Advocating for Good Urbanism at City Hall: 2320 Colfax

Minneapolis City Hall

I have been spending a lot of time recently thinking about how to advocate at City Hall for good urbanism. We spend a lot of time writing good posts on Streets.MN and debating in online chatrooms, but does that really move the needle at City Hall? Meanwhile, those of a preservationist mindset are always emailing City Council members and showing up to testify at public hearings.

For the past five years I have been judging high school speech, and I am always providing feedback on the ability of students to construct persuasive arguments. So I thought that I would apply these skills to being persuasive at City Hall, specifically by providing a specific example for an issue that is currently ongoing.

The demolition of 2320 Colfax is approaching another decision at City Hall this week. Most are already aware of the history of this project, but for those who are not, Scott Shaffer has an excellent post on the subject.

What is under consideration at City Hall right now is an application for demolition of an historic resource. The Heritage Preservation Commission heard this application last month and voted to deny. That decision was appealed and will be heard by the Zoning & Planning Committee of the City Council this Thursday.

Even though this often feels like a large policy argument over development and density in our city, the actual criteria that the City Council is legally bound to base their decision on is quite narrow (although oftentimes it doesn’t appear to be the case). The criteria is defined in §599.480b of the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances:

Destruction of historic resource. Before approving the demolition of a property determined to be an historic resource, the commission shall make findings that the demolition is necessary to correct an unsafe or dangerous condition on the property, or that there are no reasonable alternatives to the demolition. In determining whether reasonable alternatives exist, the commission shall consider, but not be limited to, the significance of the property, the integrity of the property and the economic value or usefulness of the existing structure, including its current use, costs of renovation and feasible alternative uses. The commission may delay a final decision for up to one hundred eighty (180) days to allow parties interested in preserving the historic resource a reasonable opportunity to act to protect it.

In other words, arguments regarding whether or not the property should have even been designated as an historic resource are irrelevant. That is bridge under the water. Arguments about the benefits of the proposed development are irrelevant. They are not legally allowed to consider that. Given this, how does someone like me advocate in support of the demolition, both by emailing Council Members and testifying at the public hearing on Thursday?

The email:

I recommend constructing an argument speaking to the criteria laid out in §599.480b. A great place to start is by reading the staff report, which recommends demolition. There are also other supporting materials to help in writing an argument, including the official application and a letter from Terra Firma Commercial Real Estate Services.

Feel free to add your own personal arguments about why the City Council should support good development. Just make sure that whatever you add is supplementary to your main argument which should be focused on §599.480b.

When you have finished writing your argument, email it this week to all members of the Zoning & Planning Committee:

  • Lisa Bender, chair (lisa.bender@minneapolismn.gov)
  • Andrew Johnson, vice-chair (andrew.johnson@minneapolismn.gov)
  • President Barb Johnson (barbara.johnson@minneapolismn.gov)
  • Kevin Reich (kevin.reich@minneapolismn.gov)
  • Abdi Warsame (abdi.warsame@minneapolismn.gov)
  • Lisa Goodman (lisa.goodman@minneapolismn.gov)

Here is the email that I sent all Committee Members as an example.

The Public Hearing: 

If you are available Thursday morning at 9:30, come to City Hall and testify at the public hearing. My recommendation for if you are going to come down is to write out your comments and practice ahead of time. You want to make sure that your comments are two minutes or less. Lisa Bender has been getting more consistent at cutting people off at 2 minutes, so you want to make all of your points before you get cut off.

This is just an example on how to advocate at City Hall on one specific issue. However, you can take these recommendations more broadly and apply them to almost any occasion where you are advocating for good urbanism. Just one final piece of advice, be mindful of the tone of your arguments.

This post was cross-posted to degersblogg.mn.

Andrew Degerstrom

About Andrew Degerstrom

Andrew is graduate student at the University of Minnesota in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning Program. He lives in the East Isles neighborhood and is active in the East Isles Residents Association where he served as President for two years. Follow him on Twitter @Volantene