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?
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.
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.