Last September, Council Member Lisa Bender’s office held an informational meeting regarding a proposed Lowry Hill East historic district. It was a homeowners-only affair, intended for those whose properties would be included, though there were plenty of party crashers: eager homeowners from outside the proposed boundaries, a guy from Kingfield, and at least two renters.
I showed up late, right about the time it devolved into a sort of call and response routine; people were slapping each other on the back over their very, very historic properties (Hey Joe, I don’t see your house on this map, it’s pretty historic… Yeah and what about Bill, his beautiful home isn’t on here either). Our former Council Member was there to suggest that City Planner John Smoley take a historic drive-by on the 2400 block of Aldrich. It was an amazing scene (in 2017, this publication will be endorsing whichever Council candidate promises to hold the greatest number of wildly entertaining historic district info sessions).
Earlier this month, Bender officially nominated the Lowry Hill East Residential Historic District. This was followed late last week by an article in which former Council Member Tuthill says it would have been preferable to put the historic district in areas with many fewer historic homes: “I’m much, much more concerned about the protection of the housing stock north of 24th Street and south of 26th.”
In the same article, former Tuthill aide and current LHENA President Leslie Foreman describes the desire of some neighborhood residents to expand the historic district as far south as 28th Street. I can confirm the accuracy of this statement because the guy directly behind me at the September meeting was muttering “the whole damn Wedge” in response to Smoley’s question about the preferred composition of the historic district.
[As long as we have the recently departed Tuthill campaign weighing in, it would be nice to hear why they didn’t historicize and/or rezone the neighborhood during their term (has anyone been able to figure out what they were working on from 2010 to 2014?). All the talk over the last year gives the impression of a neighborhood on the brink; you’d think these guys never had a friend at City Hall.]
Some of the dissatisfaction with this proposal has to do with the fact that the included properties, while certainly the most deserving of historic status, are already zoned R2 (low density, two-family district). New development isn’t a threat in this area. For the anti-density folks, this historic designation won’t solve their problem; it just means a bunch of regulatory headaches for homeowners, without any of the desired downzoning-like side-effects.
The blocks contained within this historic district were rezoned to low-density in 1975; this is true of most of the neighborhood south of 24th Street. LHENA, which was formed in 1970 to advance the cause of downzoning, declared victory. The northern part of the neighborhood, however, remains an area of high density zoning, which explains the current obsession with the idea of a North Wedge Historic District (Save the apex from R6!). Rezoning the north Wedge is the final piece of unfinished business in a 45-year battle against apartment buildings (and their resident dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and motorcycle gangs).
Everything was so explicit back then.
R6 zoning (dark green) dominates the north Wedge. Kitty cats added for effect.
Aside from zoning-related geography, there’s a strategic reason for the anti-development crowd to be skeptical of this historic district: putting all your nicest old homes in one basket could mean losing the leverage to cram a bunch of undeserving properties into some future Super-Sized Wedge Historic District. That dynamic helps explain why a nearly identical historic district plan died in 2008 amid neighborhood concerns, reported in the Wedge newspaper, “that acceptance of this proposal could limit future possibilities for expansion.”
This is not to say the proposed district doesn’t have its share of fans. Council Member Bender has indicated the response from affected homeowners has been largely positive. And despite the desire of some residents for a far larger historic district, the LHENA Board put their symbolic weight behind the nomination last week. The organization has also formed a “historic” committee, which will no doubt have expansion on its agenda long into the future.
Tuthill and her husband, Dennis, moved to the Wedge over 40 years ago, a time when older homes were being demolished and replaced by two-and-a-half story walkup apartment buildings. Now, she’s concerned redevelopment could make the neighborhood less bike and pedestrian friendly.*
As a non-driver who walks to quite a few public meetings, my long-time neighbors tell me that traffic and parking in Lowry Hill East is a nightmare (and I believe them, because their calves appear dangerously atrophied from hours of sitting in traffic and waiting for a prime spot to open up). On the other hand, everyone can agree that it’s a great neighborhood for biking and walking. It’s the kind of place that tends to repel the car-centric, while attracting quite a few avid pedestrians and cyclists. It’s a major neighborhood selling point.
Contrary to Meg’s theory, this dynamic is good for safety. Studies show that drivers are “less likely to collide with a person walking and bicycling when there are more people walking or bicycling.” This is attributed to “behavior modification by motorists when they expect or experience people walking and bicycling.” As a result, I’m pretty enthusiastic about how my new neighbors will impact my personal well-being.
Sponsored Content: Let’s reinforce this positive dynamic by ditching parking minimums. The City should allow new apartment buildings in neighborhoods like ours to cater to residents who’d rather forego the expense of parking the car they don’t own. I hope Meg reconsiders her position on strict parking minimums when she understands the effect it will have on cyclists and pedestrians.
Allocating LHENA’s money pot on Nov. 19th, 2014. The math didn’t add up.
Three months ago, at a community vote, LHENA added need-based criteria to some unusually generous (forgivable) home improvement loans. The Healy Project faction of the Board was not happy with this change, which seemed like a good sign.
According to a member of LHENA’s NRP Committee (speaking at last night’s Board meeting), last November’s changes have created a technical issue with the “exterior” loan. This particular loan has one set of terms for low-income property owners (forgivable), and another set for higher earners (not forgivable). As a result, the company servicing the loan says they can’t do it as written. You could solve this, says NRP Guy, by splitting the loans apart. It’s pretty simple: instead of one loan, you have two.
This sounds like an easy fix to a technical problem. But I get the sense from NRP Guy that he’s got an issue with the spirit of last November’s changes to the loan program. As initially written, these weren’t loans; they were gifts. Three months ago, I made an argument for attaching the loans to financial need. To illustrate my point, I pointed to the 2400 block of Bryant Ave, with many homes approaching $500k, including one house that was selling for $1.2 million at the time (I should note the skepticism of Board Member Bill on this point, as well as the general tone from a few others that homeowners are victims of their 100-year old money pits).
But last night, NRP Guy had a different take on the same neighborhood home price dynamic. He says the presence of all these $400k-plus homes means it’s too hard/impossible to target low-income homeowners for participation in the loan program. Maybe I’m willing to entertain that argument; but if it’s the case that Lowry Hill East has no needy homeowners, let’s move all these loans to 3% interest (including the 0% “historical” loan).
CARAG… more like CARAZY. I’d sooner let my Healy mansion rot than pay 3%.
NRP Guy says he wants “positive ideas” for fixing this loan program at the next meeting. NRP Guy also says he reads my blog; this is awesome because my sanity won’t let me attend anymore monthly meetings. If you’re reading this, NRP Guy, here’s my idea…
The 2-3 4-Point Plan
If LHENA wants to be generous, only make loans forgivable for homeowners in need.
Deciding to own a difficult-to-maintain museum/house, or displaying a yard sign proclaiming your victimhood (IRRE-PLACE-ABLE) are both insufficient proof of financial need.
You may have heard of the house controversy that’s rocking Lowry Hill East. But unless you’re a house superfan, you probably have no idea what it’s about. With the demolition of 2320 Colfax nearly upon us, here’s a handy timeline to get you up to speed on Orthghazi.
1895: First house fire. Repairs performed by T.P. Healy.
Post-WWII: 2320 Colfax is converted from single-family into a boarding house, a condition which will annoy neighborhood homeowners for over half a century (until 2014, when “Save the low-income boarders” becomes a disingenuous rallying cry).
Healy descendants pose in historically accurate late-70s costumes.
1991: A second fire inflicts significant damage on 2320 Colfax. T.P. Healy, demolished by heart failure in 1906, was unavailable for repairs; he would have been a historical 147 years old.
2007: The owner of 2320 Colfax, Mike Crow, puts his house on the market. 2008: Future Minneapolis City Planner John Smoley earns an advanced college degree, a credential he will later wield to destroy history.
Oct. & Nov. 2012: The developer makes two presentations before the neighborhood regarding an apartment proposal at the site of 2320 Colfax. The developer decides to build within the zoning code, and not seek any variances. This fact, combined with the City’s determination that 2320 Colfax is not historic, paves the way for demolition.
Mar. 2013: CPED issues a demolition permit for 2320 Colfax. Anders Christensen (a long-time neighbor and friend of Ward 10 Council Member Meg Tuthill) appeals this decision to the City’s Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC).
Apr. 2013: HPC rules in favor of Anders Christensen’s appeal, declaring 2320 Colfax a historic resource.
May 2013: 2320 Colfax’s owner, Mike Crow, appeals HPC’s decision to the City Council.
May 24, 2013: Tuthill and her Council colleagues vote 13-0 to uphold the HPC decision (please note: this was an innocent time before the notion of aldermanic privilege).
Nov. 5, 2013: Despite an endorsement from HGTV’s Nicole Curtis, incumbent Council Member Meg Tuthill loses in a landslide to Lisa Bender. Tuthill is the founding mother of LHENA, with a history in the neighborhood that goes back to the early 1970s. Neighborhood long-timers are deeply crushed.
Feb. 3, 2014: Less than a month after Bender’s swearing in, the Facebook action heats up. Minneapolis Residents for Responsible Development Coalition (MRRDC) is founded by an anonymous neighborhood association board member. Thus begins a brutal campaign of kitchen sink NIMBYism (anti-gentrification; worry about future ghettos; too much parking; not enough parking; materials are too cheap; rents are too high). Facebook dissent is weeded out with a merciless use of the ban function.
Mar. 14, 2014: Anders Christensen reveals that City Planner John Smoley’s fancy college degree is actually just a Ph.D. in Missile Silos. An embarrassed (probably) John Smoley takes his revenge by engaging in a campaign of lies (allegedly) to destroy 2320 Colfax, all from his base of operations in a fourth-ring suburb.
Mar. 23, 2014: A group with an even longer acronym, MRRSVLD, is founded as a satirical counterpoint to MRRDC. It takes months for most people to sort out who’swho.
Apr. 2014: More than a week of candle-light vigils for the house at 2320 Colfax are capped by a guest appearance from home improvement icon Nicole Curtis. This event also serves as a posthumous campaign rally: recently defeated former Council Member Meg Tuthill is caught on video tutoring Curtis on the finer points of Minneapolis politics.
Nicole Curtis’s dog’s eyeballs escape the vigil with only minor burns.
Apr. 22, 2014: MRRDC coins the phrase Bendrification. Meanwhile, chemists at MRRSVLD invent the muscle cream Bender-Gay(For when your muscles are tired from destroying the neighborhood™).
Oct. 18, 2014: 2320 Colfax’s owner hires a contractor to perform asbestos abatement without the proper permit for work on a Saturday. Former Council Member Meg Tuthill and other neighbors are not happy. Pictures are taken of at least one worker’s ID card and posted to Facebook (since deleted). Meg is reported to have said to the workers (and I’m not making this up): “I’m the Council Member!” The workers leave and return another day.
Oct. 19, 2014: Word of the previous day’s dust-up reaches Nicole Curtis, who calls out Lisa Bender (blaming Bender both for a homeowner’s permit oversight, and the disappointing 2013 election results). 700,000 Facebook fans from across the country are suddenly very unhappy with Lisa Bender.
Dec. 18, 2014: HGTV personality Nicole Curtis boasts of her generosity in funding (at a cost of $102) The Healy Project’s last-ditch attempt at a temporary restraining order to stop the demolition. Once again, the judge rules against them.
Feb. 7, 2015: Healy Project videographer Ezra Gray publishes the following post to Facebook. Anders and Trilby go on record, liking the post.
Feb. 9, 2015: Robin Garwood (a Bender supporter and aide to Council Member Cam Gordon) publishes a powerful indictment of The Healy Project and their allies, claiming they are analogous to the Tea Party circa 2009. Among other things, he cites their knee-jerk rejection of nearly everything Bender proposes. Garwood also notes that members of The Healy Project sent emails to the City Council in defense of the above Facebook post, with at least one person using the phrase “Je suis Charlie” (because, if you defend yourself from a weirdly disgusting and completely unfounded accusation of corruption, the terrorists win).
In the comments of his post, Garwood makes the case that, despite the constant references to corruption and lies, The Healy Project doesn’t have their facts straight.
Curtis claims to have been sent “disturbing” emails written by Council Members Andrew Johnson and Lisa Bender. At Johnson’s request, Curtis promises to release them. At the time of writing, she still hadn’t released the emails.
About a week ago, a person (whose identity I am withholding) sent me a series of emails. I was surprised to see that these emails were CC’d to various neighborhood and City officials, including Robert Thompson of the Neighborhood and Community Relations department (NCR).
I’m withholding the content of this person’s emails pending NCR’s investigation of my Tweets. In consultation with Yahoo! Answers I’ve decided my reply to those emails can be published without placing me in legal jeopardy.
Subject: Re: Public Tweet From: John Edwards Date: 2/5/2015 7:40 PM To:████
I have copied Governor Mark Dayton so he can join the conversation. I hope you don’t mind.
First of all, thanks for repeatedly emailing me Twitter Is Public as a PDF attachment. After a virus-scan and careful reading of that article, I have decided my Tweets will remain public, though I do appreciate the instructions for how to make them private.
You have now sent me four emails in 24 hours regarding this nonsense; that’s too many. You should know that since you’ve begun CC’ing multiple City officials, these emails are subject to public request under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. This means it’s possible that someone will publish them to Twitter (which is public by the way) and make you look silly.
One last thing: I am willfully misinterpreting your reference to parking-related homicides as a threat on my life, and I will now be CC’ing Chief Harteau on all future emails.
Minutes later I received a reply informing me that “Your interpretation my email is your right.” Chilling. There were no further emails or PDF attachments.
This weekend, HGTV personality Nicole Curtis renewed her efforts to save 2320 Colfax by encouraging her nationwide fan-base to email the entire Minneapolis City Council. Unfortunately, her far-flung fans have been misinformed by months of error-riddled Facebook rants (seemingly banged out on her iPhone with a hammer). It’s only a slight exaggeration to say most of them believe 2320 Colfax was stolen from Nicole after she inherited it from her great-grandfather T.P. Curtis. Here’s a sampling of the kinds of things the City Council will find in their inboxes Monday morning, courtesy of Rehab Nation.
A healthy distrust of government institutions. Maybe we should knock it all down and start over? But really though, Minneapolis is kinda lucky.
Do it for the ones with an unbreakable bond to a city they might one day visit. Give it a drive-by. You’ll love it. But they’re not all rural types. Check out the civic pride on this city-dweller. Don’t select Lisa Bender in your Fantasy Electoral Draft. Get these motherf-ing snakes off my motherf-ing email! I dunno about President… what about Nicole 2017?
24/7/365 livestream of my forever unused parking spot.
My apartment comes with a parking spot. I don’t use it, but I pay for it. My apartment, my parking spot–it’s a package deal. It sits empty through spring, summer, and fall. Sometimes a parking scofflaw appropriates my spot as their own (this happens rarely). But I don’t care, because I don’t need it. In the winter my parking spot fills with snow, and management posts a sign that says move your car, we’re plowing the parking lot. Lucky me, I never worry about having my car towed, because I don’t own one. Still, I pay my share for the plowing.
Aside from the ample parking, my building is pretty no-frills. It doesn’t provide every unit with a bicycle or a bus pass. Those are the kinds of amenities that might entice me to choose living in a building that offered them. Even though I support the idea of a 1:1 bike to bedroom ratio, it’s probably a bad idea for Minneapolis to mandate bicycle minimums for new development. The same goes for parking.
This isn’t to say that I expect everyone in my building, or my neighborhood, to go car-free. Allow me to modify a metaphor previously made famous by Nick Magrino: If Minneapolis abolished a hypothetical law mandating a Keurig minimum, I wouldn’t interpret that as anti-Keurig, but rather giving people the freedom to choose whether they want to own a Keurig (and relieving them of the obligation to buy those expensive K-cups). You could still choose to own one. But my neighbors–one of whom drinks coffee by the potful and another who doesn’t drink coffee at all–wouldn’t be required to subsidize the bulk purchase of 40 Keurigs for the entire building.
Strict parking minimums make the assumption that everyone is living the same car-dependent lifestyle, thereby spreading the cost of car ownership to people who don’t own cars. This should trouble anyone who cares about housing affordability. Fortunately, Council Member Lisa Bender has a plan to ease parking minimums, and the costs that go with them (hint: it’s far more than the price of a Keurig):
Underground parking costs up to $25,000 per stall to build, [Developer Ross Fefercorn] said, and requires the accompanying development to have a larger footprint. It also raises taxes, maintenance and insurance costs.
“If you can build a building without underground parking and you have residents who will live in it, your cost of building the project is greatly reduced,” Fefercorn said. “You pass on the savings to your tenants.”
Based on some of the reaction in certain local comment sections, you’d think this was a proposal to prohibit car ownership. It’s not. Neither is this a proposal to prohibit the construction of more parking (though I once listened in admiration as Council Member Lisa Goodman sang the virtues of a parking maximum on Channel 79). This proposal is only about easing the parking minimum in transit-friendly areas of Minneapolis.
No matter what happens with this proposal, developers will continue to include lots of parking in many of their new projects. Just like they’ll continue to offer gyms and dog parks; these are amenities that certain people want, and somehow it is provided to them without regulating dog park minimums. Car storage is likewise an amenity that a lot of people will continue to expect, meaning there’s unlikely to be a parking shortage anytime soon.
Parking has a cost, just like a gym or a dog park. While shopping for housing it would be nice to have the freedom to choose how much parking you need and, more importantly, how much parking you can afford.
On January 12th, the Whittier Alliance held a tense and somewhat controversial meeting for the purpose of amending their bylaws. Among the more contentious aspects of the new bylaw language was the section giving the Whittier Alliance’s Board of Directors the power to screen Board candidates according to subjective criteria. A clause was also added to require Board candidates to have been a member of the organization for at least six months (membership is typically activated by signing in at a meeting).
It should be noted that the Whittier Alliance was improperly screening candidates prior to this change in their bylaws. Last March, a number of Whittier residents complained to the city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR) department regarding the neighborhood’s election process. In June, NCR sent the Whittier Alliance a letter, admonishing them for screening candidates and other infractions–like closing registration almost an hour before the election’s scheduled start, denying eligible voters the chance to cast a ballot.
Whittier Alliance’s old language is typical of the vast majority of Minneapolis neighborhood organizations. The new, more restrictive language passed 40-16.
There were quite a few people at last week’s meeting who were eager to suggest amendments. Unfortunately, the first person called on by Board Chair Erica Christ was a Robert’s Rules ninja, and the new bylaws were adopted without a single amendment having the chance to be heard. One older woman explained her support of the new restrictions by alluding to an unspecified neighborhood that had its bank account drained by some unspecified people.
(Obligatory note for those who might say these changes are justified by a certain disruptive individual: Amending bylaws in a way that restricts participation seems, at best, a misguided solution to a legitimate problem, especially in light of Whittier’s election issues last year.)
Whittier Alliance’s Executive Director Marian Biehn says the new language is common among non-profit groups. In the wake of this meeting, I read (okay, methodically skimmed) the bylaws of 70 Minneapolis neighborhood organizations (results here). The comparison shows that Whittier is one of the few neighborhood groups with highly restrictive election procedures.
Comparison of Neighborhood Organization Bylaws
Among the small number of Minneapolis neighborhoods with unusually exclusionary election processes, all have large minority and/or renter populations. This would seem to exacerbate the existing problem of unrepresentative neighborhood organizations.
Of the 70 Minneapolis neighborhood organization bylaws surveyed:
62 neighborhoods have no length of membership requirement to be eligible to run for a leadership position.
Six neighborhoods have length of membership requirements of 30 days or longer before you can run for a leadership position. All six are high renter, high minority, or both.
Three neighborhoods require candidates to have been a member for 6 months or longer: Whittier (6 months), Prospect Park (1 year), and Marcy Holmes (6 months). Each of those neighborhoods have high renter populations (83%, 74%, and 84%).
The Whittier Alliance is the only neighborhood whose bylaws contain anything resembling this sort of subjective qualification for Board candidates: “shall not have committed an act of malice or defamation against the Whittier Alliance or any member of the Board of Directors or otherwise disrupt the aims and purposes of the corporation.”
The Jordan Area Community Council has the most onerous attendance requirement for leadership candidates (must attend 3 meetings over the last election cycle). Interesting fact about Jordan: The neighborhood was 64% white in 1990; today it’s 16% white.
Whittier and Jordan are among seven neighborhood organizations that prohibit candidate nominations on the day of elections.