Frank-Lyn II: The Opposition’s Bad Arguments

hennfrankbus

Busy buses on Hennepin Ave, an attractive amenity that’s just a short walk from the transit-friendly corner of Franklin & Lyndale.

In Part I, an unsuspecting straight, white male was made to feel like a marginal member of society at his neighborhood association meeting. In Part II he saves Lowry Hill East from itself.

Fighting Traffic, Battling for Parking

There are those in Lowry Hill East, and every Minneapolis neighborhood, who value wide open streets and abundant, free car storage above all other amenities. And if that’s you, we’ve spent a half-century creating, with the help of perverse transportation policies, many such places for you to live. I’d rather not stoop to saying Off with you! To the suburbs! So I won’t. Then again, I kinda just did (my parenthetical apologies to you, dear neighbor).

But if you stay–and please do–the new building on Franklin & Lyndale won’t be the source of your traffic and parking woes. Around 30,000 cars were crossing that intersection on weekdays as of 2011. Considering the economic growth in the intervening years, let’s assume that number has crept steadily up.

car2go

Sometimes when I spy a car2go in Lowry Hill East, there’s another car2go spying on me from a distance.

It’s difficult to wrap my head around the suggestion that adding 89 apartments, while also accommodating a theater and a restaurant–both of which are already located at that intersection–would add more than a tiny drop in a very large bucket of traffic. And that’s assuming all residents are full-time drivers and avid parkers.

For residents who own a vehicle, they’ll store it in the included parking structure, not on the street. How many will climb into their cars to drive across the street for groceries? (And while we’re on the topic of shopping, maybe we should ask The Wedge Co-op whether this new apartment building will be good for local businesses).

Lowry Hill East is no longer a sleepy neighborhood with great views of a brand new IDS Center; it’s a growing part of an expanding urban core. Yearning for the past won’t bring it back, but we can work together to ensure a better transportation future that takes advantage of this area’s potential for growth.

Our new and soon-to-be neighbors have different transportation priorities from previous generations. The corner of Franklin and Lyndale seems perfectly suited to those new priorities. Three bus lines–4, 2, and 6–are all a very short walk from this corner (and in a more just world, we’d have LRT or BRT). The new building will provide secure, indoor bike storage for residents. The neighborhood is a cyclist’s paradise. It’s very near the Loring Greenway heading downtown; and the world-class Midtown Greenway is a short handful of blocks to the south, via the Bryant Ave bike boulevard. The neighborhood is flush with car2go vehicles, HOURCAR hubs, and Nice Ride stations.

transoptions

Transportation options for car-less and car-lite households in LHE.

I have a hard time entertaining the notion that someone would choose this building–in this neighborhood–if they had designs on a heavily car-dependent lifestyle, clogging our roads and sopping up all the city-provided street parking. From a transportation perspective, The Wedge can handle the growth; it’s crying out for it.

And despite the above-listed transportation options, there were demands put on the developer to have parking bundled with rent–a requirement to purchase a parking space. Want to live in our neighborhood without a car? OK, but pay for it anyway. Perhaps this is a terribly misguided solution to a parking concern; or another example of the oppose everything attitude from some anti-development folks; or just an inability to conceive of people making the exotic lifestyle choice to not own a car.

A Rooftop Hoover-ville

Crime comes up routinely as a reason to oppose new development. But the arguments are made so halfheartedly that I suspect those making them haven’t even convinced themselves. Are you safer in a deserted parking lot or a bustling street? If crime prevention is important to you, invite more people into your neighborhood, not fewer. You should want more pedestrian activity, more cyclists rolling by, and more people coming in and out of local businesses.

dumpy corner

Not safe, and objectively dreary. Corner parking lot ensures bus riders have to dodge a 360 degree swirl of cars. (photo by Scott Shaffer)

Safety in numbers is more than a cliche. Most people look out for each other. The more eyeballs, the better when it comes to street crime. The assumption that a building full of new neighbors will cause a crime wave, belies common sense and plenty of real evidence.

The since-discarded public park was one design element that some suggested would become a crime-magnet–a sort of rooftop Hoover-ville–full of dangerous transients (and by transients, I don’t mean renters). Public parks are a typical developer sop to worthy concerns about green space. And knee-jerk opposition demands the removal of anything a developer proposes. Since the developer doesn’t care one way or the other, it’s a simple thing to remove it. This rooftop park was a small detail–nothing worth quibbling over–but it reinforces the idea that some in the opposition are prepared to object to everything.

Affordability, and Other Nonsense

It should be easy to dismiss the oft-raised concerns about the effect of new development on housing affordability. Restricting the supply of a thing that many people wish to buy does not lower its price. Instead, restricting supply raises the cost of housing. For everything else in life, people seem to understand that a shortage implies a price increase; but when it comes to housing, logic fails us. We can’t afford to be San Francisco:

[T]he city did not allow its housing supply to keep up with demand. San Francisco was down-zoned (that is, the density of housing or permitted expansion of construction was reduced) to protect the “character” that people loved. It created the most byzantine planning process of any major city in the country. Many outspoken citizens did—and continue to do—everything possible to fight new high-density development or, as they saw it, protecting the city from undesirable change.

Even if the newly built housing is above your pay-grade, you can rest easy in knowing that your affluent new neighbors are taking up residence in a former parking lot rather than your upgraded former apartment. Absent new supply, older housing in desirable neighborhoods can always be renovated–making it more upscale. It’s also important to remember that the amenity-laden building of today is the older, affordable housing of two or three decades from now.

Restricting supply does, however, benefit owners at the expense of buyers and renters. This is a rational reason for current owners to oppose new development, but it damages the interests of the vast majority living in our city.

MRRDC

Page for the MRRDC, a group organized to defend one’s right to see the IDS Center from their house.

And finally, perhaps the most ridiculous of all–the concerns of those who might suffer the loss of a view. Where there was once a grand vision of the downtown Minneapolis skyline, there might soon be the backside of an apartment building. This amounts to the loss of an accidental, though fortunate, circumstance–on par with having the cable company turn off the free HBO you received by mistake, years after moving into a home.

Every spring I lose my downtown view to the greening of the trees across the street; yet, as I do not own those trees, I can’t chop them down. I can see why this might cause legitimate personal distress, but I’m less able to comprehend the boldness to organize an anti-development movement around it.

Let Minneapolis Be a City

A home should be more than a castle; for me, home is a neighborhood. Our neighbors are more than an obstacle on the road, standing between a vehicle and a destination; they’re more than mere rivals for a prime parking spot. Our attachment to a neighborhood should extend beyond four walls and a front door. It should extend to the people on the sidewalks; the businesses; the cyclists on the street; our neighbors–the homeowner and the renter. The people around us make our lives and our neighborhoods better, expanding the universe of what’s possible in a city.

All of which is to say, let our city be a city. Let’s set aside a sanctuary for the pedestrian, the bicycle, the bus, and the train. Let’s embrace community, and looking out for one another. Let’s be pro transit, and at least give ourselves the choice to opt-out of traffic and the rat race for parking. Let’s embrace density because it means being happier, healthier, more prosperous people.

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27 Responses to Frank-Lyn II: The Opposition’s Bad Arguments

  1. helsinki May 2, 2014 at 7:34 am #

    It will be quite difficult for the city to plausibly claim that it supports increased density if it prohibits infill development on a surface parking lot at such a central location.

  2. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson May 2, 2014 at 8:27 am #

    I’ll offer an attempt at interpreting what they believe is “responsible” infill development here. I’d bet those against the apartments would cheer if a version of Greenway Gables were built right here. If two-story suburban style townhomes are positive “infill” for the downtown core, all the better out here.

  3. Jeff Klein May 2, 2014 at 9:58 am #

    You’re wrong. With people comes crime. This is why I prefer to hang out in mostly-abandoned parts of Detroit.

    • John Edwards
      John Edwards May 2, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

      Ha. I know most of my points seem ridiculously obvious. But I thought it was important to make the argument. And keep making it.

  4. Casey May 2, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    I was at the meeting as well and other meetings before and have never felt a ‘renter vs. owner’ divide like you are suggesting. I am a renter and we do attend meetings.

    As for oppositions towards this development there are many more to consider besides those you mentioned. Here are a few for your consideration:

    This area used to be a lake and floods every year, is it viable to build a theater in a basement? Is it practical to build a 5 story building on a old lake bed? This project is being proposed by a developer that has had a history of substitution of materials resulting in problems due to poor construction.

    The density in the wedge had already been increased by new developments by 47%. Is this level of density sustainable with the current market? Please consider that over the last 10 years the wedge and surrounding neighborhoods have had a boom/bust with real estate developments. First the housing bubble. Then over saturation of the condo market. Remember, for those who have lived in the area long enough to, developers converted many apartments to condos as well as build new ones. This had a direct correlation to the apartment supply.

    What will happen when the tenants of these luxury apartments decide to buy a home for reasons as homeowner investment, starting family’s, tired of the uptown party life style, or the slap and paste construction begins to deteriorate?

    • Matt Steele May 2, 2014 at 10:56 am #

      The folks who have a right to be concerned about the supply of this micro housing market are the developers and the investors. They are the ones with cash on the line. If anything, the neighborhood would benefit if there’s actually a bubble that inflates supply of dwelling units, because the units persist and rents fall. But the reality is that more people want to live in the Wedge, and the only way to keep prices affordable is to allow housing to be built, especially when it’s replacing surface parking lots.

      What will happen when people want larger units for larger families? Same thing they’ve been doing for centuries — moving? The Wedge has had apartment buildings for over a century. What’s different now?

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke May 2, 2014 at 11:02 am #

      It’s worth remembering that the historic density of this area was much higher in the past (pre-war, see https://streets.mn/2014/03/27/then-now-lyndale-and-hennepin/). So while the population of the Wedge might have gone up over the last 10 years, it also went way down over the last 50.

    • John Edwards
      John Edwards May 2, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

      The conversion of rentals to condos happened all over the country. That was not a Wedge or Minneapolis-specific issue. But I don’t see how preventing the construction of new rental housing is a solution to a shortage of rental housing.

      I find that the critics are often “worried” about affordability and a bust in the same breath. Are people really that worried about the developer losing lots of his own money? As Matt points out, a glut of housing is good for affordability.

      There have been and there will always be young renters; some will become older renters, some will raise families in the city, and some will move to the suburbs to raise that family. And sometimes when a man loves a woman very much, they make baby renters. It’s the circle of housing.

      As a renter without children (I tell myself it’s OK to be a childless loser…), let me say I’m skeptical of home-ownership as an investment vehicle; and I have never engaged in the “Uptown party life-style” though it sounds like I might tire of it quickly. But I do agree that we should definitely not put these buildings together with Elmer’s Glue. (Get your head out of your ass, Gerberding!).

      And finally on the renter-bias front, we’ve had different experiences I guess.

      I appreciate you bringing your concerns to the comments. Glad we can have a free and open discussion about this.

  5. Adam Miller
    Adam May 2, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    One other thing you hinted at but did not make explicit: the people who live there will shop for much of their needs on foot, at the Co-op, at the pharmacy, at restaurants and liquor store, that are all on the same block. That additional foot traffic should calm traffic and make the area even more pleasant.

    • John Edwards
      John Edwards May 2, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

      Your point is well-made.

      Unfortunately, I could only add that point as a parenthetical. The streets.mn Gestapo tells me I only get 1000 words per post and this one was at 1500. There are too many good reasons to support this development.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke May 2, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

        It’s actually called the “streets.mn Board of Censors”

  6. Janne Flisrand
    Janne May 2, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    I found this Vox card deck on affordable housing yesterday, and it does a nice job of responding to a couple of the concerns around this project.

    First, why is increasing supply so central to affordability?
    http://www.vox.com/cards/affordable-housing-explained/supply-side-of-affordable-housing-matters-most

    Second, won’t unregulated developers just produce tons of luxury housing?
    http://www.vox.com/cards/affordable-housing-explained/wont-unregulated-developers-just-produce-tons-of-luxury-housing

    Third, if we allow denser building, isn’t everything going to get overcrowded?
    http://www.vox.com/cards/affordable-housing-explained/density-and-overcrowding-where-will-everyone-fit

    (I’m going to have to post the one on gentrification and displacement on your first post, I think.)

    • John Edwards
      John Edwards May 2, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

      Now you’ve gone and made things too simple. Thanks! (Deleting the three 2,000 word pieces scheduled on each of those topics.)

  7. Wedgie May 2, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    Thanks for these wonderful posts about our neighborhood! I have owned my house in the south wedge for almost 10 years now. I love most my neighbors, but unfortunatly you are spot on the characterizations of the vocal minority that participates in LHENA and attends other ‘community meetings’. I have long given up. On the positive side, Meg Tuthill was the embodiment of these ‘get off my lawn’ neighbors, she earned her political career through LHENA. It’s painfully obvious that type does not represent the majority after Lisa Bender, who is not the ‘LHENA’ type, absolutely pounded the ***** out of her in the last election.

    Don’t apologize for feeling these neighbors would fit better in the ‘burbs or Linden Hills. A spade is a spade. The more uncomfortable and unwelcome they feel with change will hopefully get them to give up and let our city be a city. After all they really can’t yell any louder.

  8. Cadillac Kolstad May 2, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    I keep seeing references to San Francisco on this site as something not to aspire to.The fact is whatever the process it is the second most densely populated city in the US. They never had a decline in population like MPLS did, and people keep moving there. The weather is also great, MPLS is the coldest large city in the US.
    After reading many posts on here I still am looking for a big picture view. I have not seen discussion of a comprehensive vision for increased density but mostly advocacy for this or that project.
    Before we start fighting each other over specific projects we should request a comprehensive analysis by the city of housing and density and opportunities for growth on many levels. Supporting big developers and their projects is not the only option.

    • Eric Anondson
      Eric Anondson May 2, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

      Yes, stop everything and have a government study to determine how we can do what San Fancisco does to get the good weather, then we can have density.

    • Cedar May 3, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

      People keep moving to SF, but housing is increasingly difficult to find and increasingly expensive. I’m a former SF resident, and can tell you from relatively recent experience that the rental market is absolutely insane. Families with kids are moving out (or give up on finding a rental in the city if they’re moving in); it is increasingly becoming a city for rich white older or single people, and HAS had a significant decline in various demographic groups, including families with kids (it is also has, among major cities, the country’s smallest percentage of children.). Much as I do love SF, I don’t think we want to move in a direction towards more ethnic, age, or socioeconomic segregation than already exists. And I think neighborhoods are stronger when they have housing options and residents of all ages, stages of life, or family structures.

  9. Cadillac Kolstad May 3, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    Yes. If we are going to add density we need to know how much we need and what are the ways to accomplish this quicker, and less disruptive to current residents.
    -What density level is the goal?
    -Where is it already accomplished? – most development is happening in communities that already are walkable and fit the definitions of New Urbanism and Smart Growth.
    -How many empty bedrooms are there in MPLS that would fill up restrictions were eased?
    -How many thousand attic and bsmnt spaces exist that could easily be renovated to add housing?
    -Who are the people who could and would be willing to build and ADU? How many artists would live in their studio if they could legally?
    -What buildings exist and are vacant that could be repurposed?
    -What is the actual number of units being added true replacement rate / How many units are being demolished as we are building the many thousands?

    With the stroke of a pen how many units / how much density could be added? lowering cost and lessening and controversy than the current developer centric program.
    These are questions that should be answered before any more permits are issued.

    -Or is the real issue that some people want new shiny “lego block” apartment buildings to suit a personal sense of taste? –

    Yes we should stop willy nilly development without some facts about what the needs and goals are.

    Here are some quotes from a reputable publication. showing the skewed nature of the so called “low vacancy in minneapolis”

    Census: 15,000 vacant housing units in Minneapolis

    “By the year 2010, our vacancy rate in the city of Minneapolis had doubled from 2000 levels,” said Mike Christenson, director of the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED)

    the city has added 9,681 units of new housing since 2000, according to the census figures. At the same time, Minneapolis has about 8,500 more vacant housing units today than it did 10 years ago,

    that translates to a vacancy rate of 8.3 percent among all types of housing

    http ://finance-commerce.com/2011/03/census-15000-

    vacant-housing-units-in-minneapolis/

    • Eric Anondson
      Eric Anondson May 3, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

      Grand plans administered by highly credentialed people have an epically poor track record at succeeding their stated goals.

      • Cadillac Kolstad May 3, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

        basic information – what I am proposing – is always good.

        The point is to get away from those grand plans by big developers.
        Allow more organic growth.

        Its a mixed bag of results for grand plans but. many of the biggest failures were by big developers like the one that is proposing a project on franklin lyndale and 2320 colfax.
        There are many “Grand plans” advocated for on streets.mn Where do you stand?
        Are you in favor of plans by people with no credentials?

        I agree, the grand plan of the tangled web of minneapolis zoning, density at all cost mentality, to facilitate the grand schemes by highly credentialed developers and their PHD planning department staff cohorts, resulting in these developments is an epic fail.
        Thanks for supporting my point!!

        • Eric Anondson
          Eric Anondson May 3, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

          Fantasy plans are harmless by themself and can be useful in guiding. Being too grand in scope and equally unavoidable we shift into micromanaging and nickel and diming people into unnecessary inflexible costs that are doing little but raising costs of the product or requiring subsidies to get an affordable product.

          When it comes to spending money in a grand plan I prefer a situation where credentialed people have a stake in the outcome.

        • Alex Cecchini
          Alex Cecchini May 3, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

          It sounds like what you’re asking for is the city’s comp plan, supported by the type of neighborhood planning that has already been done. Countless hours invested by planners who want to steer the type of (highly desirable) development that’s going on to transit corridors (or areas extremely close). The type of corridors like Lyndale and Franklin Aves, the type of neighborhoods like hte Wedge with R6 zoning, etc. The process has already been done.

          To answer all your questions above broadly: I doubt anyone here is opposed to opening up ADUs, basement/attic apartments, renting out un-used rooms, etc. I desperately want those to be part of the housing mix. I’m also realistic enough to know that most people (98? 99%?) don’t want a stranger living in their spare indoor bedroom. A large majority of other people don’t have access to the type of capital required to build a laneway home ($60-100k+?), finish off a basement apartment ($40-50k?), etc. If they do have that kind of cash, many lots or buildings may not accommodate the designs (lot layout/grade, basement ceiling height, roof design, etc) without being cost prohibitive. Of that subset, even fewer would actually pull the trigger for personal reasons.

          I would guess, as much as I’d love these to be a major part of the equation, that a simple stroke of the pen (not so simple politically..) allowing all these might result in 30? 50? units a year added across the city (being generous) in the short-term.

          And yes, some people do like to live in new buildings with new amenities and styles. That’s their right, even if the building is “lego block”-like (ignoring that we may have untapped architectural styles that might be revered in 80 years by limiting development).

          • John Edwards
            John Edwards May 3, 2014 at 10:36 pm #

            +1. Practically speaking, nobody wants to live in your attic or spare room. But I’m fine with allowing it.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam May 5, 2014 at 9:13 am #

          I don’t see the conflict you posit, nor am I sure how to tell organic growth from a grand plan.

    • John Edwards
      John Edwards May 3, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

      You’re giving a vacancy rate “among all types of housing” from the midst of the foreclosure crisis. The actual vacancy rate for rentals FELL from 2.7% to 2.5% despite all the new construction. And it’s driving prices up, of course.

      http://www.startribune.com/housing/230594621.html

      “The average rent across the metro area rose 3.5 percent to $984 during the third quarter, according to a report released Monday by Marquette Advisors. The increase comes amid growing concern that the rental market is on the verge of saturation. Developers have announced plans for thousands of new apartments in the Twin Cities, yet there’s no evidence the region has been overbuilt.

      The market has been “buoyed by strong demand fundamentals, with positive momentum in the job market, favorable demographic trends, and an increasingly popular and ‘livable’ downtown neighborhood,” according to Brent Wittenberg, Marquette’s vice president.

      The average vacancy rate across the metro fell slightly to 2.5 percent from 2.7 percent last year. Market watchers are paying close attention to Minneapolis, where apartment development has gone gangbusters, mostly in Uptown, the University of Minnesota area and downtown.”

    • Adam Miller
      Adam May 5, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

      My two cents:

      1. As much as we can achieve.

      2. Nowhere. Everywhere in the Twin Cities could and should be more dense.

      3. Probably very, very few. But let’s ease the restrictions anyway.

      4. Could easily be? Probably a lot. Will be? Probably very few. But let’s allow it anyway.

      5. Don’t know who could and would, but again, probably not very many. Again, that’s no reason not to allow it.

      6. Well, the old McPhail Center, for one. I’d love to see someone with $50 million (blind guess) to spare renovate it to make productive use of it. I haven’t been in the building since the mid-1990s, so I don’t know how easy it would be to convert, but from the outside it seems like it could be cool office space or housing. I’m sure there are others that don’t spring immediately to mind.

      7. Obviously, I can’t answer that overall, but anecdotally it doesn’t feel like very many housing units are being demolished. None at all but one of various recent controversial proposals (Colfax obviously being the one). None at the Ryan development going up in Downtown East. None at the Pillsbury A Mill. None at 5th and Nicollet. None at 221 Hennepin. None at the new building across 1st from it. None at the Vue. None at the proposed Eclipse. None at LPM (I think). None at the Dock Street Flats. None at the Marshall (although there is the loss of a property that may have had redevelopment potential). One single family home, I think, at the approved Dinkytown project and one more at the “delayed” one. I’m sure there are some more, especially around Dinkytown/Marcy-Holmes and maybe in some places along the Midtown Greenway, but that’s still an obvious net significant increase.

      7. At the stroke of a pen? At the risk of being pedantic, probably none. I think you’re right that we should be opening up the housing code to alternative housing arrangements, and I’m not currently aware of any good arguments against that. And yet, I’m darn sure there will be vociferous arguments made against it, and that even if implemented, I’m skeptical about how many people would chose to take them. I do not think they are a white knight that will save us from having to build more.

      8. In public discussions I definitely get the sense that taste plays a big role opposition to new projects and some people seem to particularly dislike current architectural trends. While I’d prefer that everything that is built match my personal taste, it makes little difference in these questions to me. I want spaces that attract people, people, and the businesses that people attract.

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