Preserving Despair at 24th and Colfax

The sad story of Mike Crow

Mike Crow has owned 2320 Colfax Avenue South and the house next door for over 20 years. Recently, he’s had health crises and says it’s “impossible” for him to do the work that’s needed to run the rooming house. “Rooming houses are much more labor intensive than other types of rentals. It’s very important to me not leave a mess for my family if something does happen to me. I think anybody could understand that,” he told the Wedge News.

In 2007, Mr. Crow put his houses on the market. After years of waiting, a local developer expressed interest. The Lander Group wants to build a four-story, net-zero building where a one-bedroom would cost about $875 a month. The seller was happy. The buyer was happy. Would-be renters were drooling over an eco-friendly apartment in a walkable, bikeable, and busable neighborhood. The city was happy, because everything fit the zoning code.

And then there was a snag. The Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) overrode City staff and designated 2320 Colfax a “historic resource,” which makes it much harder to get a demolition permit. The deal with the developer was off, and Mike was back to square one.

Is 2320 Colfax Avenue South a historic resource, as it stands today?

2320 Colfax in 1900.

2320 Colfax in 1900.

2320 Colfax in 2014.

2320 Colfax in 2014.

According to Minneapolis’s code of ordinances, a historic resource is a property that has “historical, cultural, architectural, archaeological or engineering significance” and meets at least one of seven criteria listed in 599.210. I won’t bother you with all of them. In this case, the HPC says that 2320 Colfax meets criterion six: “the property exemplifies works of master builders, engineers, designers, artists, craftsmen or architects.” T.P. Healy is the architect who built 2320 Colfax. T.P. Healy is an acknowledged master builder. Does that mean that 2320 Colfax is automatically a historic resource?

According to City staff, no, it doesn’t. I called John Smoley, a historian and planner at the City of Minneapolis, to talk about 2320 Colfax. Smoley has a Ph.D. in public history, and he researched the property to write a report noting the extensive changes to the property. It’s endured three fires, and the second and third floors had to be completely rebuilt. All of the decorative windows, which were characteristic of Healy’s Queen Anne phase, have been altered or covered. The front porch has been enclosed, and the impressive barn that once stood behind the house has fallen.

Smoley said, “Given the home’s condition at this point, and the bounty of Healy homes we’re fortunate to have in our community, it’s really difficult, from our perspective as city staff, to say, ‘We have to save this one. Even though we have a Healy block historic district, even though we have a potential historic district with Healy homes to the south, even though on this very block we have Healy residences to the north.’ It’s difficult to say that we have to save this one in particular.”

When I asked him about the potential historic district, Smoley told me that in 2008, historical consultants conducted a survey of Lowry Hill East (the Wedge), looking for potential landmarks and historic resources. They ruled out 2320 Colfax, but identified a district of dozens of well-preserved, historic homes just across 24th Street from the property. I live nearby, so I decided to go take a look.

I took photos of 2323 Bryant Ave. S and 2424 Colfax Ave. S, two properties that the historians identified as potential historic resources, just for comparison.

2323 Bryant Ave S.

2323 Bryant Ave S.

2424 Colfax Ave S.

2424 Colfax Ave S.

Mike Crow has been trying to sell the house since 2007. No buyers have come forward who are willing to continue running the property as a rooming house. No buyers have come forward who are willing to renovate the property to reinstate Healy’s original features and rehabilitate it. “We don’t see legally-mandated preservation as the appropriate way to handle this situation,” Smoley told me.

But it’s not up to City staff. The issue has been appealed to the HPC, and will likely be appealed to City Council after that. HPC will have a meeting on March 18 at 4:30 p.m. in Room 317 of Minneapolis City Hall, 350 South Fifth Street. They’ll weigh in on whether Mike Crow can sell his property to a developer or not. If this issue is important to you, please get in touch with City Council and the HPC to let them know what you think, and to come to the meeting on March 18th if you can make it.

Update (3/11/2014): John Smoley wrote a staff report (PDF) for the 3/18 HPC meeting. The City recommends to allow the demolition of 2320 Colfax.


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78 Responses to Preserving Despair at 24th and Colfax

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke March 11, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    What’s the difference between a “master builder” and a “builder”?

    I’m being serious. Is there a way to make a clear distinction?

    • Evan Roberts
      Evan March 11, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

      I am not an architectural historian, but I have done a lot of research on historical occupational titles.

      A master builder was a combination of architect and contractor, often over-seeing construction of their own designs in a fairly hands-on fashion.

      By the late nineteenth century (where I’ve done more of my research) they weren’t common at all, a couple of hundred listed as such in the 1880 census, compared to several thousand “architects”, and many thousands of builders.

      A mere “builder” likely just constructed things at other people’s direction, though many “builders” would also have supervised people in the process.

      • Matt Steele March 12, 2014 at 9:28 am #

        So. A design build firm in today’s parlance?

    • Leo M Whitebird March 16, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

      As a Local homeowner and long time whittier resident I feel it is more and more important to preserve and cherish our inner-city neighborhoods. The rampant rush to develop rentals and build ugly pieces of architectural garbage are poorly thought out and denigrating the quality of life in the neighborhood for those of us in it for the long haul. I shudder to think of what this new building will look like.There are ways to preserve the house and potentially restore or at least repurpose it. There are numerous houses of that vintage renting as office space right down the block on Franklin and nearby, and with the property already divided conversion could be simplified.A usage like this would preserve the building and add to the tax base in the neighborhood.

      • Matt Steele March 17, 2014 at 8:59 am #

        But the reality is that there’s more demand for your neighborhood than can be accommodated within the existing building stock. So are you comfortable having housing prices skyrocket? Possibly more people moving elsewhere in the city as a result, with fewer transit connections and more car-dependency? This could potentially deepen poverty and homelessness in our city. Are you comfortable with your taxes doubling as these property values double, possibly pushing out your elderly neighbors on a fixed income? There are trade-offs to everything.

        • Steve Prince March 17, 2014 at 9:21 am #

          Matt,
          Do your really think every house in Whittier is going to be torn down to build a 4 story apartment building? Of course not! There simply isn’t enough demand, even if you wanted to turn southern Minneapolis into Manhattan where only rich people can afford to live. So what we are really talking about is where the increased density should go, which is another way of saying which projects will be allowed to reap the profit of the present increased demand – because there is not enough demand for everyone to tear-down their homes to buildings apartment buildings.

          If you think about it that way you realize that land-use is a tricky business, you don’t want to encourage unregulated development to create new housing that at the same time discourages upkeep and investment in existing housing.

          • Matt Steele March 17, 2014 at 9:28 am #

            Land use isn’t a tricky business. The things that we love about our city, and the things we love about other great cities around the world, were built long before people fell for this lie that land use is a tricky business. They built things incrementally, copying what worked elsewhere, and the results were fantastic! This was long before use-based zoning codes, complex financing mechanisms, TIF, minimum parking requirements, complex traffic analyses, and the level of engineering we have today. Honestly, in our drive to try and make things complex, we’ve destroyed much of our city.

      • Scott Shaffer
        Scott March 17, 2014 at 9:22 am #

        Do you know who wants to build the apartments, and what their plan is? Michael Lander is an architect and builder who lives with his family in East Calhoun, just on the other side of Hennepin and Lake. He’s the guy who made West River Commons, and he’s a specialist in urban infill development.

        The new building would be 100% brick and windows facing the street, as opposed to the current set-up of vinyl siding, vinyl windows, painted/unpainted woodwork under the gutters, mismatched limestone, and closed-off porch. You can learn more here: http://www.landergroup.com/cur_2320Colfax.php

        But if you think there’s a better use that would preserve the property, I sincerely urge you to find someone who’s willing and able to buy the house and use it for that purpose.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam March 17, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

        And reduce housing stock and apply marginal pressure on housing costs in the area.

  2. Matt Brillhart March 11, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

    The staff report for the 3/18 HPC meeting is up. Staff is again recommending demolition of 2320 Colfax: http://minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@cped/documents/webcontent/wcms1p-121755.pdf

    You may want to add that link into the story.

  3. urbanite March 11, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

    No buyers have come forward to restore it? so you mean Nicole Curtis won’t put her money where her mouth is? what a surprise…. She is just a celebrity pulling publicity stunts. Blocking this development was just another one.

    • Sarah March 13, 2014 at 10:18 am #

      Actually, she has gone on the record saying she’d love to help out with this house, but the resources aren’t there unless the city or some other funding body was willing to foot a lot of the bill. It would likely cost more to purchase the property and gut the interior (and then carefully restore it in a historically-appropriate way) than the house would ever be able to fetch as a single family home, even in the Wedge. Nicole Curtis is a rehabber, not a bank.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke March 13, 2014 at 10:54 am #

        Interesting contrast with this case is the Healy block by 35W and Lake. In that case I’m all for preserving Healy homes, because the alternative is a freeway expansion. Here, the alternative is dense sustainable apartments. Preservation debates shouldn’t happen in a vacuum, but rather we need to look at the alternatives and costs / benefits to the city.

  4. Nathanael March 11, 2014 at 11:12 pm #

    It’s true, this one seems to have lost all its historic features. The undamaged ones are beautiful and deserve historic designation. This one… doesn’t.

  5. Steven Prince March 12, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    Some neighborhood context:

    1) I don’t think the post comment that “everything fit the zoning code” is accurate – I went to the first neighborhood meeting about this project and the developer was seeking a series of variances. That means the project did not fit the zoning for the parcel. I am not sure what the final proposal ultimately was.

    2) Leaving aside the historic value of this particular property there is a more difficult issue – how to preserve some of the historic and varied nature of the Wedge when City zoning calls for the destruction of over 100 properties in the neighborhood (many single family and duplex) constructed around 1900. The neighborhood studied this almost a decade ago and came up with a zoning scheme that considered what was on and near every lot. The plan was driven by wanting to preserve a varied and dense neighborhood that continued to include single family homes and duplexes alongside apartment buildings. That plan designated these parcels R3 and was overwhelmingly supported by the neighborhood. The City never acted on that plan.

    3) These parcels are some of the last boarding houses left in the Wedge, SRO used to be quite common in the neighborhood. I understand the realities of market forces, but let’s at least acknowledge that replacing $100 a week housing for low-income singles with $900 a month apartments is not going to increase the diversity of the neighborhood – it is going to increase homelessness.

    4) The photos you chose could be before and after photos for the property in question. For those neighbors who have watched the Healy house at 2320 Colfax disintegrate before our eyes over the last 30 years while the boarding house business has been a cash cow for the owner – well – we are not buying into your narrative making the owner a victim.

    5) We have a real problem in the Wedge – a cycle of disinvestment in historic properties encouraged by zoning designation that calls for tear-down – followed by the wailing and teeth gnashing of owners who claim the buildings have no remaining “economic life”. As the compare and contrast photos you post demonstrate (as well as many other properties in the neighborhood) it is possible to have rental property that is well-maintained and restored.

    6) That no one has stepped forward to buy the properties (if true) is a reflection of asking price – another consequence of the City’s “tear-down” zoning designation. A property has to make economic sense after renovation if you want restoration – so the sale price has to reflect the price of renovation. No doubt the decades of deferred maintenance in these properties on Colfax, plus the development froth in the neighborhood, makes them much more attractive candidates for tear-down. But let’s also acknowledge that we are endorsing a dis-investment cycle that is not good for the City because it destroys diversity and affordable rentals.

    The real “despair” in this story is that the City lacks development or enforcement resolve to assure the Wedge will continue to be the dense and varied patchwork of housing types it became int he last century. If you perform your historic merit analysis to the 118 “critical properties” the neighborhood identified in its zoning study only a handful will meet the historic designation standard. But if developers are allowed to tear them all down for 4-6 story apartment building you will have destroyed the neighborhood.

    • Matt Steele March 12, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      – Maybe some of the planners here can chime in, but to say something needing a variance is not conforming to zoning code is a misstatement. Variances are designed for that very process, recognizing that such adaptations are necessary.

      – If you think boarding houses are part of the solution to homelessness and affordable housing, why not push to make them legal? My understanding is that the rooming house has been grandfathered in, and it’s not legal to build new rooming houses. So why should a private property owner, with a land use that would be illegal if it were not grandfathered in, be responsible for maintaining his property in a financially insolvent state so the neighbors can feel like they’re doing something positive for the community? If you want to address affordable housing in your neighborhood (and our neighborhoods surely need it), go out there and do something about it. Don’t co-opt historical preservation as a way to make it “someone else’s problem.”

      – You think the owner should lower the asking price enough to entice someone to come in and rehab the existing house (undoing the extensive changes over the past century)… will preservationists or the City of Minneapolis compensate the owner for the difference between the offer he would get and the offer by the Lander Group which would have built a building that otherwise meets all zoning and building codes? In addition to compensation to the owner for the delays caused by these misguided efforts?

      • Steve Prince March 12, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

        Matt,

        The best way to make sure affordable housing continues to exist in the Wedge is to rezone the 120 critical properties in the Wedge (singe-family, duplex, or triplex; over 100 years old; and zoned R6) so they cannot be replaced with expensive new construction. There is plenty of room to build market-rate housing along Hennepin, Lyndale and the Greenway.

        As for rooming houses, they are not the only solution, but they are one important option that I do not agree should be eliminated. The history of destroying SRO housing in Minneapolis is long and ugly, zoning rooming houses out of existence is just the latest step.

        • Matt Steele March 12, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

          Unfortunately, that’s not how market economics works. The Wedge is an in-demand neighborhood, where people will pay a premium to live. That’s a fact, regardless of how much you artificially cap the supply of housing. As a result, restricting the development of new units (whether luxury, market rate, below market rate, etc) will necessarily increase the equilibrium price of housing in the neighborhood. If you rent, you may very well be priced out too. It’s called the San Francisco Effect.

          • Cameron Conway
            Cameron Conway March 12, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

            …and the Seattle effect, and the Washington, DC effect, and, likely, the ‘Minneapolis in 2025’ effect. This really isn’t about whether the landowner benefits, it’s whether the policies in place enable the end result we want for the neighborhood. Is it most important that we create supply for the growing demand and thereby ensure that the existing housing remains affordable, or is historical preservation worth gentrifying the neighborhood?

            As an outsider, I have a lot to learn about Minneapolis zoning history, but what exactly is this idea of “tear down zoning?” Is this the legal mechanism by which the Gateway District was razed, or is this a modern policy? Also, in an era where many character-establishing buildings are designated historic and ‘tear down’ most often means ‘new developments that stabilizes neighborhood housing demand’ rather than ‘parking lot,’ is the idea of tearing down houses really that bad? I actually prefer a neighborhood character that combines new and old architecture in a consistently street-addressing fashion.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam March 12, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

          Yes, because the best way to keep housing prices down is to restrict the supply of housing.

    • Scott Shaffer
      Scott Shaffer March 12, 2014 at 10:44 am #

      1) 2320 Colfax is zoned R6, allowing a four-story apartment building. I was going off of what opponents have said: “On November 14th, Peter Keely returned to the LHENA Zoning and Planning Committee with a new plan for the 2316-20 redevelopment. The revised proposal, it turns out, requires no variances from the City to build. Big surprise, eh? The fact is that as long as R-6 zoning is in place, developers can build pretty much whatever they want, without the blessing of the community.” http://www.healyproject.org/2012/11/revoltin-developments-part-i.html

      2) I won’t “leave aside the historic value of this particular property.” That’s what the HPC is supposed to decide.

      3) Increasing the supply of housing in the area will stabilize the price of housing, all other things equal. Adding 40-some residential units at the $900/mo. price point would make it a lot easier for renters in a tight market.

      If you halt the construction of apartment buildings, you’ll instigate a bidding war between renters for the few apartments left, and rents will rise.

      4) Not only has Mike Crow had back and heart surgeries, he’s had to share his medical records with his neighbors and city hall just so he can proceed with a lawful transaction with his own property. You’re right, I feel bad for him.

      5) Most of the Wedge is zoned R2B, for low-density, single- and two-family dwellings. Denser development is only allowed near Franklin, Lyndale, Hennepin, and the Greenway. So it’s impossible for apartment buildings to crop up in the heart of the Wedge.

      6) It depends on how you look at investment. When I look at a good local developer spending millions of dollars on an eco-friendly, affordable apartment building, I see investment.

      80% of Wedge residents are renters. How does preserving this specific house help them, when there are superior examples of Healy’s architecture on this same block?

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke March 12, 2014 at 10:53 am #

        80% of Wedge residents are renters? That seems like a lot. Has the neighborhood group or the city made sure to include them in this conversation?

      • Steve Prince March 12, 2014 at 11:01 am #

        Scott,

        R6 zoning allows 6 story development (more with development credits and variances) but side yard set-back and floor area ratio requirements may effectively limit development on this site to 4 stories. The staff report on demotion notes the project requires at least a parking variance.

        • Matt Steele March 12, 2014 at 11:07 am #

          I guess the way around a parking variance is to tear down another Healy House ™ and pave a parking lot. We don’t want that, do we?

      • Steve Prince March 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

        Scott,

        Almost all of the Wedge north of 24th Street is zoned R6, not R2b.

        In the Wedge there are over 120 R6 zoned single family and duplexes (or Triplexes) that are over a hundred-years old. The historic preservation discussion about this property cannot be understood without understanding that larger context.

        This is not a question of investment v no investment, it is a question of what is appropriate development for the site and its neighborhood context. The City should revisit the neighborhood plan and make appropriate revisions to the existing zoning map so developers could move forward in a more rational environment. My guess is that if the parcel in question was zoned R4 (Planning’s recommendation in 2004) or R3 (LHENA’s 2004 recommendation), a new building would already be under construction on this site.

        As for “all things being equal” Mark Twain once said a man with one foot in boiling water and one foot in solid ice will on average, feel fine.

        • Janne Flisrand
          Janne March 12, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

          As a homeowner who lives one and a half blocks north of this location and who walks past daily, I think the proposed five story building would be a big asset to my neighborhood. I think this is the perfect place in my neighborhood to see this sort of change

    • Matt Brillhart March 12, 2014 at 10:56 am #

      1) You’re right, there was an initial proposal that was 5 stories and required a few variances. That was quickly replaced by a 4-story proposal that met the zoning code. It will require just one variance, to reduce the distance between a structure and parking stall. Other than that, it completely conforms to the zoning code. This is all noted in the staff report for the HPC.

      2) I agree with you that *some* of the R6 zoning in The Wedge is probably inappropriate and it does encourage the deferred maintenance to eventual teardown cycle you brought up. That should be modified, and probably sooner rather than later. But here, just one block off Hennepin & 24th, a major transit node? There should absolutely be denser development here.

      • Steve Prince March 12, 2014 at 11:11 am #

        Matt,
        The real challenges in the Wedge are north of 24th Street where there are no alleys (larger lots allow taller redevelopment) and many older homes zoned R6. This particular parcel is 1.5 blocks from Hennepin. No lot in this area is more than 2 blocks from Hennepin or Lyndale. Where exactly would you draw the line north of 24th Street?

        Then Neighborhood task-force studied this (with planning staff) for over a year and proposed specific rules that looked at the nature of the existing structure, the nature of adjoining structures, and the size of the lot. You should review the neighborhood study and recommendations, I suspect you would then agree with the conclusion that this parcel should be R3.

        • Matt Steele March 12, 2014 at 11:28 am #

          But the reality is that this is currently R6, and there’s currently a development proposal.

          • Morgan March 12, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

            So it is being fought on other grounds. Zoning and HP, especially in this context, are just means to the end of what the neighborhood should look and feel like.

  6. MplsJaromir March 12, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    Excellent article. I happen to know some people close to Mr. Crow, I can assure everyone that him and his family are not a member of the idle rich because they own a boarding house.

  7. Adam Miller
    Adam March 12, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    One has to wonder whether the a desire to serve on a historic preservation commission should be prima facie evidence of not being fit to serve on a historic preservation commission.

    • Scott Shaffer
      Scott Shaffer March 12, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

      I want to give the HPC the benefit of the doubt. But when I was reading the minutes for the 2320 Colfax meeting, this line from HPC member Susan Hunter Weir on page 9 stuck out to me: “Boy the word demolition is just about not in my vocabulary, surprise guys.” Hopefully she was making a joke? http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@clerk/documents/webcontent/wcms1p-108190.pdf

      • Cadillac Kolstad March 12, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

        Is this supposed to be journalism? This article is full of fallacies and innuendo. There are plenty of surface parking lots to develop in this city. Is there a for sale sign in front of the house? an add on craigslist? an MLS listing? NO! I just checked 3 real estate websites and it is not listed. How hard can the owner be “trying to sell it”? What is the asking price? This should be part of the discussion. Some Journalism with no confirmation, but taking one sides statements without verification. The new project claim of being environmentally friendly does not provide remediation for the demolition.
        It’s too bad about the health problems but the city does not usually take personal issues into account when making policy. The US supreme court has upheld land use policies and zoning by cities several times as legitimate.
        Demolition is a form of violence and is an environmental and civic concern. 40% of the waste stream comes from demolition millions of tons every year. We can have density without tearing down anything but the most dilapidated structures to be truthful. Many changes should be made to the zoning code before we tolerate anymore big box development. Legalize carriage houses, small houses, remove the significant barriers to individuals who would like to create apartments in empty attics and basements. Eliminate the onerous rental conversion fee that is disproportionately expensive for small property owners.
        I have been an advocate for density since long before it was trendy. We can accomplish both, expanding for market demand and an end to wasteful demolition. I’m tired of the either / or discussion, it is propaganda not based in reality. In fact a stricter policy against demolition of existing buildings would create density faster and perpetuate development on the many vacant parcels in Minneapolis. in a more livable and environmentally friendly way. People also need jobs and maintaining existing structures is proven to provide more sustainable jobs than demolition and new development which perpetuates boom + bust short term employment. This is currently a rooming house on of the most “Urban” or “Dense” housing forms to exist.

        • Scott Shaffer
          Scott Shaffer March 12, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

          “Is this supposed to be journalism? This article is full of fallacies and innuendo.”

          Care to provide any examples? I do this for free because I care.

          • Cadillac Kolstad March 14, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

            I’m glad you care. I just want to point out this is agenda advocacy. Everything from the title to the body to the attack on the Heritage Preservation Commission members. This is so one sided reading it feels like walking on a mobius strip. “Morgans” post March 14, 2014 at 10:02 am makes great points as well.
            1. The implications and insinuations that selling to the developer is the only option.
            2. Never publishing an asking price or explaining where the house was or is advertized for sale. How exactly was the house “put on the market” it certainly is not on the market now.
            3. Your suggestion that somehow after going through the process, and meeting minimum standards for acceptance that somehow the house is not “historic”.
            4. “The City recommends to allow the demolition of 2320 Colfax”. FALSE -Stating that John Smoley represents the “city” he is a planner allowed to make recommendations. The HPC and full council in a unanimous vote already denied his recommendation recently. That is the position of “The City”
            5. How about writing about all the people who reside in this city and took the time to go to hearings and participate and win this on merit who now will have to go back and do it all over again?
            6. According to the City / county website the property was purchased in ’92 for 145,000 taxes are about 7300.00 per year. If as stated in another article the rents bring in about 72,000 a year then the 64,000 question is where is the hardship?
            7. What terms is the property available for? Cash, Mortgage, Contract for Deed?

            answering these questions would be very helpful to understanding the situation.

            • Alex Cecchini
              Alex Cecchini March 15, 2014 at 1:00 am #

              To answer a few of your points:
              1. We have Crow’s word to go on to believe he explored many options, for a very long time, before the offer from Lander came about. The fact that the very people who wanted this property saved have not come forward with an offer (if private, why have they not made it public to raise doubt to Crow’s position) since the decision last year?
              3. People on this blog are welcome to post their own opinions. Given the damages to the interior, changes and losses to the exterior, citizens have every right to believe this property is non-historic and say so online.
              4. You’re right. But it is curious that a member of the HPC with a PhD and long career in history who has the opinion that differs from the decision of a body who will slant towards preservation is telling. Additionally, the HPC is not “the city,” either. If I remember correctly, another city body (CPED) recommended allowing demolition last year. HPC’s denial was upheld by a city council that typically caters to the ward in question’s councilmember, at the time Meg Tuthill who had proven to have a very reactionary stance to demolition and new development.
              5. So once a decision is made in this city, it should stand forever so we don’t need to waste people’s time reconsidering?
              6. I must have forgotten when we decided that it was local government’s role to determine what someone’s personal finances are acceptable, and what a reasonable rate of return is. To answer your question, the income is $72k/year, but out of that comes insurance, utilities, regular maintenance, repairs, and marketing expenses. Plus any losses of income from vacancies. It’s very easy to imagine a scenario where this property doesn’t pull in what he needs, especially given his health issues.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke March 12, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

      I don’t want to pick on historic preservationists too much. I consider myself one! I love old buildings, urban history, old cities (e.g. Savannah GA).

      That said, HPCs often make decisions that confuse me, for example the sidewalk expansion project in Saint Paul’s downtown or this house. I think one danger of historic preservation is essentializing one particular identity for an area at the expense of others. We like to pick one moment in time and say “this is the true nature of our neighborhood,” as if cities weren’t continually changing. One of the ironies is that often these ideals are constructed after the fact, for example Nicollet Island or Elliot Park or this case… Is this preservation debate about preserving an SRO facility or preserving an early 20th c.building?

      I’ve also noticed that many of the people on HPCs work in the historic preservation fields, just as many planning commissioners serve as planning or development consultants. There seems to be a large disconnect between these two areas of expertise. Does it have to be that way? Of course there’s a middle ground between no change and ‘everything must go.’ The trick to me is to look at the question of historical preservation without assuming that one particular identity of a neighborhood is the correct one.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke March 12, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

        correction: that should read Irvine Park (in Saint Paul)

        • Julie Kosbab March 13, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

          Well, or the house they moved out of downtown STP that was chiefly historical because it was the last single family home of its type IN downtown. Location was key to its history.

          …so they moved it, for historical preservation.

      • Cameron Conway
        Cameron Conway March 12, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

        At some point, everyone got really skittish of change! Maybe it’s when we started building onramps and parking lots, changes that actively made being a pedestrian harder. I look at these architecturally mixed 20th century neighborhoods and can’t help but think “weren’t these people TERRIFIED of all these new architectural styles and inconsistent densities?” Yet somehow, it ended up with something that we’re all fighting to preserve today. It defies conventional logic that the means by which our favorite neighborhoods were created should now be made illegal. Or maybe the sprawl era caused us to un-learn how to share our favorite places?

        My point is, we need to re-learn how to value and identify with dynamic, changing neighborhood identities. I don’t know about you all, but I live in cities for the degree to which I can be a part of the great things to come.

        • Morgan March 12, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

          There is lots of bad development. It’s gotten better recently because we now live in an economy only for the rich so design and amenities matter a lot more as developments come to market, but on the whole, I am grateful for most of the resistance that is built in by policy to new development.

          Real Estate developments have lots of externalities. There might only be one buyer and one seller but everyone has to live with them. Government has a strong role to play in these cases.

          • MplsJaromir March 14, 2014 at 9:44 am #

            How many non-property owners are fighting this development? The opposition wants the safety of familiarity.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam March 12, 2014 at 3:21 pm #

        Me too! I’m all for preserving old buildings with actual historical importance, or even sometimes even if they are just cool old buildings. And I was mostly joking.

  8. Nicole N. Conti March 12, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    My grandparents’ house in Massachusetts is a National Historic Monument. It is one of the oldest homes in the town and is the formers mayor’s house. Like this home, the landmark status has caused my family a lot of problems selling the house, too. Even though the house has 70s style stonework on the interior, a decommissioned hair salon inside, and purple aluminum siding, whoever buys the house can only make very specific changes; for example, central air conditioning is forbidden. The town is small and on the Rust Belt. The house is on a noisy thoroughfare. It’s already a tough sell. How can we preserve it if no one want to live in it?

    I’m an art historian, so I understand the need to preserve things. However, I’m also an urbanist, so this debate is an important–albeit complicated one–for me.

  9. Andrew Degerstrom
    Andrew Degerstrom March 13, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    Here’s something worth considering…

    The owner wants to sell the property, but no one is willing to buy without the ability to demolish. No one can demolish because our heritage preservation regulations are preventing it. At what point is this considered a regulatory taking?

    • Morgan March 14, 2014 at 10:02 am #

      I think that you are not understanding the situation correctly.

      1) There is no evidence that “no one” is willing to buy the property without demolishing it. As has been stated previously in the thread it is not clear that the owner is trying to sell the property at all. I am sure that if a prospective owner were to be required to sign a voluntary agreement with the neighborhood or an historic preservation group to revitalize the property before closing that it would sell for about $500K (rough estimate).

      2) But this roughly $500K is less than Lander most likely approached Crow to acquire the properties for contingent upon entitlement approvals. Lander is interested in the zoning of the property. Crow could have marketed the lot to developers but I doubt it. Most likely Lander saw this lot as an opportunity because it is in his wheelhouse and he approached Crow.

      3) Since the zoning of the property is what gives it it’s highest value, more accurately this situation could be called a “regulatory giving” since it is government policy that has given this property the value that is has, not any activities under taken by the current owner.

      • Steve Prince March 14, 2014 at 10:26 am #

        Exactly!

        A real estate lawyer in town told me a great story.

        He represented two clients with nearby parcels when it was announced that a new highway and interchange was being constructed nearby. He called his clients with the good news. One client was a real estate investor who was ecstatic: “How much are we going to make?” he asked his lawyer. The other client was an executive in a European company who owned the land. “Oh no” he said, “how much is this going to cost us?” In the Untied States we allow the externalities of state action and investment to accrue to the property owners. In Europe it is more common to assess nearby property owners for the improvement – capturing part of the windfall that would otherwise accrue to the owner.

        • Morgan March 14, 2014 at 10:32 am #

          And more efficient and productive land use.

          I am sure that 99% of the Streets.MN’s readers would like to better capture government created value for all of government’s constituents.

      • Cadillac Kolstad March 14, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

        Great Points Morgan!!! The city created the value with the Zoning. Now the city has limited the ease of development with other historic zoning!! Zoning creates lots of issues!!

        • Alex Cecchini
          Alex Cecchini March 15, 2014 at 12:47 am #

          Zoning does not create value. It inherently detracts from value of land by dictating a maximum size or use for a given parcel. In this case, the zoning for the parcels involved is higher than the existing land use, granting a higher allowed development potential, but make no mistake that zoning and historic preservation limit what property owners can do, not a “giving.”

          One could call what Crow did a weaker version of land speculation, but I’ll take his methods over those of downtown parking lot holders who leach value off land for years while paying low property taxes, simply waiting for a good time to sell. In Crow’s case he maintained a business that housed many people, but the deferred maintenance costs likely built up to the point that refurbishing was not possible, particularly given the extensive interior damage.

          I think the tone here basically accusing Crow of lying about listing for as long as he did and not receiving offers should take a breather. It’s not on the market now, my guess is because Crow and Lander had a purchase agreement they’re still holding to for the appeal process. The onus seems to be on proving his claims (which he made public in local papers) false, not for Scott to validate here. Simply raising doubt with no facts of your own doesn’t move the conversation forward.

    • David March 18, 2014 at 10:18 am #

      This property was not listed for sale for the past several years…and regardless of what he said, I am aware of at least one unsolicited offer the owner received that did not include demolition in the past year. Sorry to rain on your “rich, white enclave” plans.

      • Matt Steele March 18, 2014 at 11:00 am #

        1. There are plenty of reasons why a house maligned in such a way could not be listed on the MLS. Do you think it would pass any sort of appraisal checks for a homeowner to get financing for it? Do you think any commercial lender would finance an investor to buy it as a decrepit rooming house, a land use that is grandfathered and precludes any structure changes short of complete renovation?

        2. Who cares if the owner received another offer? It’s his choice (or at least it should be) to sell to whom he pleases. If I offered the Star Tribune $100,000 for their recently-sold four blocks downtown, would you lambast them for turning down my offer instead of selling it for $38.5 million?

        • Cadillac Kolstad March 18, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

          Matt you asked if financing would be likely forthcoming. I would suggest it would be considering the current rental income.
          The current offer should be made public so someone could try and match it. This will become public information once a sale is transacted.

          • Alex Cecchini
            Alex Cecchini March 18, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

            That’s fine if it’s public information once transacted. As someone who has sold a home in the past and is selling their home right now, forcing all offers and their values/details to be made public is a huge invasion of privacy and the implications would be pretty far-reaching to other personal/business property sale situations.

            • Cadillac Kolstad March 18, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

              I understand that Alex. If he is claiming he needs to change city policy because of personal issues and not being able to sell he should have an asking price for the property. Without publishing an asking price no one should take seriously the assertion he “has the house on the market”

              • Alex Cecchini
                Alex Cecchini March 18, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

                What city policy are Crow or Lander trying to change? The house did not have historic protection prior to last year’s ruling, and the proposal fit within zoning save for a very minor variance.

      • Matt Steele March 18, 2014 at 11:04 am #

        It’s the current “preservationists” who want this neighborhood to become a rich, white enclave. By restricting housing supply, it will ensure that only those who can bid up on the existing supply will be able to live there. SFH prices would likely double within the next decade. Good for homeowners, awful for our city, awful for equity.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam March 18, 2014 at 11:34 am #

        You realize that labeling it a historic resource is a much more direct path to “rich, white enclave” than replacing it with apartments, right?

        • Steven Prince March 18, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

          Replacing rooming units that rent for $75 a week with one bedroom apartments renting fro almost $1000 a month is path toward a “rich, white enclave”? Really?

          • Alex Cecchini
            Alex Cecchini March 18, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

            Brand new construction is inherently more expensive than depreciated older housing, no matter the price point. If a constant boost in supply in neighborhoods like this had happened each year over the past 30-40 years, we’d have a whole lot of affordable market rate housing. The SRO housing at $75/week is one example of what a dated boarding house could charge. Of course, new housing like this is illegal in Minneapolis. Had it not been, the Wedge may very well have many properties offering single room occupancy by the week ranging from 5-40 years old and $70 to $150 per month in price (depending on their age).

            I would be interested to see how residents of the Wedge would react to new housing like this. Forgive my cynicism, but my guess is not with open arms based on affordability: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/the-fight-against-small-apartments/Content?oid=16701155

            • Cadillac Kolstad March 23, 2014 at 11:46 am #

              Re your post from the stranger, I don’t know how the neighbors would react. But I think the Micro housing is a great adaptive reuse of the healy house! Maybe that would be a compromise. seems like this could be accomplished pretty easily. Add small kitchens and bathrooms to the rooming rooms! There solution! New urbanism and historic preservation in the same package.

  10. Morgan March 15, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    Thank you for your comments Alex,

    I should have mentioned that whatever contract that Crow has with Lander probably does not allow him to market the property. But that does not mean that no one will buy the property and rehab it. I am sure that a lot of people would. I am very skeptical of that assertion.

    Earlier Cadillac asked if this was journalism. One of the reasons that it’s not journalism is that there is not enough editorial control of the content on this site. It is very hard for me to read critical posts about pending policy decisions to conserve vernacular residential housing in the Twin Cities, be it this one, or the conversation district articles, and then read a puff-piece on Streets.mn about a visit to a neighborhood of intact vernacular housing in another city that claims that it’s the best thing on earth and why can’t we have that here?

    Minneapolize, I think, had a great post on the conservation district thread about how we need to stop screwing up. Stoping screwing up would be stoping demolitions of vernacular housing. We have had way to many demolitions in the Twin Cities and it has helped to put us 20 years behind other regions.

    If Whiter and Philips has retained more of their vernacular housing stock, there would be more investment in those neighborhoods which would act as a signal to the development community to build even more housing. A 1900s era home in Philips sells for $130K instead of $360 because there are to few of them create an attractive neighborhood. It’s this bidding up of the price per square foot of existing properties that is needed to encourage high density development.

    Also, when one preserves vernacular neighborhoods it opens up post industrial areas undergoing economic transition for much denser zoning and development. There aren’t any NIMBYs because so few people live there that have made significant investments in residential real estate.

    If Minneapolis had protected and preserved more of it’s vernacular housing in downtown adjacent neighborhoods then the Warehouse District would already be done, and Downtown East would be near finished, the Stadium would not be re-built downtown because of the high demand for residential housing. We would now have a curbed.com site with a poll of “where is the best place to grab a hot new condo? NOBRO (north of broadway) or CENLO (Central and Lowry)”. You wouldn’t need to worry about hitting our 500K population goal because we’d already be at 480K.

    Even if this building were to sit vacant for five years it is worth keeping as vernacular housing stock. The additional units will go somewhere else. Let’s not lose the forest through the trees again.

    Thanks! I am not trying to be overly critical of Streets.mn. I’m a fanboy too!

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini March 15, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

      I would say that, on the whole, Minneapolis and St Paul actually have a relatively large stock of ‘vernacular housing’ relative to other rust-belt and northern cities that saw urban renewal and transportation investments ravage their cities. Taking a look at the image on pg 6 of this document (http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@cped/documents/webcontent/convert_253798.pdf#page=6), I think it’s pretty clear there has been a retention of most of the housing stock from pre ~1955, excepting good chunks of North Minneapolis and some areas along Hiawatha. But for the most part, the color gradient radiating outward from the core is pretty consistent with very little orange and red shades (1977 or later).

      I don’t think more housing stock preservation for neighborhoods would have been the fix. Certainly, city/state/federal demolitions in favor of vacant lots and parking should have been avoided (and stop moving forward!). But our disinvested neighborhoods are due more to freeways, highways, and wide/dangerous/loud streets plowing through neighborhoods. These isolated neighborhoods from activity, particularly when paired with redlining and other exclusionary zoning practices that kept certain groups poor. With job & population sprawl, city disinvestment in neighborhoods and schools (due mostly to busted tax bases). There are plenty of neighborhoods with lots of old houses in Phillips going for $130 because the area is disinvested, not because it needs historic protection to magically make it more desirable.

      I’ll agree that gov’t led destruction of downtown lowered real estate values, but I also think gov’t led “protection” could easily have led to supply caps that would also have discouraged re-investment and intensification. A lighter, more laissez faire approach would probably have been optimal, but that’s just me.

      My problem with pointing new residential development to former industrial sites it that they oftentimes miss existing infrastructure, job access, shopping, and natural amenities. Save for St Anthony and the Warehouse district, most industrial land isn’t necessarily where people want to be, and the city has to invest much more to serve the same population in those areas than allowing the use of existing parks, trails, streets, etc, money the city doesn’t necessarily have given its struggles providing schools, streets, transit, etc service to existing developed areas.

      I love old architecture, mostly because I love history. But I believe what benefits of preservation may exist mostly accrue to private parties – people who like particular styles, sizes, or ages of structures. They don’t make us richer or happier – we can have great urban design with new buildings, too. We don’t have (and likely won’t) a booming tourism business based on historic structures, and, again, if we did those benefits would accrue to the people who reap said rewards (and shouldn’t need public protection). We have wonderful tools at our disposal to save the memory of structures, and can even move many of them to under-invested areas that our city so generously blessed with vacant lots. I don’t care about he city’s goal of some abstract population number. I do care that they enable a very healthy addition to our business and population tax base, which will also help people lead much more environmentally sustainable lifestyles (it’d help if the suburbs did the same).

      Lastly, this site isn’t (to my knowledge) journalism, and doesn’t claim to be. It’s a congregation of open opinions in blog form that help provide different perspectives to urban wonks and policy makers.

      • Morgan March 16, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

        Thanks again for comments Alex,

        I want to continue this conversation but I think that we should call ourselves done. I have not seen that City of Minneapolis housing document before. Thank you for sharing it! It is a great resource.

        I have also never been to Milwaukee. How about a group field trip to Milwaukee for Streets.MN members? That would be great!

      • Cadillac Kolstad March 18, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

        Alex, very interesting link. I do get frustrated as well that these areas can get so much protection and consideration from the city. My major objections are to demolition of existing structures. It is a wasteful practice and bad for the environment. I do not agree with height and size restrictions generally. Once a vacant lot exists it seems reasonable to have the option to build to the max. I’m also perplexed as to why an attached garage is considered so negative and a detached garage is not. I can see wanting the attached garage to be entered from the rear of the property. I think we find some common ground that there should be fewer restrictions on new buildings. I simply support a “Zero tolerance” policy for demolition of any structures that are not dangerous this is not a sentimental position. It is environmental. 40% of the waste stream is demolition related. Environmental concerns are extensively related to where people live or their “environment”. There has to be a more balanced approach. I do not appreciate the nearer to downtown neighborhoods being heavily altered to accommodate density and growth while father out neighborhoods are allowed to remain low density.
        One solution I see is encouraging second houses on these lots above garages for example.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam March 17, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

      I’m not so skeptical of it. There are a ton of similar properties in the area.

      But facts suggesting you may be right and I may be wrong include the house immediately across 24th and the one immediate north of that house, which seem to have restored relatively recently.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam March 17, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      Also, I just can’t agree with your broader point. A walk down Park and up Portland will show you all kinds of older houses and apartment houses that could have the effect you’re talking about but haven’t.

      I do not buy that vernacular housing – especially vacant vernacular housing – has the magic power you espouse.

      • Morgan March 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

        Please, let me refer to a show called “This Old House”. I have yet to see “This Great Vacant Lot” or “This Spectacular Tear Down” or “This Wonderful 1980s Infill”.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke March 18, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

          “This Great Vacant Lot” is currently in production as part of streets.mn’s fledgling serial short film series.

  11. Cadillac Kolstad March 19, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

    I just read Scott Shaffer’s excellent piece “Minneapolis needs a good hostel”. I agree with his conclusion that Cedar-Riverside is the best place for this, in fact we really need one! The City Planning department is standing in our way. (The Orth / T.P. healy house could also be a good option and it might be good to have these in more than one neighborhood.)
    For a little background on my perspectives on city development please consider what the city has done on Cedar-Riverside. Interfering with the potential of a hostel and other developments the neighborhood participants support.
    The City / County recently provided massive financial support (Nearly 50 million dollars) to demolish 2 entire blocks of existing mixed use buildings for redevelopment. Many people wanted to invest in these structure for businesses and social organizations. One of the buildings destroyed was a 10 unit rooming house next to mixed blood theater. The rooming house had been eyed by some of us as the best potential location for a hostel. There was also a large red duplex next door that could have easily been converted.
    Additionally in recent years the city has granted many demolition permits for large older multi unit homes in the area to make way for over sized, commuter oriented, institutional development.
    The city claimed they are developing new apartments because we need more density and housing. Cedar-Riverside is already the most densely populated area in the city and the 5 state area! More vexing is over the past 10-15 years the city has permitted the demolition of as many units of housing as they are creating, while also eliminating numerous, much desired commercial buildings from the mix.
    If any public money is to be spent it should be to enhance and protect this existing vibrant neighborhood.
    The recent tragic fire is an example of why this is poor public policy. For only a fraction of the investment in the new buildings which are vastly out of touch with the neighborhood, (and not a market driven investment) the city could provide loans and grants for existing property, and housing to provide fire protection like sprinklers and fire escapes. A development framework is needed that is more respectful of the neighborhoods existing character and participants.
    Back to the hostel issue there are a few places left that might work for this on west bank, however the economics is challenging. I will follow up with any information gleaned from my investigations.
    My reason for posting this here is that a hostel seems a good potential reuse for Orth house. It still does not help us on Cedar Riverside where with all of the musicians and artists passing through we have a desperate need for such an institution.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke March 23, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

      I was just chatting with a friend last night about turning the old Ramsey County jail in downtown Saint Paul into a hostel.

  12. Mike Crow March 23, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    I’m Mike Crow the owner of the property at 2320 Colfax. I was really amazed at the support and presentation of the people that came to the HPC hearing and would like to thank them for it.
    One of the arguments was that the building was not marketed as a single family home, I did not care what someone wanted to buy it for, but I listed it as what it was. For tax purposes it’s listed as an apartment building, it’s insured as an apartment building and if you were to see what it looks like on the inside after the renovation from the major fire in 1991 it looks like an apartment building. Another reason I had listed it as a rooming house or multifamily was that I would not have to displace the tenants that live there. At the time that I listed 2320 Colfax I did not even list the building next door that is over 2/3 of the land that the development needs to move forward, my original plan was to sell 2320 and remodel 2316 and move into it. It was only after I was approached about selling both properties for development that I agreed to sell both. The commissioner that said it was never listed, was mistaken, in 2010 it was listed on Loopnet, Zillow, Craig’s list, oodle and I had contacted at least 8 different real state company’s in the area and gave them all the same opportunity to sell it as whatever they could, the only thing I had requested is that I wanted them to look for a potential buyer that could be vetted, because I did not want every curious person interrupting my tenants life’s every other day, I think any rental property owner can understand that, and that I did not want a sign so that it did not make the tenants upset and move. In 2012 I listed it with Tom Dunn from Terra firma commercial, because He agreed with everything and assured me that he knew people that would have an interest in the property. In 2010 shortly after having had a back surgery and my second open heart surgery, 11 months apart, I was desperate to sell because my financing was running out, and I had received a couple of hit on my credit due to medical bills, and was afraid I would not be able to get refinanced, so I listed the building for $200,000. Below appraised value and still could not sell it. Luckily the bank that I had been with for many years, Sunrise bank came through and I was able to get some short term financing. While I had it on the market I had at least 12 showings, mostly organizations that use this type of housing, without an offer. I have owned the property for almost 23 years; it has always had the correct R-6 zoning and has been inspected by the City of MPLS, for its historical value 2 times in the past and both times they said because of all of the changes it did not qualify for a historical designation. So I sold it for what I thought I had the right to. The HPC was used as a means to an end, and was not brought in for 8 months or until the old PTB could not stop the apartments from being built any other way. The delays have damaged every part of my life, family, finances and delayed a more serious back surgery that I need, to be able and find out what I will be able to do the rest of my working life, If I can’t sell the building, I can’t afford the up to a year of recovery time without and income or someone to manage the property. None of the HPC commissioners looked at the interior of the property, and I don’t know if any looked at the exterior other than pictures, and there is no way you can make an informed decision without. I have filed an appeal with the City council and hopefully they will be able to find the time in the next few weeks to look at the building for them self or at least some of them.

    If anyone has any questions, please ask, I have very little private personal life left and if it helps people feel better about it, it’s ok with me.

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  1. Joe Urban » Blog Archive » Same Old Minneapolis? - March 12, 2014

    […] What if we could find a way to encourage developers to retain or add to the character of a place rather than abuse the historic preservation process to oppose developers’ proposals in places like Dinkytown and Uptown? […]