I’ve been late to jump into the debate over potential land-use changes triggered by the proposed Minneapolis 2040 update to the comprehensive plan, now undergoing revision, mainly because of a mind full of mixed feelings.
Here’s where I’ve come down.
I regard zoning as one of the guarantees the city makes to homeowners when they invest in property. A zoning classification offers relative certainty that an investment won’t be undermined by, say, a rendering plant or an asphalt-mixing facility moving in next door. Zoning predictability promotes neighborhoods where property owners invest in improvements.
But the heart of the controversy over the 2040 plan isn’t factories next to houses. It’s multi-unit residences next to houses.
And in that context, I keep coming back to the 3900 block of Pleasant Avenue, where we’ve lived for 42 years this month. We bought our house because it had character and we could afford it.
When we sit on our open porch, we look across the street at a 1922 brick fourplex. Two doors down, there’s a ten-unit apartment. And several doors beyond that, there’s a duplex.
Otherwise, our block, developed largely before the adoption of modern zoning law, consists of single-family homes. They vary too. One neighbor’s house has an attic big enough to hold a square dance. Another resembles a shotgun-style house.
The extra density of our multi-family neighbors means we have 15 more households on our block. That sometimes means we need to park a few houses down the street if our alley parking spot holds the other car. But that’s the only drawback that comes to mind.
The landlords of the two apartment buildings on our block manage them well. One even lets me garden in the margins of the backyard. The fourplex provided a playmate for the girl next door. The caretaker of the bigger apartment solicited my landscaping advice.
Moreover, inflation has pushed our property to tenfold the price we paid for it. If my rental neighbors are holding down our property values, which I doubt, I’m all for that when I look at our property tax statement.
And those apartments are helping to keep my taxes lower. The fourplex pays twice the property tax bill we pay. The 10-unit building pays well over quadruple our bill.
I think about that experience when opponents of the 2040 plan hyperventilate about the idea of taller buildings along busier streets or allowing fourplexes into blocks dominated by single-family homes. They could talk to my neighbors who bought a single-family house sitting between the two apartments.
Fourplexes may unnerve some people. But so can an unwelcome monster-sized single-family house that pops up next door to shade your yard. Or the turnover of the house next door. That happened to us after 25 years; it turned out just fine when a pleasant educator moved in.
The single-family six-room rentals that a real estate developer plopped down more than a decade ago in North Minneapolis were far more deleterious for the neighbors than the seven fourplexes on a bus route a block from us.
If the goal of increasing density with fourplexes is affordability, an affordability requirement for one or more units could be built into the zoning permission. If it’s simply density, one way to calm the neighbors would be to require an owner-occupant.
If there’s fear of six-story housing among those on the blocks adjoining, require that units be stepped to maintain solar access. Those blocks likely already have spillover parking from stores or offices.
But can we stop the fear-hyping about bulldozing neighborhoods?
No one can bulldoze your home unless you decide to sell it. The same is true of your neighbors’ properties.
If you decide to sell, and if maintaining the character of the block is important enough that you’re willing to cut the pool of potential buyers, add a deed restriction that requires that the property remain in single-family use.
Otherwise, welcome your new neighbors. And don’t forget to invite them to the block party.