It’s profit over livability in East Calhoun

An open letter to the residents of Minneapolis,

Concerned residents of the East Calhoun neighborhood are writing this letter because we are not only deeply concerned about what has happened in our neighborhood, but because it’s happening all over Minneapolis. City Council leaders are forcing one vision for the future of our city — density at all costs — and citizens are not getting a fair hearing at City Hall. There is a movement afoot to defund neighborhood groups, disenfranchising them from the decision-making process and systematically silencing whole communities in the city. The democratic process in our city government is tainted by a lack of transparency, lack of consensus building and a lack of compromise.

As an example, we want to call your attention to a recent decision made by the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee and to urge you to contact your Council member to voice concerns before the full Council votes on this decision Feb. 23.

Last month, the Planning Commission approved plans for a 317-unit development in East Calhoun that includes up-zoning a property to allow construction of a high-density building on a neighborhood street. The current zoning for the property was put in place to keep any building at a reasonable size and density as a transition from a busy commercial corridor to a two-story residential neighborhood. Up-zoning the property to allow high-density housing will eliminate the transition required by the Minneapolis comprehensive plan, which limits new developments on neighborhood streets to medium density, even if they are right next to high-density developments on commercial corridors.

East Calhoun Community Organization appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to the Zoning and Planning Committee, but last week the Committee denied the appeal, which means that up-zoning can occur to allow high-density housing where medium density is expected and to allow a residential street to be treated like a commercial corridor.

This development is not about affordable housing. According to the developer’s public statements, these are expensive apartments starting at $1,200 a month for a unit under 400 square feet. This project is about money — and profits for developers at the expense of neighborhoods. The developer’s request for up-zoning is not surprising, because the higher the zoning, the more money a developer can make. But the city does not owe this developer or any other developer an up-zoning to increase profit margins. There are many reasonable uses for this property under the current zoning. And if the City Council says yes to one developer, they risk getting sued by other developers who don’t get the same exceptions to the zoning.

If the Zoning and Planning Committee’s decision to deny ECCO’s appeal is upheld by the full City Council, it will set a terrible precedent for neighborhoods along commercial corridors all over Minneapolis. Residential neighborhoods near streets like Central, University, Nicollet, Franklin, Lyndale and Broadway will not be able to provide any buffers between their neighborhoods and high-density developments on their corridors.

We are simply a group of residents who value our neighborhood and who want to help ensure orderly growth based on established city policies and zoning. We are not resisting change, and we support density and development that follows the rules and policies of the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan and our small area plan. If you believe in community engagement, if you believe in your neighborhood having a right to be heard, we need to ask our City Council members to work with us, not silence us.

We are urging Minneapolis residents to ask their City Council members to grant ECCO’s appeal of the Sons of Norway project and deny any up-zoning. Please ask your council member not to sell our city short to benefit developers who are trying to maximize their profit margins at the expense of the livability of our neighborhoods.

ECCO Neighbors for Responsible Growth

Carol Dines, Sharon Cornejo, Jaana Mattson, Sara Wahl, Lara Norkus-Crampton, Heather Wulfsberg, Eric Wulfsberg, Tamara Kaiser, Erik Storlie, Christine Vincent, Jack Zipes, Mary Sabatke, Bruce Sabatke, Anja Bielinsky, Eric Hendrickson, Wesley Mattson, Barbara Mattson, Bobbie Keller, Anja Curiskis, Lois Hall, Dane Stimart

  • mattaudio

    “Livability” sounds like the thing that results when you build hundreds of new units of housing for humans to live in.

  • amiller92

    Lake Street. The “neighborhood street” is Lake Street.

    You know, the Lake Street that’s arguable the biggest arterial in the city.

  • Ben Osa

    I didn’t know this was up for a vote. I’ll be sure to contact my Council Member, Linea Palmisano, to make sure that she supports Up-zoning efforts across the city, but especially in Southwest Minneapolis.

    I welcome our new neighbors and all the things that they bring:
    – Increased tax base that helps pay for our deteriorating infrastructure
    – Additional eyes on the city streets to keep our neighborhoods safe
    – Diversity of people and ages
    – Sharing the city living for people who aren’t in the position to afford a $500,000 mortgage
    – A development that reduces water runoff into the city sewers as opposed to the current parking lot

    I think that the neighborhood associations have their place but have a history of disenfranchising non-home owners. How many of ECCO Neighborhood Association are homeowners? That will determine how they came to their position in this opinion piece. Hint: supply-and-demand has a direct correlates to single family home property values.

  • UptownFan

    Pretty sure they mean 31st St., which is definitely in the neighborhood. Five stories of height there, next to existing houses and duplexes that are 2 to 2/12 stories, is a pretty brutal transition into the neighborhood, and goes against the Uptown Small Area Plan approved by the City Council less than a decade ago. As to the previous poster, East Calhoun is roughly split 50-50 between renters and homeowners, and the ECCO board has typically reflected that proportion.

  • amiller92

    I’m pretty sure they meant to obfuscate on the location of the proposed building they are complaining about. Because that’s what they did.

  • UptownFan

    In my reading, this is quite clear: “The current zoning for the property was put in place to keep any building at a reasonable size and density as a transition from a busy commercial corridor to a two-story residential neighborhood.”

  • Sans Comedy

    More neighbors means more livability if you ask me.

    – More people means lower tax burden. Replacing devalued properties and surface parking with new developments increases the tax revenue from the same amount of land.
    – More eyes on the street increases safety. Fewer crimes of opportunity.
    – More development, especially in a booming area, helps keep existing apartment units from exploding in price as more people attempt to move into an area with finite supply.
    – Denser areas become better candidates for transit improvements, further increasing desirability
    – Denser areas bring more commercial opportunities with greater foot traffic, making it possible to do more without requiring a drive

    I mean, there’s a lot to offer, even before you get to stuff like “more people means more perspectives to prevent a neighborhood from becoming a hive mind.”

  • Jeff

    They might as well have said “We’ve got ours, go get yours somewhere else”.

  • peacekimi

    Buyers remorse. Ward 10 residents remember Bender in Nov. 2021.
    I was quite surprised she won by such a huge margin in 2017.

  • peacekimi

    You are totally being conditioned by UN A21 and are doing this by design or unknown ignorance.

  • amiller92

    It’s almost like rich homeowners who are afraid of more neighbors aren’t the majority, or something.

  • Drew Sanders

    The old boomers in the area are afraid of change and new neighbors, how surprising. How outrageous it is that a major city is growing and becoming dense! Good thing they have the suburbs they can run away to when “their” neighborhood changes too much for their liking.

  • Ben Osa

    Um, what’s human trafficking have to do with up-zoning city lots?

  • snyde043

    Perhaps the majority of other Ward 10 residents don’t share your views? Good thing we have this neat concept called democracy.

  • cpepin

    Actually we don’t have democracy in practice in Minneapolis–it’s an autocracy, ruled by the few who dismiss the many. And worse, the current City Council leadership pits people against each other–young against old (see the comment above about “old boomers”), homeowners against renters (see the comment above about “rich homeowners”) bikers against anyone who is not able to bike everywhere and still relies on cars. It doesn’t have to be this way–we are all in this city together, all of us wanting a livable city that is diverse and inclusive; and yet so many supporters of the current way of doing business in the city quickly descend into attacks and disdain for others whose views are just as valid as their own.

  • Heidi Kempcke

    New neighbors and increased diversity are always great.

    The challenge with this development is that the units are so expensive ($1200 for a unit <400 square feet!) that they cannot be considered affordable under any stretch of the imagination – so from an economic POV, they definitely will NOT increase diversity.

    It's about money for the developers, full stop. It also sets a bad precedent for the rest of the city w/r/t density when we don't have the infrastructure to support it.

  • peacekimi

    Do your own homework.

  • peacekimi

    “Old boomers” created Minneapolis vibrant neighborhoods. Maybe if you want density you can move to the suburbs that should please you the bike ride will be longer.

  • Carol Dines

    Carol Dines 9 minutes ago

    There are those who would like to paint our neighborhood as exclusive and resistant to change, but that’s not the case. We are simply trying to preserve a sense of community and maintain responsible growth around the lakes. Density at all costs does nothing to create affordable housing. Every time one of these high priced developments goes in, the rents in the neighborhood also go up. CPM just bought several old buildings on the Greenway and they are renovating them and jacking up prices. We don’t want to lose renters who are part of the community and will have to move because they can’t keep up with the escalating rents. Developers are feeling no pressure from our city council President Bender to build affordable housing in Uptown. She says that she can’t in good conscience build million dollar homes on this parcel, but that is her way of marginalizing neighborhood voices, voices she long ago stopped responding to. Instead she’s pushing for a billionaire developer to build for-profit apartments that will create more congestion, more spillover parking into the neighborhood, and create more dangerous conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists. We are a neighborhood that is 70 percent rental. And we are also a neighborhood that welcomes diversity. Our objection to up zoning on 31st is simply good urban planning, nothing less. Once one residential corridor is turned into a commercial corridor, it can happen all over the city. Anyone who reads about infill development knows that for it to be successful, it needs to fit the scale and character of the neighborhood. This development is about profit for the developer, capital for the city, and silencing the neighborhood that is impacted most. It’s a loss for all of us.

  • snyde043

    “Autocracy” (noun):
    a system of government by one person with absolute power.

    Please enlighten us as to who is the “one person with absolute power” in Minneapolis?

  • Ryan Txanson

    Yes, the development process has become so contentious that it even lead some lady to let air out of a contractor’s tire. You can’t make this stuff up!

  • Dane

    Hi Ben, I am 31 and live in ECCO now after living in Isles, downtown, and dinkytown. Thanks for sharing in the conversation about Up-zoning. I don’t believe though that we need to up-zone to achieve increased taxes, additional eyes, diversity, sharing in city living, and reduced water runoff, as I believe that can all be done with the current zoning which allows very reasonable development already. Currently ECCO is 50-70% rental by population now. I actually had to convert to a “condo-owner” (which there are almost none to buy in ECCO) from renting because I was sick to my stomach paying $1,300 a month which didn’t allow me to save or build equity in anything meaning retirement at any age was out of the question if I didn’t make a change. So – when you physically live here, you get a sense of who’s actually living here and what they are going through. We need more affordable opportunities in our neighborhoods to bring in teachers, students, artists, single families, families -Diversity, not just options for the wealthy and/or high paying jobs. I am first hand seeing these luxury rentals strengthening inequities in housing and gentrification in the heat of our cities – the exact opposite to what our Mayor wants. We need rentals in our neighborhood that are not starting at $1,200/mn for under 400 sq ft and we need small condos so you can build equity. However, if you’re a profit driven development firm or rental agency, you stack the “development equation” in your favor to maximize your margins by building as many small units as you can then rent them at the highest price – “this equation” does not have our (Minneapolis residents) best interest as a variable. Please, lace up those shoes, get out in our neighborhoods, and help us make this city desirable for all!

  • Dane

    Hi Jeff, I live in ECCO and am currently a small condo owner after renting for many years at high prices. ECCO is actually 50-70% renters, please understand this zoning debate is not binary with “ours” and “yours”. This is about a community that is seeing their neighborhood bought out to the highest bidder who then maximizes their margins by cramming as many small highly priced units in to maximize their profits. We, Minnesotans, the Bold North need affordable housing, in the heart of our city, not units that start at $1,200 for less than 400 sq ft. These high-priced rentals are strengthening inequities in housing and gentrification pushing many out– and we want diversity, opportunities for those that don’t make over 6 figures. Lace up those shoes Jeff and help us, all are welcome to be a part of the solution.

  • Dane

    Hi Drew, I live in ECCO and am 31. Ok, I’m no spring chicken, but I don’t think I classify as what you are generalizing the ECCO neighborhood as “old boomers”. This neighborhood is incredibly young, built of 50-70% renters. This article and this discussion is not about “Old” versus “Young”, it’s about thoughtfully managing a growing city so that it lasts for the long term, not just five years which might produce a few statistics allowing city officials to be promoted to the next ladder rung. Developers and rental management agencies have margins to hit and profits to increase, this is why they are strategically putting in as many units as possible (well beyond the reasonable amount already allowed in current zoning) at very high prices to rent, starting at $1,200 for less than 400 sq ft. They don’t care that you need wealth or high salaries to live in them, they don’t care that many people are having to move out (young and old) of our neighborhoods driving inequities and gentrification in the heart of our neighborhoods and city. Drew, lace up those shoes and come out and meet us!

  • amiller92

    Building fewer units, as these homeowner neighbors want, will not make them more affordable.

  • Dane

    Hi peacekimi. I live in ECCO but have also lived in Isles, downtown and dinkytown. Bender has not shown her face to our neighborhoods board meeting in 5 plus months (while this whole debate has been going on), and does not return our emails – how is this representation when she is proposing that our neighborhood is going to increase by 20%, and only for those that can afford huge monthly rent which will drive inequities in housing and gentrification pushing diversity out of the heart of our neighborhood and city. I will vote for representatives that listen to residents “at a minimum” to the same level that they listen to profit driven development firms and rental agencies that put their margins over the long-term interest of our communities and city.

  • amiller92

    You live in expensive houses and you’re resisting change. Res ipsa loquitor

  • amiller92

    The only things built by Boomers in Uptown are the new apartments people are always complaining about. Pretty much everything else was there when you arrived, built by prior generations and before restrictive zoning.

  • Dane

    Hi amiller92. I live in ECCO, but have rented in Isles, downtown, and dinkytown. Please note that ECCO is composed of 50-70% renters, many of them young professionals trying to make a start at life and paying down student loans. What many of them (ECCO residents) need is affordable housing, both rental and possibly homeownership/condos. This project with the cheapest rental apartment starting at $1,200 for less than 400 sq ft, is going to drive up all their rents and push them out driving inequities in housing and gentrification. Lace up those shoes amiller92, and come meet the real ECCO neighborhood!

  • amiller92

    Do you think saying the same thing repeatedly lends it greater credibility?

    Building fewer units will make rents here and in the in ighbohood go up, not down. If you actually care about affordability, you’re arguing for the wrong side.

  • Dane

    Hi amiller92, thanks for your comment. Do you have some data you can share that shows how the number of units built affects the affordability of each? We haven’t received that from the developer or city. We know that they are strategically making these with high cost luxury amenities, which directly drives up the cost to make, thus produces high rents. I wonder if we looked at it like this: we want X units at Y (affordable cost), then made a proposal that determined how to make them (probably without the luxury amenities), so it was more affordable to make and thus lower rent. Sons of Norway has existed for decades here without these extra 317 rental units, so I would imagine there is a curve that connects 0 to 317 that we can make to choose the right number of units to build at the right luxury (or lack of it) to promote affordability, or at least have 1 affordable unit?

  • Dane

    Hi ammiller92. I was just trying to engage in conversation with each of the comments owners, but thank you for jumping in-between conversations. Do you live in ECCO, or have you rented in or near it? I have, and it was continuously going up while new developments were coming in. I had to exit renting and buy a small condo because I couldn’t afford to rent anymore, and the newer options coming in were even more expensive than my old place I was renting. Maybe we can’t agree on the number of units for this project, but can we find middle ground about new developments coming in with luxury amenities that allow them to charge very high rents – why can’t they be built more reasonably and be priced more reasonably? I have a hunch it’s called margins and profits. Would love to see that data if someone has it!

  • amiller92

    You seem to be raising two issues that need to be considered seperately.

    The first is that you’d like something (affordable housing) to be built here other than what the property owner would like to build. You, we and the city don’t have the power to do that. The city could buy the property and impose that requirement, but not having done that it’s up to the property owner whether to build the type of housing they want.

    Recognizing that, the second question is whether building fewer units would cause the building owner to charge lower rents for those units. Of course it wouldn’t.

  • Dane

    Hi amiller92. Bullzeye – this is why we have thoughtfully created zoning for city lots! That is what guides the development as you are right we can’t tell them exactly what to do, but the outer limits of it such as size and density – which has a goal to promote affordable housing. Idk, amiller92 I appreciate the conversation, wish we had this dialog with our representative or the city. You seem engaged and passionate about uptown, so thank you! Let’s take care of this city, and all our people.

  • Morgan

    Sure, ECCO neighborhood has a lot of renters. How many of the board members are renters? How many people who spoke against the project at the public hearing were renters?

  • Dane

    Hi Morgan, are you a ECCO renter? Yes we had renters who not only sat in on all our city hall hearings but also spoke out to condemn these units that are starting at extraordinary rent costs of $1,200 for less than 400 sq ft. I was also a renter, but after several years of watching my rent go up all while massive high-end rentals were being built down the greenway and lake street, I got lucky and found a small condo to buy.

  • Dane

    Hi Ryan, thank you for your input into this discussion. I’d greatly appreciate any information you can share on details to “this is the most affordable these units on this piece of land can be”? I feel the only individuals with that kind of information are the developers, and they have not shared that with anyone?

    Some math: This project has 317 units with the cheapest starting at $1,200. That is over a staggering 4.5 million dollars a year in rent (now you adjust rent for the above first level units (assuming cheapest on ground), the slightly larger units that 390sq ft, you could maybe see that annual rent number jump to 10 million? In addition, Sons of Norway and many other new businesses will rent much larger spaces yearly, is that now 15-20 million year? Idk Ryan, I think this project has one mission only, giant cash vacuum managed by the Seattle apartment renting goliath Weidner. Until I see data, I believe we need this space to house affordable units to not only keep our current residents from getting pushed out from this for profit developments, but to allow new diversity in from those that aren’t making staggering salaries.

  • Dane

    Hi Ryan, thank you for the continued discussion on this. You bring up a valid concern on ownership. So why can’t this project be built to have a couple hundred small to medium condos sold for $150,000-$200,000 apiece? That would be about a $700/mn-$1,000/mn on a 30yr mortgage – thus filling the gap for first time or more affordable properties for owners in the area. I have a good assumption that it is again, profits. New condo sale margins are not as profitable for developers compared with sales to rental agencies who make annual annuity profits each year for unlimited perpetuity while they depreciate the higher uplift purchase price from developers over years.

    Whether it’s condos or apartments, the clear majority wants this land developed and compliant, however shouldn’t we strongly analyze who gets the benefit short term and long? Development was not the ECCO appeal push back, it’s over the luxury rental cost driving inequities in housing/gentrification, the extreme density, and the poor transition into established neighborhoods. All three of those, the developers strategically exceeded despite the sites current zoning (zoning which has won an award for excellence by the “pro-density” American Planning Association) unquestionably to maximize their profits for themselves – not Minnesota residents.

    This lot can be a responsible size, density, and cost effectiveness to build this great community for many many new diverse residents. Unfortunately, I fear big money is brain washing many with false promises of opportunity, when really, they know their projects will increase inequities and rent throughout our communities but they’ll be onto the next lucrative city by then to sustain their growth.

  • peacekimi

    I see homes up for sale around this project … it will be hard to sell them. I grew up on East Lake Calhoun but moved CIDNA the people over here are more community oriented. Our CC is Lisa G. and she always returns calls whether you agree with her or not she respects having a meaningful dialog on issues and goes to neighborhood meetings regularly.
    Look for a normal person to run against Bender… sooner the better.
    Sorry for what ECCO is going through.

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