Historic Context for The Wedge’s Historic District

Map of northern Wedge R6 zoning (with two cats)

The northern Wedge’s R6 zoning (dark green) is the key to understanding historic dissatisfaction (kitty cats added for teardown effect).

Last September, Ward 10 Council Member Lisa Bender’s office held an informational meeting regarding a proposed Lowry Hill East historic district. It was a homeowners-only affair, intended for those whose properties would be included, though there were plenty of party crashers: eager homeowners from outside the proposed boundaries, a guy from Kingfield, and at least two renters.

I showed up late, right about the time it devolved into a sort of call-and-response routine; people were slapping each other on the back over their very, very historic properties (Hey Joe, I don’t see your house on this map, it’s pretty historic… Yeah and what about Bill, his beautiful home isn’t on here either). Our former Council Member Meg Tuthill was there to suggest that City staff take a historic drive-by on the 2400 block of Aldrich. It was an amazing scene (in 2017 I’ll be endorsing whichever Council candidate promises to hold the greatest number of wildly entertaining historic district info sessions).

In February, Bender officially nominated the Lowry Hill East Residential Historic District. This was followed by an article in which former Council Member Tuthill says it would have been preferable to put the historic district in areas with many fewer historic homes: “I’m much, much more concerned about the protection of the housing stock north of 24th Street and south of 26th.”

In the same article, The Lowery Hill East Neighborhood Association’s (LHENA) President–a former Tuthill aide–described the desire of some neighborhood residents to expand the historic district as far south as 28th Street. I’m able to confirm the accuracy of this assessment because the guy behind me at the September meeting was muttering “the whole damn Wedge” in response to a question about the preferred composition of the district.

Some of the dissatisfaction with this proposal has to do with the fact that the included properties, while certainly the most deserving of historic status, are already zoned R2 (low density, two-family district). New development isn’t a threat in this area. For the anti-development folks, this historic designation won’t solve their problem; it just means a bunch of regulatory headaches for homeowners, without any of the desired downzoning side-effects.

The blocks contained within the planned historic district were rezoned to low-density in 1975; this is true of most of the neighborhood south of 24th Street. LHENA, which was formed in 1970 to advance the cause of downzoning, declared victory at the time. The northern part of the neighborhood, however, remains an area of high density zoning, which explains the current fascination with the idea of a North Wedge Historic District (Save the apex from R6!). Rezoning the north Wedge is the final piece of unfinished business in a 45-year battle against apartment and multi-unit housing (along with their resident dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and motorcycle gangs).

zoning we won!

November 1975. LHENA declares victory.



Things were refreshingly explicit in the old days.

Aside from considerations of zoning-related geography, there’s a strategic reason for the anti-development crowd to be skeptical of this historic district: putting all your nicest old homes in one basket could mean losing the leverage to cram a bunch of undeserving properties into some future Super-Sized Wedge Historic District. That dynamic helps explain why a nearly identical historic district plan died in 2008 amid neighborhood concerns, reported in the Wedge newspaper, “that acceptance of this proposal could limit future possibilities for expansion.”

This is not to say the proposed district doesn’t have its share of fans. Council Member Bender reports a largely positive response from affected homeowners. And despite the desire of some residents for a far larger historic district, the LHENA Board put their symbolic weight behind the nomination two weeks ago. The organization has also formed a “historic” committee, which will no doubt have expansion on its agenda long into the future.


12 thoughts on “Historic Context for The Wedge’s Historic District

  1. cdElle

    As a renter, I have mixed feelings about historic districts in general. I do think the homes in this specific proposal are all very lovely and worthy of the designation. I just have no interest in turning the whole Wedge into a historic district. The Wedge is one of the most walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly neighborhoods in the City. I’d like to make sure we don’t implement policies that inevitably drive up prices.

  2. Peter Bajurny

    I had a thought about zoning the other day. Much of the opposition to new development in this area has focused on zoning, specifically that zoning is word of some higher power and to go against it would be tantamount to heresy.

    Except when you don’t agree with the zoning, in which case it’s some bureaucratic nonsense brought down by missile silo experts living in fourth ring suburbs.

    Guys, you can’t have it both ways. Either zoning is chiseled into stone tablets, or its fungible thing made by humans subject to all the flaws that entails. If you’re going to complain about something not following some specific part of the zoning code exactly, you can’t talk out the other side of the mouth and say that the zoning code is ridiculous.

  3. Thatcher ImbodenThatcher

    Re: downzoning

    I used to oppose downzoning of properties because it seemed like a taking of sorts, as property owners buy and sell property based in part on the future value of the propery.

    But my view as evolved over time and I do think one of the best tools to reduce the likelihood of tear downs in the North Wedge is to downzone.

    Those knowing real estate law better than I may have more thoughts on this to add but I think there is case law that says a Comp Plan trumps zoning and our planning processes have encouraged density along corridors and preserving the scale within neighborhoods. It doesn’t seem unreasonable then to downzone.

    In addition, I recall from my time in CRE that you can insure against lost rental income should your propery be destroyed and if you are unable to reconstruct to the existing non conforming structure.

    There is value, I believe, in maintaining lower scale residential areas in our neighborhoods while still allowing ample growth on our corridors.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Why do we want to reduce the likelihood of tear downs?

      The Wedge has a lot of ill-suited housing stock. Replacing some of it with buildings that can accommodate more people does not sound like a bad thing to me.

      1. Wayne

        Because change is bad! Build nothing ever anywhere! Make everything historic and revel in unchanging posterity! Someone somewhere else owns a parking lot you should build on even if it’s in a crappy location and they won’t sell it to you for twice the price! But also don’t build on that parking lot because it might block someone’s view or create more traffic!


    2. Wayne

      “There is value, I believe, in maintaining lower scale residential areas in our neighborhoods while still allowing ample growth on our corridors.”

      If you think the wedge isn’t one of the the most optimal areas for increased density then you probably are either a straight-up NIMBY or want the city to look like the suburbs. If neighborhoods directly adjacent to downtown are somehow ‘bad’ places for density, where exactly is it supposed to go other than ‘not where you live?’

  4. Thatcher

    Adam, I think there is value to historic preservation and that there is ample capacity to increase density without going into the interior of neighborhoods and demolishing existing housing stock. A lot of buildings are salvageable. A market like Uptown commands high enough rents that new construction is feasible, generally, when land prices align. I’d argue that zoning that greatly exceeds existing housing stock (say R6 where R2B or R4 may suffice) increases the upside and thereby increases the value of land. Once one developer shows that you can knock down property in the interior, get it approved, and make money, others will follow.

    The small area planning process in that area worked out a compromise that was to allow growth along the corridors while preserving the interior. As a proponent of growth, I found that acceptable and worked to convince some of my neighbors that if growth could be accommodated in places like Lake-Hennepin (where people were fighting it) then we could try and maintain existing housing at places like 33rd and Dupont or 32nd and Aldrich.

    While I love the Wedge, including its varied housing stock and opportunities it provides with a mix of housing prices, I think it is a shame that dozens of homes were demolished in the 1960s-1970s to make way for three story walk ups. The vision for the community and that time was one that I’m glad was not implemented…as the city assumed a freeway along 28th, sunken intersections along Lyndale, and pedestrian bridges over Hennepin at Lake.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I guess I take your point as a matter of political compromise, but as someone just talking about stuff on the internet (obviously of much lower value than the work you’ve actually been doing), I’m not keen on the reasoning of those with whom compromise was apparently necessary.

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