Teardown moratorium hurts city’s momentum

My husband and I are residents of Minneapolis, currently living in the Fulton neighborhood of Southwest Minneapolis.  And we in no way support a moratorium on building in our neighborhood.

First of all, I have read many arguments for moratorium stating that the current building in our neighborhood ruins the character of the neighborhood.

This is a matter of taste.  Personally, we would argue that many of the homes that are being torn down are also ruining the character of the neighborhood with chain link fences and poorly maintained structures.  If you build a home outside of the architectural style of 1925 – 1950 homes, does this mean you cannot build on property you own?  No one can dictate taste, nor should peoples’ personal styles dictate rights.

I would like to invite all the people who are worried about maintaining the character of the neighborhood, and preserving the architectural integrity of some of these more “historical” structures to come visit our home.  We live in a 1925 1 ½ story bungalow.  My husband and I love old homes (actually I do and my husband puts up with me).  We have renovated our home within the structure of the original home (ie – no additions).  We have stripped paint off oak built ins, we have rebuilt a kitchen and bathrooms while poring over books on historical features and materials of the Arts & Crafts movement.  We have poured insulation into walls to increase the energy efficiency.  We have landscaped and painted.  I believe all people distressed over the “architecture” of the neighborhood would point to our home as an example of what they would like to see in our neighborhood.  Side note: we did these renovations with a builder who is also a Fulton resident, but is now being “demonized” as an evil, greedy outside builder who is taking “advantage” of the neighborhood.

I am here to tell you that the economics of what my family has done do not make sense.  Our home was in terrible shape when we purchased it – after decades upon decades of neglect by previous owners.  We have had to replace entire roof structures due to rotting, we built load-bearing walls where ones were ignorantly removed over the years creating unsafe conditions and foundation issues.  We have rewired electricity; we have poured insulation into a home that was not energy efficient.  We have replaced furnaces and air conditioning units with energy efficient ones.  And we are still nowhere near done with this work should we want to stay in our house.  And the fact of the matter – with the current footprint, we aren’t that comfortable.  We have two young kids that will only get bigger.  Both sets of our aging parents and all extended family live out of state and experience issues visiting because we have no guest space to offer them.  We have a large circle of friends that we are challenged to entertain in our home.  We enjoy sports – with all the equipment – and it sure would be nice to have a mud room to deposit it in instead of the kitchen door wide open in –40 Minneapolis winter weather while lugging in bundles of skis and hockey equipment.  And the final total bill of this house with all its upgrades and current imperfections?  We have pumped way more into these remodeling efforts than our home is currently worth.  We love the beauty of the old home, and that has been our personal choice, but I don’t blame other families’ one iota if they don’t make that same choice as us.  And no one else should either.

This is called personal rights.  People concerned about the architecture of the neighborhood:  unless you can find buyers for these small homes or purchase the property yourself, then you really don’t have much say in whether or not your neighbor’s taste and needs echoes your own on property that they purchase.  And I would wager that their new home is more attractive then the original structure to many people and certainly more environmentally friendly.

Beyond personal taste vs. personal rights, this moratorium denies the realities of a simple economic supply and demand equation.  The Linden Hills and Fulton and other Southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods are in high demand – especially for families – as the schools are strong and trend towards urban revitalization is gaining traction.  However, families do not live like they used to in 1925!  The supply of family-sized homes is small in Southwest Minneapolis.  The city is changing – as it always needs to in order to continue to evolve and grow in the present.  If you stop the supply of larger, new home opportunities then the demand cannot be realized and will cease.  So essentially what Minneapolis is telling new families is “don’t move here because we don’t want you.”  Minneapolis – you are not entitled to people demanding to live here.  People have the ability to choose other areas that DO want them and their tax dollars and energy.  If you do not help create conditions in which demand can grow, it’s true you won’t be left with a supply issue, but the other issues created by urban decline are immense and I’m assuming the city would like to avoid those.

What is our problem here?  Do we not like that Linden Hills and Fulton are changing as new families take up residence and add to the local economy with their disposable incomes to spend in restaurants and shops?  That our schools are growing with invested and engaged families?  That a new generation of people are becoming citizens of the neighborhoods of Minneapolis?   These new homes seem to be selling quickly, so someone must be liking them.  Builders would not be building a product that no one was buying.  I would say us liberals are supposed to be open-minded and non-judgmental, but it seems like we are quick to vilify these new folks.  I thought we were supposed to be supporting re-urbanization….I guess I didn’t realize we only did so when it was completely on our terms and to our tastes.

From what I’ve read, there does seem to be building and zoning rules in existence.  It’s just that these rules are not currently enforced by the city.  So in an effort to stop their own ineptitude, it seems the city voted to punish the very system that is giving them tax dollars in which to operate?     This moratorium business is essentially the city just pushing a problem away from themselves and onto just another set of people versus solving any issues.  In the meantime, Minneapolis will be shooting itself in the foot.

From multiple accounts of the sham meeting that Linea Palmisano called with builders after the moratorium implemented with zero discussion or debate by City Council, it appears area builders arrived at the meeting with many ideas on solutions to growth concerns.  Why didn’t city council listen and collaborate with them before making this drastic move?  Why doesn’t the city open up discussion or listening sessions with homeowners that support the growth and changes going on in the Southwest area of Minneapolis as well as the people upset by the inevitable growing pains of change?  Why doesn’t the city then propose some SOLUTIONS to the problem after being educated from all sides, instead of sabotaging the city of Minneapolis and the momentum that the city is now enjoying?  This moratorium idea is misguided and complete madness.  The negative results of which will far out weigh the current issues.  Address the issues City Council, but don’t makes things worse in the meantime.

Sarah Pitts