Council committee votes to lift teardown moratorium

Full Council votes on the issue April 11


The City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee voted April 3 to lift the one-year moratorium on teardowns in southwest Minneapolis and approve a compromise plan requiring builders to agree to a new construction management agreement.

The moratorium will remain in place until the full Council votes on lifting it April 11.

The new Minneapolis Residential Construction Management Agreement requires builders to agree to a list of 25 conditions that regulate work hours, noise, dumpster use and makes builders accountable for damage to public property, among other things. People planning teardowns are also required to notify neighbors within 300 feet of the property of project plans at least 15 days before construction starts. 

The agreement is a citywide policy and applies to all “unoccupied construction projects involving the wrecking, new build, or major remodeling of one- and two-unit dwelling structures,” according to a motion by Council Members Linea Palmisano (Ward 13) and Kevin Reich (Ward 1).

The motion also directs city staff to identify additional resources to step up enforcement of the city’s regulations at construction sites.

Palmisano introduced the teardown moratorium March 7, which was unanimously approved by the Council, in an effort to get a handle on the onslaught of new residential construction in Ward 13. Teardown and rebuild projects have been a source of major frustration for residents.

It applies to Armatage, Fulton, Kenny, Linden Hills and Lynnhurst.

While many residents have supported the moratorium, it has also faced intense criticism from builders and real estate agents, among others, who have criticized it for being a blunt instrument for a nuanced problem.

“These are big changes that we’re considering,” Palmisano said at the April 3 hearing. “This construction is intense, and these conservations are uncomfortable because they are often so personal. The issue is serious and what I am heartened by is that almost everybody agrees that these are big problems and are not just temporary nuisances.”

She added that the proposed policy changes will have an impact on the environment.

“This is something that reflects our values from southwest Minneapolis, which are strongly about achieving a zero waste city and strongly about investing in our housing stock, but doing so in an environmentally sensitive way and one that sets us up for the future in the single-family home environment,” she said.

When interviewed after the hearing, Palmisano said she’s proud of all the work that’s been done by city staff and stakeholders to come up with new guidelines for builders. She predicted it would have taken three years to get to a similar place without the interim moratorium because there would have been a lack of urgency for stakeholders to respond and collaborate with the city to address the problems raised by poor construction management. 

The requirements listed in the new construction management agreement came from complaints raised by residents and suggestions from developers and builders who are active in the ward, she said. Builders who fail to comply with terms of the agreement are subject to fines or an immediate stop work order. 

Curt Gunsbury, owner of Minneapolis-based Solhem Companies, which focuses on green infill developments, worked on the new construction site agreement. He said about a third of the conditions are new requirements for builders, adding he’s pleased to see requirements for neighbor notification, improved site maintenance, erosion control and a mandate for builders to stick to plans approved by the city.

Gunsbury, however, said he has some concerns about how the new requirements will impact the cost of projects, particularly for builders working outside of the city’s wealthy neighborhoods. 

In coming weeks Palmisano plans to push for higher fines against builders who violate city regulations. Policy changes recommended by community focus groups are also expected to come before the Council in June. 

City Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) commended Palmisano for her leadership on the issue and agreed that the city needs to do a better job of policing the construction sites.

“You found a way to do something about these problems that we have been facing,” she said. “The people who live there have the right to speak up about their point of view and I’m glad they have. I think we have a solution that does not create a regulatory hammer but does create a regulatory framework where we are going to do something about these problems.”

The Builders Association of the Twin Cities was involved in drafting the new construction management agreement. The association released a statement after the hearing applauding the committee’s action: “This partnership with the city has paved the way to lift the moratorium and get our members back to work. Today’s committee action is a positive step for BATC members, but a final vote remains on April 11 when the full City Council will vote on whether or not the moratorium should be lifted.”

Julia Parenteau, government affairs director for the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, also said she was encouraged by the committee’s actions. 

“We are grateful for the efforts everyone — Council, staff, industry, neighbors — has made in the past two weeks to really get on a path to making the infill development process better in Minneapolis,” she said. “I think residents throughout the city will appreciate the innovation and collaboration that is going to come out of the ongoing process, and Minneapolis will have a better quality of life for it.”