The year is 1995. A landlord is renovating his triplex when a concerned neighbor appeals to the neighborhood association for help. The organization comes to the rescue, deciding¹ that “because the building has been vacant for over a year, the nonconforming use expires and the building should revert to a duplex.” The neighborhood was Lowry Hill East. And that heroic concerned neighbor would go on to become the chairman of LHENA’s 2004 rezoning subcommittee.
The history of Lowry Hill East is full of stories like this. Over the last 45 years, our neighborhood political process has operated largely from the perspective, and with the priorities, of the single-family homeowner. Lowry Hill East is a place with a long tradition of apartment buildings and a population that has hovered around 75-85% renter for as far back as I’m able to check (1940). But the politics is dominated by a consistent, uncompromising advocacy against dense, multi-family housing.
After declaring victory on the zoning issue, LHENA shifted focus towards promoting the restoration of single-family homes. Boarding houses were a particular target. In 1978, a LHENA-sponsored home tour proudly featured former boarding houses in the process of gentrification rehabilitation. Residents were celebrated in newspaper profiles for restoring their boarding houses to single-family homes. Neighborhood leaders would brag about rooming house conversions in their candidate bios. The boarding house nostalgia we’ve seen expressed in recent years, primarily as a product of the debate over the fate of the boarding house at 2320 Colfax, came as a shock to anyone familiar with LHENA history; when the group’s board of directors took up the issue of 2320 Colfax in 1992, they decided they were simply “opposed to the concept of a rooming house.”
In the early ’80s, LHENA took on the urgent task of preventing single-family homes from being “chopped up” into duplexes. The enormous house at 2400 Bryant Ave was eventually saved by the combined efforts of a LHENA committee and Calhoun Realty (it was recently promoted for sale at $1.2 million with a drone flyover video; a gentrification preservation success story if I’ve ever heard one). In 1986, the organization’s president editorialized that LHENA should take advantage of favorable interest rates and “redouble efforts to work with realtors to attract good buyers” with the goal of “reverting some duplexes and boarding houses to single family.”
This is not to say that I’m offended by the idea of purchasing and converting an old duplex or boarding house to a single-family home. But it’s important to acknowledge the history. In my time as an observer of neighborhood politics, I have heard protests of “gentrification” from the mouths of people who have restored their homes to single family, who would now like to downzone Lowry Hill East and have it frozen in time with an all-consuming historic district. People have even used boarding house residents as an anti-development cudgel while advocating for turning the same boarding house into a single-family home or a boutique “urban hotel.”
Allow me to quote myself, from an alternate dimension where I have written a much snarkier blog post:
It’s a legitimately lousy situation when boarding house residents are forced to find a new home. But that’s nothing new in this neighborhood. The Wedge has a past plagued by persistent gentrification. These senseless acts of renovation can’t be stopped; it’s simply too embedded in the neighborhood culture.
Good luck gentrifying the neighborhood, Scott and Linda.
2002-2004: Apartment Moratorium and Rezoning
In 2002, LHENA again took up the issue of rezoning. Council Member Dan Niziolek assisted in those efforts by introducing a moratorium on the construction of apartment buildings. The moratorium would last for 20 months, giving LHENA the time to chart a course for rezoning.
Stakeholders included former renters and current non-renters.
LHENA’s rezoning subcommittee met for nearly a year, starting in May 2003. One of the more hilarious (or frightening) tasks performed by the subcommittee was sending volunteers house to house looking for illegal units. Intelligence gathered on these missions was later passed on to the city so that the illegal housing could be, in CPED’s words, “alleviated.” But the most notable result of the rezoning effort was LHENA’s 2004 plan to completely eliminate high-density zoning categories (R5, R6) from Franklin Avenue south to 28th Street, affecting a total of 244 parcels. This would have applied even to existing apartment buildings, with the idea that if the property was redeveloped (or destroyed in a fire, for example), it could not legally be rebuilt at its current level of density.
The LHENA proposal would also have rezoned 69 parcels to single-family (R1A), a category that did not (and still does not) exist in the neighborhood. This is how CPED characterized LHENA’s push for a six block “single family core” in 2004:
One of the most vocalized issues from the LHENA rezoning sub-committee was their commitment to preserving single family homes. Since much of the neighborhood is zoned R2B, many of the original single-family structures have been preserved as duplex conversions…
Planning staff do not support the neighborhood’s preference for single family development over duplexes, and have not identified a City policy that would support individually rezoning single-family homes…
Additionally, the presence of duplexes in this neighborhood provides for a more affordable mix of housing. It offers more rental opportunities beyond the typical apartment complex, as well as chances for affordable ownership.
The city had its own plan for the neighborhood, which would still have resulted in significant downzoning. This proposal cut almost in half the number of parcels zoned high-density R6, rezoning most of them as medium-density R4. After negotiations with the neighborhood, the city offered the concession of increasing–from 64 to 115–the number of downzoned properties. But LHENA wanted to downzone over 300 properties, and was unwilling to compromise.
In an email from the time, Council Member Dan Niziolek is described as having a “concern” that LHENA’s proposal would not “maintain a transit appropriate density.” LHENA’s plan for a single family core, and outright elimination of high-density zoning–for a neighborhood bounded by bus service on Hennepin and Lyndale Avenues–was too extreme, even for Niziolek; and remember, Niziolek was sympathetic enough to LHENA’s cause that he kickstarted the process with a 20-month apartment building moratorium.
As rezoning discussions came to a close, the Wedge newspaper reported that “if the city does not accept the Wedge plan, [LHENA] would like [zoning] to remain as is.” With LHENA refusing to budge, neither proposal was adopted. When today’s downzoning proponents talk about the development “target” that R6 zoning places on a property, it should be noted that a large number of those R6 properties would have been rezoned to R4 more than 10 years ago if LHENA had accepted CPED’s proposal.
2005-2015: Backdoor Downzoning
Shortly after the rezoning fell apart, LHENA began its pursuit of a historic district. They used funds received from the city’s NRP program to pay for a 2005 historic study. The chairman of LHENA’s NRP preservation subcommittee named two primary reasons for pursuing the historic district: one was preservation, and the other was to use it as a tool of rezoning: “to make development like that which occurred in the ’60s and ’70s more difficult.”
A successful effort to designate a historic district in 2015, initiated by Council Member Lisa Bender, was met with similar all-or-nothing opposition. One of the opponents was the previous Council Member, Meg Tuthill–LHENA founder, and veteran of the 1975 and 2004 rezoning efforts. She dismissed the modestly-sized historic district as unnecessary in an area already zoned low-density: “The designation is a ‘feel good’ ruse for the city, pretending to care about preservation.” This reflects the fairly common belief among anti-development activists that downzoning and historic districts are interchangeable tools. According to this line of thinking, city planners who would enact both policies in the same place are engaging in trickery.
Size of the 2015 historic designation was disappointing for some.
The Future: Downzone, Gentrify, Repeat? Before I’d ever been to Minneapolis, I looked at some maps–not a map of historic places, not a zoning map, but a transit map. I noted the high-frequency bus routes serving Lowry Hill East. I studied a Google map, and I noted the proximity of grocery stores, and other amenities made possible by higher density housing. I’m fortunate there were affordable 50-year-old apartment buildings when I arrived. And I hope for future policies that allow neighborhoods to keep changing, so that 50 years from now there will still be 50-year-old apartment buildings to rely on.
I have concerns about taking one of the city’s most walkable, transit-accessible, bike-friendly neighborhoods, located on the edge of downtown, and freezing it in place. In the 1970s, Lowry Hill East was zoned entirely high-density–but that is no longer the case. The activists of the 1970s successfully protected the low-density character of the neighborhood’s interior. Still, there are those with predictions of imminent neighborhood destruction who would now like to restart the downzoning process. Based on the neighborhood history, I have my doubts about the kind of proposal this process leads to.
¹ The house is still a non-conforming triplex, thanks to a system that allows the city to disregard the advisory opinions of neighborhood organizations. ² The author’s repeated use of the word “gentrification” is not appropriate, and he does not endorse abuse of the word by others.
Minneapolis City Council campaign fundraising disclosures were due on February 1st. The Star Tribune ran an article about Council fundraising on February 5th. Council President Barb Johnson filed her report on February 8th. As a result there’s not a single mention of Barb in the story. Pretty clever, Barb, but your tricks don’t work on Wedge LIVE.
It may shed some light on internal Council politics that Barb’s campaign made donations of $250 to all of her colleagues on the Public Safety Committee (Yang, Reich, Warsame, Palmisano) except for Cam Gordon. Though you have to think Cam might have turned that money down.
Barb’s 2015 expenses.
Blong Yang finally has a positive balance, after paying off the loan he made to his campaign for the 2013 election.
Lisa Bender runs by far the most efficient campaign, spending the lowest percentage of funds raised among any of her colleagues.
If you’re a fan of Alondra Cano, you’d probably like to see her spend less and raise more.
Elizabeth Glidden and Cam Gordon are doing their best to keep money out of politics.
I wish I could give you a fuller report of debate in the Wedge. LHENA’s Zoning and Planning Committee, after not holding any monthly meetings since August of last year, held a meeting on January 13th without sending me an email. This is strange, because I’m a member of the committee, and up until now I have been on the committee’s email list (I’m also a LHENA board member).
While I wasn’t able to attend the committee meeting, we know at least a few CARAG residents got a special invitation, because they were using the fact of LHENA’s opposition to bolster their case against the hotel at the following week’s CARAG meeting. I was able to confirm at last week’s LHENA board meeting that there were CARAG residents at the committee meeting. I would imagine the content of their presentation reflects what’s in the anti-hotel petition, but we’ll have to wait for the meeting minutes. LHENA’s board voted (6-5) to go with the committee’s recommendation to oppose the hotel.
I should emphasize how unusual it is to have non-residents attend a LHENA meeting that was so un-publicized and irregular that I had no idea it was happening. I pay a crazy amount of attention to this stuff. LHENA didn’t make an ounce of effort to gauge the opinion of actual residents about this hotel before voting against it. It’s instructive about how insular the neighborhood association process can be; non-residents are invited because they oppose development, while an actual committee member is excluded because he’s supportive. And it’s one more reason you should take the results of this process with a grain of salt.
A 2013 proposal to turn the vacant lot into a parking lot was supported by the Whittier Alliance. LHENA rejected it on the grounds that it would have required upzoning the parcel from C1 to C4 (to match the business using the parking lot), raising the unwelcome possibility of a large number of non-motorized residents
Slack chat transcripts are the latest digital-age innovation in lazy neighborhood journalism. Only on wedgelive dot com.
johneapolis [11:59 AM] yang giving shout out to constance vork on a historic matter. yang seems like he just got back from eating too many sliders at lunch. can’t clear his throat. HOLD UP, blong tried to make this historic?
410 W Broadway
fishmanpet [12:12 PM] is that the kemps thing? kemps wanted to tear down some buildings and pave paradise and put up a milk truck parking lot or some junk
johneapolis [12:12 PM] parking lot is a reasonable thing to oppose but… not historic.
fishmanpet [12:13 PM] it’s one of those things where the goal is good but the city lacks the tools to do anything but make it historic it seems like it should be pretty easy to say “don’t tear down buildings for parking lots” in the code
johneapolis [12:14 PM] i know… or don’t put a one story drive thru bank in this particular area lol yang talking about the history of white castle:
“historically significant as an early example of a white castle restaurant opening during the first year of the franchise’s expansion from kansas to minneapolis and coinciding with the company’s greatest period of growth from 1927 to 1930. the building is associated with broad patterns of cultural development in minneapolis… it might be on its last leg, but it still has a leg”
fishmanpet [12:25 PM] wait blong said that? that’s amazing johneapolis [12:24] seeds of a blog post: “bad zoning regulations force us to make laughable arguments about historicalness” let’s be proactive here zoning reform now: please, won’t you save blong from embarrassing himself?
Master Properties is proposing to build 76 apartments and a grocery store at 2601 Lyndale, in the space currently occupied by a vacant lot and four houses. At last night’s meeting of the Whittier Alliance neighborhood association, developer Don Gerberding said he has an agreement in place for all six parcels, and he plans to complete the purchase by the end of February. When asked, he indicated the development proposal was not contingent on the involvement of the specific retailer currently attached to the project.
Unit types would include studios, one- and two-bedrooms, with sizes ranging from 500 to 1200 square feet. The building would have four stories, a grocery store at street level, fitness and party rooms, a rooftop terrace, and two levels of underground parking totaling around 160 stalls (60 spots allocated to Aldi, 26 for the French Meadow restaurant across the street, and the rest for residents). Renderings show the parking entrance at the south side of the building, off Lyndale Avenue. Gerberding said rents would go for around $2 per square foot.
Recent Streetview of the corner.
Gerberding somewhat hilariously tried (or pretended to try) to conceal the identity of the grocery store under a thin layer of white-out. Criticism of the project was largely focused on the fact that it would house a “corporate” chain, rather than an independent local store. Some pushed the idea that “the neighborhood” is united against any incursion by a national chain. Maybe this is in some document outlining the core principles of the Whittier Alliance, but that’s not the same thing as representing a substantial portion of the neighborhood.
The inflexible attitude came off as unbearably snobbish, especially when talking about Aldi, a grocery store famous for steep discounts. While Whittier is home to the Wedge Co-op, the majority of residents who shop elsewhere would be better served by some retail diversity. There are plenty of people in Whittier and surrounding neighborhoods for whom affordable food closer to home is a pretty welcome amenity.
Some attendees expressed a desire for more three-bedroom units, as a means of providing affordable options for families. To emphasize her preference for larger units, Whittier Alliance President Erica Christ said, “I don’t think anyone in Whittier has a hard time finding a one-bedroom.” The 20-something renter seated next to her quietly let her know that, actually he’d had just that problem. Christ also mentioned her desire to move the four houses rather than demolish them, while Gerberding was skeptical about the houses being worthy of salvage.
There’s something happening in the Lyndale neighborhood. Many people think of Lyndale as the Rhode Island of our tri-neighborhood area. And these people are right, so it’s not worth trying to understand or explain the underlying issues (something about 17 dwelling units and a parking crisis). So let’s go straight to the videotape.
Wells Fargo had their appeal granted at the Zoning & Planning Committee yesterday. The vote was unanimous to allow the new Lake & Humboldt Wells Fargo to exceed the parking maximum by eight spaces–for a total of 25. As a condition of the parking variance, the bank will need to commit to sharing their lot with the neighborhood or a local business during non-banking hours.
One neighbor, concerned about street parking, was there to testify that biking and busing for a bank employee or customer is “unrealistic.” She called out a collection of working-class heroes by name and described how they drive 2-3 miles to work from Linden Hills (camera pans to the brave faces of Adrian, Marsha, and Georgianne, presumably parked next to Michelle Obama). Not very shrewd of these folks to eschew a 13-minute bus ride in favor of enduring the daily Uptown a-park-olypse. (I enjoyed her testimony. Watch the video below.)
I can’t understand the argument that a bank will bring parking disaster to the neighborhood. Banks are open during banking hours. Banking hours coincide with the time of day that many residents, even non-bankers, will have driven their cars off to work and parked them in someone else’s neighborhood. Council Member Lisa Goodman seemed to be thinking along those lines when she asked the Wells Fargo representative what their plans were for the empty lot during off hours. Answer: keep it empty.
@MattyLangMSP@nickmagrino Saw a pedestrian taking out money from the drive-through ATM the other day. Would’ve made a great photo.
Council President Barb Johnson made the social engineering argument, saying we shouldn’t use the parking maximum to “force people to use a particular form of transportation.” I should remind you that Barb had no problem forcing people build more parking when she weakened reforms to parking minimum regulations last year. And then there was her usual anecdote about how hard it is to find parking on her Uptown shopping trips. You may remember last year when Barb griped about that one time she had to walk a block and a half in Ward 10.
Despite approving the extra parking, the committee was largely in agreement that this is a pretty terrible project for this location. “It needs density, it needs more than one story, and there’s way too much surface parking,” said Andrew Johnson. Lisa Bender described the sentiment she hears from the neighborhood association as a question of “how do we get this project to totally change into a different form that’s not a single story building surrounded by surface parking?” It’s too late for that. Uptown is stuck with this over-parked, single-story, drive-thru bank for decades.
Workers are currently gutting a 12-unit apartment building at 1207 West 25th Street, in preparation for a nearly $500,000 remodel. The building was purchased for just over $1 million by a Chicago company, Maven Real Estate Partners. The same company has permits to begin a similar remodel of the 22-unit building located at 1200 West Franklin, which they purchased for $1.7 million. Both buildings were purchased on July 21st, 2015.
I don’t know what the “Loon Express” sign is all about. I’m hoping for seven lanes of drive-thru falafels in the style of Wells Fargo. But more significantly, I think this proves a theory I’ve long had: if a fancy man wants to be your neighbor, he doesn’t always have to build new.