Niziolek stops all Wedge development

Neighbors mostly thrilled by councilmember’s plan; developers split. The eventual goal is to move high-density housing to the neighborhood’s edges.

In late November, City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) put a moratorium on all development in the Wedge. Niziolek says the entire city is next.

Niziolek said the entire city must have a residential re-zoning because high housing density is concentrated where it shouldn’t be — in the center of the neighborhoods. "The concentration of higher density needs to be on the edges of neighborhoods," he said.

The moratorium, effective immediately, will halt further development in the Wedge for all projects that have yet to apply for variances. However, Niziolek said waivers can be applied for though the planning office.

He said the Wedge (also known as Lowry Hill East) is the perfect neighborhood to start residential remapping because of splotchy zoning throughout. That has caused development problems for residents and developers for a long time, he said.

Homeowner’s perspective

Meg Tuthill, a Lowry Hill East resident for 35 years, said in the 1960s and ’70s, many developers came into the neighborhood and bulldozed beautiful houses to build cheap apartment buildings; most are still scattered throughout the neighborhood today. "Our experience with developers in this neighborhood has not been positive," she said.

Tuthill said that losing houses to development isn’t the threat it once was, but up-zoning current properties — allowing more units in the same space — is. "Once you set the up-zoning, it will come back to bite you," Tuthill said.

She said realtors and developers, often from surrounding suburbs, look at the Wedge as a place for investment property, but don’t really care about the neighborhood. "Our properties cannot become cash cows," Tuthill said.

Although re-zoning the Wedge won’t change its current rental properties, she said it would stop new multi-unit buildings from being focused in the neighborhood’s interior.

Wedge homeowners David and Catherine Loy bought an old Victorian house in the neighborhood and restored it, putting a lot of care into their property, something they say a lot of developers don’t do. "People don’t seem to care about the neighborhood unless they live there," David Loy said.

Although Catherine Loy said she likes having rental properties in the neighborhood, because of the current zoning, the Wedge is too dense with housing units. "Make Kenwood more dense and see how well that goes over," she said.

Catherine Loy said the moratorium would give everyone a chance to study the current hodge-podge of zoning. "If there’s going to be more density, it’s a good idea to push it to the sides," she said.

Catherine Loy said to make the moratorium worthwhile, all Wedge residents have to get involved with the rezoning to keep the congestion from getting worse.

Developer’s perspective

Azzam Sabri, a private redeveloper in Lowry Hill East, said the moratorium will hurt housing development that is desperately needed in the inner city. Niziolek, Sabri said, "is actually putting practical life essentials on the shelf to make things cute."

Sabri said during his 32 years as a developer, the city has made it increasingly difficult to redevelop sites and make them look nice, recommending ugly materials. "They are not supportive of rental development," he said, "They just want to make another Kenwood."

Sabri said he feels frustrated because the councilmembers making these development decisions have no experience in design or development. "Gary Schiff was a women’s studies major in college, and Robert Lilligren was an usher at the Guthrie," he said. "What do they know about development?"

Developers should be left alone to be creative, Sabri said, and try to make more elegant and beautiful housing in the city, like in Europe, which has high-density housing, but makes it look good.

First-time developer John Parod thinks the moratorium is a good idea. He has only one property, at 2401 Dupont Ave. S. on the neighborhood’s edge, but said the Wedge’s zoning has caused him problems.

Parod’s building carries C1 zoning, allowing rental units and commercial uses. He wants to redevelop the property into a 16-unit apartment building with 16 spaces of underground parking, requiring at least an R5 zoning designation. The surrounding properties have varied zoning — some for high-density rental at R5, the level Parod is seeking, while others are zoned for much less density.

Parod said the varied zoning made it difficult to get neighborhood approval for his plans; it eventually took 11 months. "They have a Not-In-My-Back-Yard mentality," he said, "but there’s a need for redevelopment in the neighborhood."

Instead of a flat-out moratorium, Sabri favors a zoning overlay, which would allow carriage houses on top of garages. He said that would allow increased density, and improve safety by putting eyes toward the alleys. "Carriage houses are quaint looking and make up housing, so you don’t have to have so many apartment units in old houses," Sabri said.

The neighborhood group

Sonja Hayden, the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association’s Zoning and Planning Committee chair, said her group is working on comprehensive neighborhood zoning to help guide the remapping.

She said there is room for smaller neighborhood development and a new plan can give residents and developers a more solid idea of what to expect.

Niziolek said he is still getting started on the project and will be set up with a team in the city’s planning department shortly to devise a plan of action.

For more information contact: Councilmember Dan Niziolek, 673-2210, dan.niziolek@ci.minneapolis.mn.us; or

the Lowry Hill East NeighborhoodAssociation, 377-5023.