Conservation district denied

Proposal reignited population density conversation


A proposal to preserve a cluster of West Maka Ska homes — and potentially limit large-scale development in an area slated for growth under the 2040 plan — has been denied.

On July 28, the Heritage Preservation Commission rejected a request to designate the neighborhood of one- and two-family homes between Excelsior Boulevard, West Bde Maka Ska Parkway and the Minikahda Club as a “conservation district.”

The designation would have required area property owners to adhere to certain guidelines when making exterior renovations— including limits on building height.

Any height limits likely would have been in conflict with the 2040 plan, which calls for up to 10 stories in the area because of its proximity to the future West Lake Street Southwest Light Rail Transit station.

The vote to reject the proposal was 8-1.

Commissioners cited a city report that found that the neighborhood does not meet the standards for designation, as outlined by city code.

Specifically, the report concluded that many area properties don’t have notable architectural styles or attributes that would warrant historic protection.

“I’m not seeing something that’s a cohesive, identifiable setting that would make a case for a conservation district,” commissioner Barbara Howard said.

Commissioner Linda Mack, who cast the lone vote in support of the proposal, said the neighborhood’s scale and “sense of fabric” justify its protection.

“This is just the sort of place that the [conservation district] ordinance was designed for,” she said.

City staff said the proposed West Maka Ska conservation district did not have enough significance to merit approval. File photo

Area homeowner Meg Forney, a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board commissioner, had brought forth the proposal last summer with support from most of her neighbors.

She argued that the neighborhood merited protection because its houses are close to the property lines, its streets are unusually narrow and its lots are shaded by trees and uniquely sized.

Over 200 people commented on the proposal when it emerged last year, with over half of them objecting to it. At the July 28 meeting, Chris Meyer, a Park Board commissioner speaking in an unofficial capacity, called it a clear attempt to exempt the neighborhood from the 2040 plan and its height guidelines.

If the district were to be approved, Meyer said, “it would send a really terrible message that wealthy, privileged neighborhoods can bypass the process, whereas poorer neighborhoods who don’t know all of the process wouldn’t be able to do that.”

Whittier resident Alex Burns said it doesn’t make sense from an environmental standpoint to lock in low-density housing in the neighborhood.

“Dense transit-oriented development is one of the best tools we have to reduce driving, to reduce emissions and to improve air quality,” he said.

Forney said she doesn’t plan to appeal the decision.