I contacted City Council members prior to the final council vote on an appeal for a demolition permit at 2320 Colfax in Minneapolis’ Wedge neighborhood, much-discussed in posts here and here. Council Member Glidden sent me a detailed response explaining the reasoning behind her vote, which she has given permission to post here.
Thank you very much for taking the time to contact me with your thoughts about 2320 Colfax Avenue. I have heard from many people on both sides of this issue and appreciate the passion and thoughtfulness I have heard from so many neighbors. As you may know by now I did vote to permit the property owner to demolish his property — in other words, finding that the city did not have a proper legal basis to force him to keep the building as it is today.
This decision – whether to permit or deny the owner’s application to demolish his property – was a “quasi-judicial decision” for the City Council. In situations like this, the council acts like a court of appeals and is constrained in the factors we may consider by the guiding laws and by the evidence presented to us (the record).
In mid-2013, the City Council, including me, voted that 2320 Colfax was a historic resource. This vote, however, is not determinative of whether the building deserves designation or whether the property owner could ultimately be permitted to demolish or otherwise alter the property. Rather, as a historic resource the property owner must submit an application for review of his request to demolish and there is a specific test that must be met. This test include a determination that “no reasonable alternatives” to demolition can be found – which can include examination of factors like the significance of the the building, the integrity of the building, the economic value of the building, the cost of renovation, and other factors found in Chapter 599 of the Heritage Preservation regulations.
It was significant to me, as also mentioned by some of the Heritage Preservation Commissioners who also considered this issue, that the building has not retained its integrity according to the evidence before us. The building had been altered over the years, withstood a fire, and other modifications. This does not mean that this building does not have possibility – as many have contacted me about the work they have done to restore historic properties and realize the potential of those properties — however, under the ordinance we are not permitted to look at what could happen if the property was lovingly renovated, only the current status of the property.
A second significant point, also mentioned by some of the Heritage Preservation Commissioners, was that nothing had changed with this property in the year between the 2013 determination that 2320 Colfax was a historic resource and the 2014 demolition application. As someone who voted in 2013 that this property was a historic resource I had high hopes that some alternative might come to fruition for this property. The fact that nothing had changed with the property, currently operating as a rooming house (a use no longer permitted Minneapolis ordinances) is further evidence that no reasonable alternatives exist to demolition.
At the 2013 public hearing before the HPC there was some discussion of attempts to move the house to another lot. Sadly, that did not happen – and I understand that because of the largeness of the house (height, width, weight), cost of the move and finding someone who would finance that cost, and perhaps other factors that did not turn out to be an alternative that worked.
While there was evidence that Rehab Addict star Nicole Curtis made an offer to the property owner of $400,000, the property owner did not accept the offer and there was further evidence that he desired a higher price than the $400,000 offer. I did review this evidence with our city attorney, which confirmed for me that the city council does not have a way to force a property owner to accept an offer to purchase that he believes is less than the value of the property. Thus, the $400,000 offer can’t be considered a reasonable alternative to demolition.
There have been other arguments made by advocates about why this property owner should not be permitted to demolish his property – but they are outside the scope of what we are allowed to consider for this quasi-judicial decision. For instance, some have argued that demolition is “not green,” as a significant amount of construction waste will not be recyclable. While it is true this dealing with construction was is an issue that we need better policy alternatives for – and I have personally committed to working on on this issue – this is not a factor we can consider as part of this decision involving 2320 Colfax. Similarly, some have argued that in their view this decision will take away low cost housing (rooming house conditions) – again, this is not something the city is permitted to consider in the decision before us.
I appreciate that there are very strong feelings about this decision. I respect that there are different points of view but have presented to you the reasons for my decision that the city could not prohibit the property owner from making the decision to demolish his property.
Elizabeth Glidden, Ward 8 Council Member
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