City to study Harriet-area historic district

Tract in Lynnhurst, East Harriet could get historic protection

Minneapolis is studying whether a 15-square-block area immediately east of Lake Harriet merits designation as a historic district.

The Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) directed city planners on July 30 to conduct the study as part of a motion denying a Lynnhurst couple’s request to raze a 111-year-old house in the area. Their motion gave the area temporary status as a historic district.

A permanent historic designation would mean the area’s 218 homeowners would need HPC approval before adding onto or demolishing their houses or making any significant exterior changes.

Harriet-area historic district
Harriet-area historic district

It would not stop them from making changes, Ward 13 City Council Member Linea Palmisano wrote in a letter to area homeowners, but it would require that alterations be “compatible with surrounding properties.” The designation does not generally cover interior changes.

Historic districts are areas with a concentration of buildings unified by past events or architecturally significant design, according to the State Historic Preservation Office. Minnesota law gives local heritage preservation committees the authority to establish them.

The law doesn’t require homeowners in historic districts to fix up their properties, according to the Historic Preservation Office. Some cities have ordinances to prevent homeowners from deliberately letting a building deteriorate.

Minneapolis has 18 historic districts, including four in Southwest Minneapolis, and has identified 51 areas as potential historic districts, according to John Freude, a Palmisano policy aide. Potential Southwest districts include the areas surrounding Minnehaha Parkway, Lake of the Isles and a significant portion of Tangletown, among others.

The Lake Harriet area was identified as a potential district in 2005. It’s bordered by 42nd Street to the north, 48th Street to the south, Dupont Avenue to the east and Lake Harriet to the west.

A 2005 report from Mead & Hunt, a Bloomington consulting firm, said members of nine prominent families, including Maude Armatage, developed a small part of the area in 1893. Subsequent development attracted wealthy Minneapolis citizens, including bankers and city officials.

City staffers reported in July that the area appears to retain “good integrity” as a collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century homes. They said the Lynnhurst couple’s home, located on the 4600 block of Emerson Avenue, contributes to the potential district’s integrity.

At the HPC meeting, the Lynnhurst couple said the existing house hasn’t been properly maintained, isn’t structurally sound and has a failing foundation. They said the cost of renovating and reengineering would “far exceed” the cost of new construction.

HPC members and city staffers disagreed with the homeowners on the severity of the existing issues. Senior City Planner Lindsey Silas said there are “reasonable alternatives to demolition, and HPC chair Ginny Lackovic, an architect and historic preservation specialist, said most of the issues presented were “issues of general maintenance.”

Multiple nearby residents spoke against the potential demolition and in favor of the study. One said tearing down a house means “tearing down the integrity of the entire neighborhood,” while another said the neighborhood has a “historical feel.”

Architect Mohamed Lawal, who lives next to Lake Harriet, spoke against the study, calling the potential historic designation “elitist.” He asked why other areas aren’t being considered as potential historic districts and said the requirements would limit how people can renovate their homes.

Preserve Minneapolis board member Richard Kronick, who reviewed the staff report, said he agreed with the HPC decision. He said he didn’t think the new house, as proposed, would have fit the existing neighborhood context.

The historic-designation study will take up to a year, according to Freude, who said historic districts often are smaller than study areas. Homes in any historic district will still be subject to Minneapolis 2040 and its zoning designations, he said.