Lynnhurst historic district advances over homeowners’ objections

proposed historic district

A plan to designate a cluster of 66 Lynnhurst houses as a local historic district has been advanced to the City Council over objections that it would be a burden on homeowners and that the city shouldn’t celebrate neighborhoods from where people of color have been excluded.

The Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) voted 6-3 on June 23 in favor of the designation, which would require homeowners to preserve many of their homes’ original exterior features.

While specific requirements have not yet been outlined, design guidelines would likely mandate the preservation of original windows, doors, masonry cladding and decorative trim, among other features.

The 66 houses, built mostly between 1893 and 1937, are on Emerson, Fremont and Dupont avenues between 46th and 48th streets. They all are worth at least $513,000, according to city property records.

Eleven of the 12 homeowners who spoke in two public hearings said they were opposed to the designation, and 19 of the 20 who wrote comments to the city said they were against it.

The homeowners said that they have been good stewards of their houses even without the designation and that it would increase home-project costs and make the neighborhood less affordable. They asked that the city not impose the designation on a neighborhood that doesn’t want it.

“It’s a real hardship,” said Al Theisen, a Lynnhurst realtor who remodels historic houses and is working on a project in the proposed district. He said restoring historic features like windows and siding is more expensive than replacing them.

HPC members said the city-funded report by the firm New History made a strong case for the historic designation under the city’s historic-preservation ordinance, which lays out seven criteria under which a property or district should be designated historic.

The small neighborhood just east of Lake Harriet represents a “remarkable concentration” of upper-middle-class houses from the era with historic integrity, according to the report.

“It’s incredibly unusual to find particularly a residential district like this where you have such intact resources,” said Michael Koop with the State Historic Preservation Office, which gave its approval for the district.

The 66 houses are among 216 east of the lake that were identified in 2005 as potentially being worthy of historic-district status.

When a homeowner applied last summer to tear down a house on the 4600 block of Emerson Avenue, the HPC blocked the request in order to further study the area’s historic significance.

It also barred local homeowners from completing exterior renovation projects that would alter their houses’ original exterior materials until it decided whether to desig- nate the area a historic district.

The study, completed this winter, found that many blocks north of 46th Street and west of Fremont Avenue wouldn’t meet the threshold for becoming a historic district because of large amounts of reconstruction.

But the 66 houses still have their original exterior materials, and almost none have been significantly altered, New History found. They share similar characteristics, such as architectural styles popular with the upper-middle class around the turn of the century, large lots and garages for early automobiles.

Two homeowners who testified against the HPC designation said the city should not celebrate a white, upper-class neighborhood that developed during an era of discriminatory housing practices.

“I don’t want to be part of a neighborhood that would embrace the mistakes of the past,” said Emerson Avenue homeowner Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen, the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Commissioner Ian Stade, who voted against the designation, said at a June 9 meeting that it would preserve “a pocket of white privilege.”

“Right now, in this moment in history, it just doesn’t seem appropriate to designate this part of the city as a historic place,” he said.

Other HPC members said they were bound by the language of the existing ordinance, and while they’d ideally like for area homeowners to support the designation, opposition is not an adequate reason for denying the district’s approval.

The City Council Business Inspections and Zoning Committee will decide in July whether to recommend approval of the district to the full council.