City proposes new teardown rules

The community has a chance to vet proposed changes to the city’s zoning code governing teardowns at a public hearing July 28 before the Minneapolis Planning Commission.

The zoning code updates come in the wake of research by city planners following a month-long moratorium on new residential construction in several southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods earlier this year.

City Council Member Linea Palmisano’s office and city staff have also put together a new toolkit for neighbors of new construction to make it easier for them to navigate city resources. It includes tips for preparing for new construction work and information for residents about what to do if they experience property damage, among other things.

When the Council lifted the temporary moratorium on new construction in southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods April 11, it also approved a new construction management agreement making them more accountable to neighbors.

The agreement requires builders to agree to 25 conditions regulating work hours, dumpster use and noise, among other things. It also requires neighbors within 300 feet of a teardown site to be notified at least 15 days before construction starts.

Palmisano (Ward 13) said the new agreement is already having an impact.

“It has gone a long way, but there is still more to do,” she said.

She said there are still several problem construction sites in the 13th Ward, but most involve builders who moved ahead with projects before the construction management agreement went into effect.

The proposed changes to residential infill construction rules update regulations spearheaded by Betsy Hodges when she represented the 13th Ward on the Council. Those rules, approved by the Council in 2007, were designed to thwart the construction of large homes that dwarf neighboring ones and impose a heavy footprint on city lots.

The proposed changes moving through the city’s approval process would reduce the maximum height of single and two-family houses from 30 to 28 feet as measured at the midpoint of the roof. The maximum allowable height of a house as measured at the roof’s highest point would be 33 feet.

Additionally, new homes would not be allowed to cover more than 45 percent of a lot and the maximum amount of impervious surfaces allowed would be reduced from 65 percent to 60 percent.

If 50 percent of the perimeter of a basement extends more than 2-and-a-half feet above ground, it would be counted as part of the floor area ratio. The limit for the floor area ratio would remain 0.5, but there would no longer be an allowance for a 250-square-foot garage.

Setback rules would also change, requiring 5, 6 or 7 foot setbacks depending on the size of the lot.

There are new incentives, too, for builders who follow sustainable building practices, during the site plan review process. (For a full summary of proposed code changes, go to

“While 13th Ward communities have been experiencing new residential construction in a concentrated way, I would like to encourage housing growth across Minneapolis in a context-sensitive way that respects both new and existing residents,” Palmisano wrote in a recent letter to residents.

Curt Gunsbury, owner of Uptown-based Solhem Companies, which specializes in residential infill projects, said he thinks the proposed changes will work well for Linden Hills and address the concerns of southwest Minneapolis neighbors, but could have a negative impact on other areas in the city.

“But it seems to me that the impact on the city at large will be to effectively make marginal projects unaffordable,” he said. “And pretty much all of the areas outside of Southwest Minneapolis are marginal. Thus, where the goal is to build houses that cost less than $350,000, projects will fail to pencil out — even with government subsidies.”

He said the changes would likely drive up the cost of new single-family housing in the city by adding expenses for site management and surveys, among other items.

“I realize it was not the intention of the City Council members, but do we really want to take another step toward eliminating the middle class from new single family homes in Minneapolis?” he asked.

Michael Anschel, principal and a designer for Minneapolis-based Otogawa-Anschel, said he doesn’t believe the proposed changes would increase construction costs.

“The new guidelines would impact the entire city and as such are designed in such a way to still allow for affordable housing to be built without incurring additional costs,” he said. “I appreciate that they are taking a balanced approach to this.”

Anschel has mixed views on the proposed code changes, however. He has concerns about the proposed setback requirements and garage rules, but is a fan of the new height restrictions and reduction in allowable impervious surfaces, among other things.  

“Will they be effective in changing what the less concerned developers do? A little,” Anschel said. “Most of the changes won’t impact the good builders and designers at all. Some of the changes will create problems for hundreds of homes and headaches for the best designers and builders.”