Dueling rezoning maps have Wedge residents on edge

One of the first neighborhood-wide rezonings in decades is coming to a heated end Monday, June 14 when the Planning Commission will vote on two potential Wedge rezoning maps -- one the city planning staff's and the other from a neighborhood task force.

The task force, made up of neighborhood residents and business owners, has worked with city planning staff for over a year on a map that they hoped would preserve the neighborhood's remaining large single-family homes.

However, task force members said they're outraged by the city's final map, which they say protects fewer than a dozen Wedge properties.

City Senior Planner Beth Elliott said the city's map reflects zoning principles outlined in the Minneapolis Plan, which governs city development.

Task force members will ask Planning Commissioners to either adopt their map, or no map at all -- saying they are better off with no change than the city staff's proposal.

History

Meg Tuthill, a 35-year Wedge resident who also owns Tuthill's Balloon Emporium, 2455 Hennepin Ave. S., said the neighborhood's problem started in the '60s and '70s when developers bulldozed Victorian-style houses to build cheaply constructed apartment buildings.

In 2002, a flurry of zoning requests to build more higher-density housing, led the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) to ask for a rezoning study.

City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) had said the study's original intent was to move higher-density zoning to the neighborhood's periphery -- on and near Hennepin and Lyndale avenues -- to make zoning more uniform and less splotchy. (The Wedge is bordered by Hennepin, Lyndale and Lake Street.)

The City Council halted most development that needed "upzoning" during the study. The study has already missed its one-year deadline, and Councilmembers have urged staff to wrap it up by July 23.

In April, Elliott presented the city's draft city map to the LHENA board. Board members who saw the map were incensed, saying that it still didn't encourage home preservation. Elliott maintained that the map was a draft that could still be changed.

However, after a series of meetings and e-mail exchanges, task force members say it was clear that the city wouldn't budge from its map -- so the task force made its own.

Dueling maps

The two maps differ dramatically.

The neighborhood map lowers the zoning for approximately 308 properties (the lower the zoning, the fewer housing units can be built there). The city map downzones 115 properties.

Task force members lowered zoning more aggressively, so if single-family homes or duplexes are destroyed, only single-family homes or duplexes could be put in their place. Task force members say the city didn't downzone enough single-family homes and duplexes.

Both maps rezone the neighborhood's interior, leaving Hennepin and Lyndale corridors high-density. However, the task force's map has a bigger interior than the city's.

Elliott said the city map is based on the Minneapolis Plan and city zoning principles, which stresses uniformity and consistency in neighborhood zoning. She said the city map is also considering future growth.

Task force Chair Steve Prince said the city map encourages development on single-family and duplex plots such as his. He lives in a single-family house on the 2500 block of Emerson Avenue, a half-block off Hennepin. His lot is now zoned R6 (the city's highest residential zoning that allows up to a six-story multi-unit building). The city's final map rezones the area to R4 -- which still allows up to a four-story multi-unit building to go up if Prince's house is ever torn down.

Elliott said some homes such as Prince's were zoned according to the original principle of allowing higher-density housing on the neighborhood's periphery. "We thought there were properties near Hennepin that could be redeveloped," she said.

Prince said the city's map only preserves 10 homes (downzoning them to the level where they could only be rebuilt as single-family homes or duplexes.) Such a low number doesn't meet the neighborhood's preservation goal, he said -- which is why task force members will tell the Planning Commission to choose the task force's map or nothing at all.

"We don't think it's worth it to take our one shot at rezoning in the past 40-years to address 10 homes," Prince said.

"I honestly feel we are worse off (with the city's map)," Tuthill said.

The Planning Commission will meet at 4:30 p.m. in the Jefferson School Auditorium, 1200 W. 26th St., for a public hearing and to vote on the rezoning maps.