Friday Photo: A Norway House is not a Norway Home

When I walked up to Franklin Ave. to catch the bus to work last week, this is what I saw:

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A construction worker filling in windows with bricks at the former Wings Financial Credit Union building. This building, and most of the rest of the property on the entire block, have been acquired by an organization called Norway House, which plans to do this:

norwayhouse

All in all, the four extant structures on the West side of the block will be demolished. That parking lot in the lower left will be about here:

parkinglot

I first heard about the project in a letter from Wings, my now former bank, saying they would be closing the branch a quarter-mile from my house. Already feeling annoyed, I looked into the project and raised an eyebrow at the irony of an organization called Norway House demolishing a small piece of an originally Norwegian neighborhood to build a parking lot.

Shortly after moving into my house in the neighborhood, I had checked the original construction permit for the property and found that it had been built by Ole Olsen, the most Norwegian-sounding name possible – so, I figured maybe I could catch this organization in the act of demolishing a true Norwegian historical work of architecture for their dumb parking lot. I went to Development Review downtown and tried to pull the original construction permit for the house at right in the photo.  No actual building permit was on file, so the house was probably built prior to records being kept. But, a permit to repair the foundation issued in 1903, the earliest record on file, listed the owner as a John W. Chaseman, not as Norwegian-sounding a name as I’d hoped.

permit

Thus my plot to catch the Norway House in an act of hypocrisy and prevent them from building their parking lot fizzled.

Truthfully, the stuff they’re demolishing isn’t particularly noteworthy or great. The house on the Southwest corner of the block is a beigely vinyl-sided dud from 2004.  But the fact that a bunch of Norwegians are coming into a neighborhood that they abandoned long ago and building a big, stinky parking lot, and blocking out the windows on an existing building is troubling. It smells like they’re using this neighborhood the same way the other institutional land uses in Phillips have: as cheap land near a freeway off-ramp. Something for people outside the neighborhood to drive to, that has nothing to do with the people in the neighborhood.

It would have been nice to see this organization try to revive some of the original urban character from when the neighborhood was predominantly Norwegian immigrants. Back when there were more than, I dunno, three buildings on a city block.  Oh well.

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You’ve been living in Maple Grove too long, my friend.

 

 

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19 Responses to Friday Photo: A Norway House is not a Norway Home

  1. Alex October 3, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    Looks like they’re putting the elevator in front of the window they’re bricking up. Are elevator windows expensive? If I happen to be forced to use an elevator, I definitely prefer to be able to look at something besides shiny metal walls.

  2. Matt Steele October 3, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Unless those 85 parking spaces are reserved for Electric Buddy’s (or maybe vintage Troll cars from the 1950s) then there won’t be much Norwegian about the majority of this block. Too bad most of it will be spent housing cars rather than housing people (including Norwegians, of the human variety).

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke October 3, 2014 at 11:42 am #

      Yeah, Scandinavians are famous for their surface parking lots. Right?

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary October 3, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

        Well, actually, Norwegians do love their parking and highways — at least relative to Denmark and continental Europe. Although a significant proportion of folks, even in suburban areas, use transit, you wouldn’t know it by looking at many areas of Oslo.

        How do these spots compare to what’s required by zoning code? Is Norway House going above and beyond what’s required?

        If they’re simply doing what Minneapolis demands, the contradiction is interesting: a big reason off-street parking requirements exist is so that residential areas aren’t overwhelmed with non-resident on-street parking. Is it worse for your neighborhood for the spot in front of your house to be taken, or worse for your neighbor’s house to be torn down?

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller October 6, 2014 at 10:39 am #

          I’d like to know the answer to this too.

          Although looking at the block as it stands today, there’s currently bunch of parking on this block, some of which will be apparently replaced by the event center (whatever that is). Is there a net increase in parking going on?

          And if so, what are they adding that requires tearing down three houses (one of which is apparently only a decade old) to add yet more parking?

  3. Brian Finstad October 3, 2014 at 10:33 am #

    I was sad to learn they had purchased this location already just prior to the Anson Brooks Mansion on Park Avenue going on the market. I thought it would have been great to have Norway House in the vicinity of the ASI. But they had already made their purchase and the Brooks Mansion has now sold as well. Water over the dam, but would have been neat.

  4. Mackenzie October 3, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    I believe that Mindekirken, on the SE corner of this block, is likely the primary reason that Norway House pursued the former wings building and the entire block for their physical location. Mindekirken has been a (or the) predominant Norwegian-American community, language and cultural institution in Minneapolis for a very long time. The programs certainly attract from outside the current n’hood, but the institution has continued to exist as the neighborhood has experienced many changes over the years.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_Lutheran_Memorial_Church_(Minneapolis)

    That said, it would be wonderful to learn more about any current or planned efforts to engage their surrounding neighbors and community. Or, encourage that to become part of the conversation.

  5. Caddy K October 3, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

    Let us review the location.
    All of the structures planed for demolition are assets to the neighborhood. The housing
    is well maintained and the laundromat is always busy and an important amenity for so very many people who live near here.

    This site is on a major transit hub, the #2 on franklin and numerous buses at the Chicago and Franklin bus hub, it is also near enough to walk from both the blue and green line, near several major bike routes and across the street from Red and White taxi.
    In addition Minneapolis has an office vacancy rate of nearly 20%, so there are ample locations for institutions such as this without demolishing housing when there is a 40 year low on residential vacancies, and a very tight market for commercial / storefront property.
    Shame. Bad Bad urbanism!!!!!!!!

    Where are the “good urbanism” advocates when this stuff happens?
    I thought we needed density ?!?!
    This is ridiculous. The area is already over saturated with vacant lots and institutional uses.
    Removing 2 housing structures and a commercial building for a parking lot, how does this even get a permit?

    Furthermore the organization is a nonprofit so the property will be off the tax rolls, and they are building an events center at the same time the Franklin Theater in being renovated into an events center less than a block away.

    This is exactly why so many the advocates for “density” and “good urbanism” should be talking about. Here is a location in the core of the city and it is about to become less diverse, less dense etc.!!! (It is also why I don’t buy those arguments when justifying controversial demolitions. If were going to be urban it should be comprehensive policies, not a jumble of variances and permits on a parcel by parcel basis.

    Please help us stop bad land uses like this.
    Thank you Joe for bringing this to light.

    • Mplsjaromir October 3, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

      Go away Rockabilly troll.

    • Scott S. October 4, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

      It’s on the website, so you can’t really say that no urbanists are talking about it. I think you can have ideas about what good urbanism looks like (not this) and acknowledge that, because property rights are a thing, sometimes there’s nothing to do to stop bad urbanism. That’s how I feel about this and the expanding Kemp’s parking lot on W. Broadway.

    • Janne Flisrand
      Janne October 5, 2014 at 11:05 am #

      As a card-holding fluent Norwegian speaker and urbanist, I am speaking loudly about how horrible (and in disagreement with Sean, not-very-Scandinavian) I think this is. Demolition to build surface parking is inherently anti-urban. I’d note that demolition is not inherently bad, though — and it is critical to making for a better city by also increasing density along transit corridors.

      If Mindekirken were serious about wanting to improve the City, they’d propose a city-friendly project that increases the intensity and attractiveness of the properties on this entire block (that they now control), maybe partnering with a developer of affordable or market-rate housing, to create some shared parking and additional housing.

      This is – as highlighted by this post – a bad way to go about developing Minneapolis. And as Scott points out, property rights are property rights.

      For my part, that’s why I’m working to change the underlying policy that allows this to happen. I want policies that consistently steer the future towards better urbanism. That also means defending property rights also rather than an instinctive anti-demolition instinct.

  6. Alex Cecchini
    Alex Cecchini October 5, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

    This isn’t the only Norwegian institution in town that takes up vast swaths of land for surface parking. Sons of Norway in Uptown has that parking lot along Holmes taking a solid 40% of a block.

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary October 5, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

      Also built in 1961… the same era as the Uptown Rainbow. A better comparison would be the Swedish Institute on 26th and Park, which I believe also bulldozed houses for its expansion and parking lot.

      • Janne Flisrand
        Janne October 11, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

        I won’t go to the Swedish Institute (except for public meetings on projects) for that very reason. I get too angry looking at that massive inappropriate destructive horrible parking lot. I’d say I’m one of those Norwegians who hate the Swedes, but I am angry at the Sons of Norway Building’s parking lot and the one this article is about, too.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller October 6, 2014 at 10:59 am #

      Nor the only church that recently replaced housing with parking. I remain irked that Westminster Presbyterian was able to tear down apartments for expanded surface parking without any controversy (that I saw anyway). Although I don’t know what the state of that apartment building was.

  7. Brian Finstad October 7, 2014 at 8:25 am #

    If I am not mistaken, surface parking lots are not a permitted use in residential zoning. Are the parcels where the apartments stand zoned commercial?

    • Caddy K October 9, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

      Brian, 3 of the lots are residential, so the parking lot will require rezoning or a variance or some such thing.

  8. Caddy K October 9, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    I am very happy to see activists talking about this project, since it as not as high profile as other recent projects, the dissent may not be as obvious.

    Some more information about the existing parcels.

    In addition to the busy laundromat.
    There are 2 duplexes and a SF home representing 5 units, and 14 bedrooms. The housing is all fully occupied, mostly by immigrants, and is relatively affordable. In the present configuration these parcels have pretty high density.
    A city planner informed me that the demolition and parking lot have not yet been approved or received a permit.

    Alternatives:

    There is ample space on this parcel to have the project move forward and preserve existing land uses. If that much parking is really needed an underground garage could be created. However there is a surplus of parking near this site. Social Security 2 short blocks (= 1 long block) away has a huge lot that is usually empty and never used after 5pm weekdays, or on weekends. I’m confident a shared use contract could be worked out possibly including valet parking. Revenues from the apartments and laundromat could help fund added expenses of mitigating parking
    Other considerations:

    Property rights are not the same as unlimited right to develop.

    Land uses are restricted in a number of ways. A few examples.
    -DNR officers (armed) will enforce laws restricting construction on wetlands or other protected environments
    -ADU’s are currently restricted in Minneapolis, as are many other uses bars, thrift stores, rooming houses, milling, etc. As Brain pointed out private parking lots / driveways are limited in residential areas.
    -In Minneapolis even grass height is restricted to 8″ and violating that constitutes a “Police emergency”.

    Claiming that “property rights” implies a freedom to build or do anything is not really the case. Even a tree house was recently condemned by the city.
    Property rights include the right to be free of “nuisance” or conflicting land uses. So people who own property near a proposed change in land use also have a “property right”. A project that infringes on a nearby owners enjoyment of their property is a violation of “property rights” this has been upheld by the courts on numerous occasions. The problem is it takes a lot of money to go to court and enforce these rights.
    Norway House, Kemp’s, or anyone else do not have an inalienable right to make parking lots, demolish buildings, make a dump, build an apartment, open a hog farm etc. The city by consent of the citizens has the right to zoning and regulate land use. While we may disagree with City policies and restrictions generally they do not represent a violation of “property rights”. If this were the case permits would have been eliminated long ago. Property rights ARE property rights! But this is not an issue of property rights.

    This land use conflicting with the “Minneapolis Plan for
    Sustainable Growth” is enough legal footing for the city to deny a permit application. In addition the need to rezone parcels is also grounds for denial.
    Property rights of nearby land owners would be a legal recourse to stop this project or at least be awarded damages by the courts.

    One of the houses ( a duplex ) Is (according to the city) not yet purchased by the project developers.

  9. Brian Finstad October 11, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    I was thinking that the current residential sites were not likely zoned for parking lots. What I have seen happen in past similar scenarios is the buildings get razed (as is their property right) and after the parcel is a vacant lot, then go after a rezoning that will allow for a surface parking lot (which is not a property right). The strategy of course being that it is easier to support the rezoning when the site no longer is serving a purpose. It sometimes is taken even a step further to threaten that if approval isn’t received, the property (whether structures or vacant lots) will be not be maintained and result in blight.

    My guess is that the neighborhood will support the added parking at this location. My ex sister-in-law lives nearby and the Somali Mall at 24th and Emerson puts a strain on parking for many blocks surrounding the mall. Both the immediate residents and the Somali community will favor adding parking. Not that I support the idea of another surface parking lot (I do not), I’m just acknowledging that dynamic existing in that area will add momentum behind neighborhood support for the project.

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