfortable…”
Colfax resident: “I wouldn’t say we’re comfortable.” Grudging.

Colfax resident says there’s still a lot of opposition. But she’s resigned to the fact they can’t change zoning.

Another board member: “This whole thing is like negotiating a divorce. People do not walk away equally happy, they walk away equally unhappy.”

Someone just turned and snapped “off the record” at me. Doesn’t work that way!

Letter of support passes Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. 41 units of affordable and supportive housing for young people leaving foster care is one small step closer to reality.

I got out alive. Please support my courageous reporting this evening.