The Wedge aims to protect “critical properties”

Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association revives abandoned rezoning effort

Bryan Friess, left, and Bill Casey argue down-zoning may be necessary to protect "critical" Wedge properties from redevelopment. Credit: Kristin Lebben
Bryan Friess, left, and Bill Casey argue down-zoning may be necessary to protect "critical" Wedge properties from redevelopment. Credit: Kristin Lebben

THE WEDGE — A group of Wedge residents aims to revive a rezoning conversation in the neighborhood a decade after talks with city planners fell apart.

The goal now — to allow high-density redevelopment along the borders while protecting older homes in the neighborhood’s core — is the same as it was 10 years ago. But there’s an important difference: Today, one of their own has an office at City Hall.

“This neighborhood has been very, very open and welcoming to redevelopment, but what they’re asking for in trade-off is to preserve the older structures that we have,” said Meg Tuthill, Ward 10 City Council member who has lived in The Wedge for more than 40 years.

It was due in part to Tuthill’s prodding that Brian Schaffer, the city’s principal planner for Southwest neighborhoods, agreed to pick up where a predecessor left off and restart rezoning talks with the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association [LHENA] as soon as May.

The last effort ended in an acrimonious 2004 public meeting, one in which city planners presented one rezoning scheme and a neighborhood taskforce another. A yearlong moratorium on certain types of neighborhood redevelopment, put in place by the City Council during negotiations, expired around the same time.

Since then, developers have added hundreds of new apartment units to The Wedge — mainly in new buildings near the Midtown Greenway where neighbors generally support higher-density development. In making the case for rezoning, The Wedge has instead focused on “critical properties”: older structures situated on or near lots where zoning allows for much more intense land use, including four- to six-story apartment buildings.

Steve Prince, the leader of that early 2000s neighborhood taskforce, said there are more than 100 critical properties The Wedge. And in the middle of a Minneapolis apartment boom, they may look appealing to developers.

A catalyst

Back in 2003, a redevelopment proposal that reached into the neighborhood’s core catalyzed The Wedge’s push for a rezoning study. The same is true today.

Then, it was a developer’s bid to construct a 33-unit condominium at 24th & Dupont, replacing a mixed-use building and a duplex. That plan, which would have required a rezoning of two lots to R5 from R2B, was rejected.

In January, the LHENA Board of Directors drew their largest crowd of the year when they heard a proposal to demolish two properties on the 2300 block of Colfax Avenue South to make way for a four-story, 45-unit apartment building. The lots are zoned R6, so zoning isn’t an issue for the developers. But approval to demolish 2320 Colfax Avenue — identified by a neighborhood resident as one of 30 or so historic Wedge homes built by architect T.P. Healy — was held up pending an April 16 Heritage Preservation Commission public hearing.

The Great Recession hit in the years between the previous attempt at rezoning The Wedge and this current effort, but Prince said the Colfax proposal “was kind of what we predicted: When the economic conditions are right, we’re going to have these problems again.”

A neighborhood with texture

On a recent walk through The Wedge, LHENA board members Bryan Friess and Bill Casey stopped on Bryant Avenue South near Mueller Park to admire the block, one they both agreed was typical of the neighborhood.

A 1920s brick apartment building anchored the far end of the block, and another from that same era stood across the street, facing the park. Next door was a two-and-a-half-story walkup apartment building, one of two multi-unit buildings on the block dating from the 1960s. The rest of the structures were single-family homes and duplexes with welcoming front porches, many at least a century old.

“It definitely has a nice texture about it,” Casey remarked.

The mix reflects a half-century of zoning decisions dating back to 1963, when almost the entire Wedge neighborhood was up-zoned to R6, the most intense level of residential zoning. That was a period of so-called “urban renewal” in Minneapolis; just two years earlier, in 1961, downtown’s landmark Metropolitan Building was demolished.

“The city at that time was looking at making this [neighborhood] all multiple [unit] dwellings,” Tuthill said.

In the 1970s, Wedge residents — including Tuthill — were successful in getting large swaths of the neighborhood down-zoned to R2B, a level of zoning that allows for single family homes and duplexes.

She said the change “helped stabilize” the neighborhood after a decade when many homes were knocked down to make way for those 1960s-era apartment buildings. Property owners began to invest in the neighborhood again, restoring older buildings and converting rooming houses back into single-family homes — including four such conversions on Tuthill’s block.

Still, large patches of R6 zoning remain in The Wedge — particularly north of West 24th Street, where the lots also tend to be larger because there are no alleyways. And that makes many Wedge residents nervous.

Said Tuthill: “You’ve got bigger lots. You’ve got R6 zoning. It’s a real giveaway