You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Thought Experiment Zone!
A few months back I made the case that Minneapolis’ zoning code keeps us from building the type small-scale infill most people say they want (I’m skeptical), or at the very least a scale and intensity that society really likes.
In many cases, the zoning code of today is actually below the existing level of development. This is not by accident. I made the suggestion that if we really want to allow the construction of new (and/or future) affordable housing (lest we become this), everything should be on the table, including relaxing parking minimums and up-zoning. Without major modification to the zoning code, the setback, height and floor area ratio maximums, and other odd requirements make R5 the minimum zoning district to build a modest, historic 5+ unit building by right:
Up-zoning is scary; the thought of massive, neighborhood-wide construction is a doomsday scenario for most (though most seem blissfully comfortable with the scale of redevelopment that allow us all to hop on freeways today). We can’t even replace single family homes with slightly larger single family homes without slamming the brakes.
But I’m a curious man. I’d like to know what it would even look like if we did something totally crazy and up-zoned the whole city to R5 tomorrow. Would the world end? Grab a huge block of salt, suspend your disbelief, and join me on this thought experiment with rough math.
What’s Even Possible?
There’s an idea that was floated around back in 2013: Minneapolis should grow to 500,000 residents by 2025. I tend to agree with the skeptics and question if this goal is even possible – 108,000 new residents in 11 years is indeed a breakneck pace only matched by the decades between 1880-90 and 1900-10. More millennials than you can shake a stick at would make it a struggle to reach that number, and the suburbs will inevitably come calling (but not until you’ve enjoyed your year, of course).
Though not official city policy, it’s probably not a bad idea to spread the city’s mostly fixed infrastructure costs over a larger population (one the city once held). Yet here we are in 2015 with last year’s population estimates topping 411,000, a pace that would put Minneapolis at 489,000 by 2025. So as far as stretch goals go, 500k by 2025 seems good enough for a maximum development potential scenario.
We also know that downtown has a pretty loose regulatory regime permitting dense development without parking in most cases. The Downtown Council conveniently had a goal of doubling the downtown population to 70k by 2025. So we know outside free-for-all downtown, the maximum we could reasonably see Minneapolis growing between 2010 and 2025 is 83,000. Fast-forward to 2025 and the non-downtown gap to 500k is around 70,000 new residents.
How Many New Housing Units?
Ok, so we know we’d need to find room for 70,000 new people in 11 years. One way to bump up population within the city borders is to get average household size on par with the suburbs. According to Met Council data, Minneapolis had 2.35 folks per household vs. 2.55 in “suburban” communities. If some of us have a couple of kids and stick around in the 87,000 mostly under-utilized single family homes currently occupied by aging boomers, that’s capacity for 17,000 new people at suburban family sizes right there.
That leaves 53,000 new people to fill non-existing housing units. They’ll probably mostly go in small-ish apartments and condos. Let’s say the average household size of all new units is 2.13 – the average size of a rented household in 2013 (per American Community Survey data). That’s about 25,000 new housing units by 2025.
Believe it or not, the average units per building (in structures with more than two units) is right around 29, quite a bit higher than I would have expected, though not crazy considering the 2320 Colfax development is 45 units on just over 2 standard lots.
Let’s assume a city-wide R5 re-zone is paired with some stronger rules on lot assembly – no more than 3 standard lots total (120′ of street frontage) and stricter adherence to height (4 stories max) – something nearly every neighborhood organization claims to like. This would limit the scale and bring down the average units per new building; let’s guess 20.
That’s just 1,250 new (net) structures across the whole city (again, excluding downtown) in 10 years’ time. Some developments would replace single family homes, some would be built on empty lots, and some would replace smaller existing apartment, commercial, or (less likely) mixed-use buildings.
Put another way, at an average of 3 lots per redevelopment, probably single family homes, that’s a loss of about 400 structures every year, city-wide. That’s an annual loss just shy of 0.5% of our housing stock. It would take 200 years at this breakneck pace to completely build out the entire city with low-to-mid-rise apartments and condos (ignoring historically protected homes). If you ask me, that’s a pretty slow churn. Some neighborhoods would be hit quicker than others (thinking Lowry Hill, Lowry Hill East, Whittier, and Linden Hills). Even then, tearing down 1-2% a year would be about as aggressive as one could imagine.
Back to Reality
Back in the real world, up-zoning everything, everywhere to R5 probably won’t happen. We’ve got a plan to focus mid-rise construction along (or near) transit lines while soft density via ADUs can enter residential neighborhoods. There are a lot of brownfield sites to go around, too.
However, I do think we should reevaluate some of our zoning choices. Residential districts are far too restrictive (10-12,000 square foot lots for a duplex!?) while not respecting historic form, and we’d be well served to allow commercial uses that serve the “daily use” of residents (similar to German zoning). 500,000 is an arbitrary goal, but it will be difficult to continue growing at a scale many of us will find palatable (especially as commercial/transit corridors become more difficult to redevelop) if we don’t tackle the zoning problem soon.
I’ve given up being surprised by pushback against infill development, but it’s hard to see how Minneapolis will achieve its goal when developers can’t even use properties up to their currently zoned potential. Here’s an example of a space just outside of Longfellow that is zoned C-1, could host 64 people, is planned for 16-32 people, and just might become two single family homes.
The unit counts corroborate the “missing middle” problem noted by many urbanist-developers. We are missing the increments between SFH and large-scale multi-unit.
I hope some people on here can make one of the upcoming Small Developers Conferences being hosted around the country. I’m hoping to make the August one in Dallas, with noted urbanist-developers such as R. John Anderson (formerly worked with Michael Lander).
I’ve got a bit of a post upcoming on that missing middle…
Sadly I probably won’t be able to afford to make it to either Dallas or Atlanta, but it would be really interesting to see what people are doing in zoning constrained cities like ours.
What about patio homes (or single family detached townhouses) as an option. You still get some of the advantages of living in a single family house- being able to say you own a house as opposed to a small piece of a larger building, windows on all for sides, no noise if your neighbors decide to stomp on the floor or blast their stereo, with a more compact size, less maintenance, and less expense.
Those would probably be considered “cluster developments” and the code allows them, but pretty much you need a whole acre for them.
The code as it stands is very concerned with keeping SFH on 5000-6000 sqft, a little concerned with building 3-6 story apartment buildings, and not really very concerned with anything else in the middle, which is a real problem.
is it even concerned with keeping SFH? Phillips and to a lesser extent Powderhorn are littered with individual empty lots, and people have been saying for years it’s because the formerly-existing homes can’t be rebuilt on those lots because of changed setback & minimum size requirements.
I rode 18th & 13th Avenues from Franklin to 29th yesterday and the gaps are really noticeable.
It may very well be that there are lots that don’t fit into the nice cookie-cutter mold currently provided by zoning.
R1 needs a 25 ft front setback, R1A, R2, and R2B need 20 feet. They all require 6 feet in the back. Side yard scales by lot width, but the minimum is 5 feet on each side and 40-50 feet being the minimum lot width.
There is no code defined minimum house size as far as I can tell, but there may very well be a market defined minimum house size such that while it may be legally possible to build a home on those lots, it may not be economically feasible to do so.
In the few times I’ve been in that area my instinct has told me that those lots are pretty small. It could also be relatively easy to get a variance for some of those things, but people may not be willing to try.
I’d like to see a general upzoning simply because I prefer the ease of living in an apartment and leaving maintenance work to someone else, while also being able to live in a quiet neighborhood. Apartment buildings are mostly concentrated along busy arterial streets or on “leftover” land next to highways and busy freight rail lines.
I have lucked out in getting my most recent apartment which is technically on an arterial street, but it’s a quiet one that isn’t much busier than a typical residential street.
I do like to be within a couple blocks of a commercial street so I can shop and hop on a bus, but I don’t like the noise that comes with that. I think it’s pretty shameful that many upzoned areas only extend one block or sometimes just half a block each direction from the street. It’s unacceptable that we force so many apartment residents to be subjected to the noise from large numbers of cars, trucks, and buses.
Not just noisy, but unsafe. While I get frustrated that cars go 25-30 mph (sometimes faster) down my residential street, it’s nothing compared to the speeds one finds on busier arterial streets in Minneapolis (especially near freeway entrance ramps http://www.startribune.com/id-d-unbelted-driver-who-sped-through-red-light-died-in-south-minneapolis-crash/305602521/). Apartments in suburban freeway armpits often abut roads with posted 40-45 mph speed limits.
There was a really nice home my wife and I looked at right on Hennepin Ave, but with a kid and 2 dogs we really were worried about playing in the front yard, etc. That shouldn’t be a living situation relegated to renters. Yes, we should make our major streets calmer and safer, but renting (or owning a condo) in neighborhood interiors shouldn’t be so exclusive. Anyone who’s walked around mid-rise neighborhoods off the major streets in cities around the world with apartments or townhomes knows quiet doesn’t have to mean “single family detached homes.”
Seem like a relic of the “apartment renter = poor” thinking that’s still out there.
Would the world end if the whole city was upzoned to R5? Probably not. But I think that’s in large part because there just wouldn’t be development appetite to do much outside a few select areas.
100,000 new residents won’t come out of thin air. They’ll have to come out of people who are living in the suburbs, or would live in the suburbs. What would make the bros living in Elan stay in Minneapolis rather than Maple Grove?
City/metro-specific immigration relaxation! 😉
I agree, it’s likely development would probably stay in select areas. But I wonder if it wouldn’t be somewhere in the middle. The book Zoned Out gives a few examples of how more relaxed zoning does actually bring more apartments and townhomes across the city as a share of housing units. Houston isn’t a laissez-faire wonderland, but still less restrictive than most places, and apartments/large townhome developments have sprung up in similar areas of Mpls/StP we’d typically think would remain untouched. It would at least be interesting to see, no?
As to what will make bros living in Elan stay? I’m really not sure. The needle is moving already; young families are staying in the core cities as they have kids at higher rates than previous decades. But that’s mostly at the margins. For every boomer looking to sell their Mpls home (with a detached garage and often no A/C and outdated amenities and limiting floorplan), there’s a boomer in a suburban home with 50% more living (and yard) space, more modern floorplan, and attached garage. Plus the whole school perception thing. Tough sell (without delving into macro policy analysis arguments).
Of course the other end to increasing residents is increasing the actual size of the city. As far as I know, Minneapolis’s city limits haven’t changed since about 1930, and it is much smaller (geographically) than similar cities.
Would Minneapolis be stronger with the inclusion of Robbinsdale, Richfield, Columbia Heights, and perhaps the eastern half of SLP and/or the Southdale area?Would that be more low-hanging fruit for redevelopment, and more housing options for the Maple Grove-bound bros?
On the one hand, in some cases, it would be a net decrease in density. On the other hand, you’d gain many areas that are more amenity-rich and individually dense than most of residential Minneapolis — like Park Center in SLP, Southdale, or 66th & Lyndale.
(Whether those potentially annexed areas would benefit from being part of Minneapolis, and would even agree to be part of Minneapolis, is a very different question. But let’s assume we’re only looking at this from the Minneapolis perspective for this.)
That kind of just sidesteps the goal though really. I think implied in the goal is an intensification of land use.
Annexation would be nice but I don’t think any of the surrounding communities would like that very much, and wouldn’t really do much to increase the density of the city.
That actually raises a good broader point — is the point to simply have a city of a certain size, or specifically to intensify what you have?
Of course, if intensity were the only goal, you could spin off everything south of Lake Street or north of Lowry and bam, drastically increase the density. Presumably it’s a mix of absolute size and desired density.
I do think if such a thing were politically feasible, having an area like Southdale within Minneapolis’s limits would be desirable (highway-oriented, but mixed-use high-density outside of downtown). As I noted in my initial comment, I agree, there may be zero interest from surrounding communities. Then again, some municipal mergers have happened (like Morningside into Edina).
How Minneapolis is currently zoned. Look at all that sickly pale-green. http://www.minnpost.com/data/2015/02/how-minneapolis-zoned
Up-zone and change to a lot more mixed-use zones. Residential should allow some commercial, commercial should allow some industrial.
Sounds like a call for a Form Based Code, with specific provisions to separate actually noxious uses.
I would wholeheartedly support blanket up-zoning if it went in-hand with blanket historical preservation. That is, all undeveloped land, parking lots, single story commercial buildings, and shoddy post-war housing would actually be subject to redevelopment from the ground up, and all pre-war houses, flats, and multi-story mixed-use buildings being granted de jure historic preservation status.
Unfortunately, that would restrict the areas of possible redevelopment to where there’s probably less development interest anyway. I think a developer would be more likely to want to avail themselves of this in Uptown or even Whittier than, say, Winona or Windom (where are far more post-war houses).
World War II is a rather arbitrary cutoff. Although that was the line that brought really wide-scale production of tract homes, many are in better shape than houses 30 or 40 years older. Not all, certainly; many are neglected and ready to come down. Unfortunately, many of the early 20th century homes are too.
Classifying 1-story commercial buildings as “unhistoric” is also inconsistent and bizarre, in my opinion. Look at Lyn-Lake: the Milio’s building on the corner is 1-story, yet more attractive on the corner than the two story Penn Cycle.
Nicollet and Diamond Lake is essentially all one story.
I think a better approach to preservation might be to limit % of homes to be torn down/rebuilt on a given block. Say, not more than 50% of original building stock can be removed without a compelling reason (e.g., house is not structurally sound).
Thing is, in my extensive home shopping, WWII is the cut-off when home design and construction really fell in quality. Maybe there are a few brick ranches, but beyond that, I really don’t like 1950s+ houses. And I really love Victorians through the 1940s. Unfortunately they don’t build them like that anymore.
so that’s why it pains me to see pre WWII housing “redeveloped” rather than preserved.
What are the measures of quality that are falling? I think the main thing I notice is that the 1940s-ish onward is that wall construction is thinner, and relying on drywall rather than plaster. Having lived with both, I strongly prefer drywall walls, as they’re more resistant to cracking, easier to repair, easier to remove or relocate, and easier to mount things to.
It is true that there are some cheap finishes in that immediate post-war period — but a lot of quality work remains. Most late 40s/50s home I’ve been in have high-quality flooring, generally with individual floorboards beneath (rather than plywood). With the exception of some very expensive mid-century modern places, the woodwork is often cheaper, doors are hollow, etc. But nothing that couldn’t be easily changed.
Quality is a bit of a moving target, and depends on whom you ask. I think for many, solid wood finishes, custom details, and heaviness of material are the measures of quality. But then again, a brand-new house has better plumbing, better ventilation, better energy use, better electrical systems, even better exterior material (Hardiplank versus wood or vinyl). One thing that I kind of admire about the place I live now is the armored cable for the old electrical system — technically more durable than modern Romex, and sort of cool, but I’d gladly snap my fingers and have a modern electrical system.
This is an extreme example of preservation vs replacement, but there was an old house two blocks over from me, a little older than most of the homes around here, built late 30s, early 40s. On a 100′ double lot. Rather than being preserved, the home was purchased by the city, demolished, and the divided lot was sold to developers. The new homes are extremely attractive (unfortunately, the second one isn’t complete at the time of this Street View) and manage to fit a lot of space without overwhelming the mostly story-and-a-half block.
Granted, this is still only two dwelling units on that 100′ of frontage. Not aggressively dense by any measure. But it went from a home that could support one or two people, to two homes that could easily support families of four or five.
I also think there’s some survivor’s bias there. Houses that have survived more than 70 years will be, on average, in better condition than homes that have lasted for less than 70 years. That’s true now of houses built before and after WWII and it’ll be true in 100 years of houses built before 2045 and after 2045.
I get the idea that structural codes are, in general, a lot better now. I used to work for a show called Hometime, and they’d constantly have to reinforce older construction in order to meet modern building codes and just in general the framing for new houses they built vs remodels. Each era has some things you will not like, ranging from easy to impossible to fix. I can never do anything about my tandem garage or 7 foot basement ceiling in my house, but I now have solid core doors and new wiring.
I’m not comfortable with city-wide zoning of any kind because it forces uniformity across areas that are definitely not uniform.
I do like your idea of no more than 50% replacement of original housing. I wouldn’t mind more apartments in the Wedge but I don’t want my entire block converted because I see value in having a variety of housing types.
Unfortunately, apartments (especially the new ones) act as de facto gated communities. Residents generally don’t have a street-level porch to linger on and interact with neighbors, people aren’t out mowing the lawn, etc. I really like that I can see my neighbor out doing some planting and walk across the street for a chat. It’s nearly impossible to get any neighborhood news into an apartment building unless you already have an insider there. That often means less renter participation in neighborhood events. As someone who’s flyered for NNO for the past five years, it’s frustrating and disheartening.
I’m not at all disparaging apartment dwellers. It’s just a matter of geometry. It would be nice if we could figure our some solutions.
Agree with Sean that WWII is arbitrary. There are plenty of homes built in the 20s/30s with lead paint and asbestos and galvanized pipes, and etc – as much a hazard to health as anything built after. Many of the 50s/60s 2.5 story walkups are still doing fine, and who knows we all might find a soft spot in our hearts for them over the next 10 years.
But I also disagree that some arbitrary cutoff makes sense. As I noted in the post, even an extreme re-development scenario in hot neighborhoods would take 50-100 years to churn every home or structure, and that’s in a ‘marketing stretch goal’ of population growth (and, assuming smaller building sizes which require more demolition to hit the same unit growth number, no subdivision of existing buildings, or ADU construction).
I think we should be proactive about identifying structures or small districts (even though I wrote a piece specifically opposing the new conservation districts) that are particularly noteworthy. My house was built in 1922, and there’s nothing special about it. There are 6 others within a block’s walk that are nearly identical (but for the exterior and front sun room treatment).
The houses may all be the same basic form, but there is value in a sense of place as well. The proposed Wedge historic district would have a very different feel if there were 2-3 modern apartment buildings on each block. I’m not arguiing for more historic districts but rather that there are reasons for such that go beyond single structures.
That sounds terrible to me. I have a pre-war house and it is a LOT of expense and upkeep (plus one bathroom to four bedrooms, which isn’t a thing very many people want). It would be a big improvement to the neighborhood housing stock in lots of ways if, when we unload this place, someone razed it and put in a 3- or 4-flat with amenities like “first floor bathroom” and “electrical outlets in every room”.
Change is important.
Living in house built in 1909 that is still structurally sound but otherwise unremarkable, I have to agree with this wholeheartedly. My house is not worth preserving. There is an identical house (just mirrored, I believe) 3 houses down from me.
Also I have to wonder, what is the “virtue” of preserving an old home that is of no particular historical significance. If we’re worried about a loss of “something” then maybe we should focus less on preserving every single example of it we have, and more on figuring out why it’s not continuing to be created.
In some cases it’s not being created because the materials literally do not exist anymore. We had our roof replaced four years ago and the roofers said they wouldn’t touch the decking because the 100-year-old wood was much higher quality than what is available today. It takes centuries to get such wood.
If you go tour some of the historic houses (Ramsey and Hill come to mind), you can tell where interior wood wainscotting was replaced because the grain is much different due to the wood being young.
You talk about relaxing parking minimums. I think of large dense housing near the Blue line as means to reconcile that for people. Has that been built up since opening a few years ago? I haven’t spent much time on foot in the surrounding areas. the Green is too new to examine, in my opinion.
Upzoning properties across the current code would only be part of the puzzle. The other thing that needs to go is the minimum lot size of 5000sf. It kind of astounds me to see a blanket minimum like that covering the entire city. Who do we think we are, Woodbury?
Portland has perhaps an even more ossified zoning code, established in the 60s as a response to an orgy of apartment development, and now manifesting as a 50-year shortage. As in Minneapolis, another building binge is on, but new units are inherently expensive. What’s missing are the depreciated 10 to 30 year old apartments with correspondingly lower rents. See related story about rents vs purchase price – even in Portland where purchase prices have skyrocketed, rents are worse because the apartment shortage is so severe.
But at least Portland has an “R2.5” designation (the numbers after the “R” have a different meaning there than in Mpls) that allowed 2500sf lots. It’s not deployed anywhere near widely enough, but at least it exists.
And Portland has finally started to encourage development of Accessory Dwelling Units, with lots of new examples ranging from finished attics, basements and garages to backyard structures and “tiny homes”.
We need to be encouraging more duplexes, fourplexes, small homes of various types, multi-use developments (including SMALL ones!) and small apartment/condo developments to accommodate all these new residents over the next few decades (and by doing so we will attract yet more residents as the city becomes more diverse and vibrant).
So why aren’t any single family houses that are affordable to the lower middle class being built? Saw 1500 SF, 3 bed 1.5 bath, two car garage on a Richfield or East Bloomington sized lot.
Zoning regulations specifying minimum lot and building sizes?
Market failure because developers aren’t interested because they make more money building townhouses and mansions?
People that would buy them are more interested in “used” houses as opposed to paying more for new?
Minimum lot size is 6000 sqft in R1 or R2, or 5000 sqft in R1A, R2B, and R3-6.
Land value is probably too high in the city to spec build a house on a single lot in some random neighborhood. It’s not like there’s a ton of builders wanting to even deal with a single spec house. My gut tells me that, mostly because of land, it’s just not possible to build an “affordable” single family home a lot of places in the city.
I remember reading a piece a few months ago (that I can’t find now) that first time home buyers just don’t want starter homes anymore, because they’ve been spoiled by the amenities in their luxury apartments (granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, etc etc) and just won’t bother with the affordable houses that have laminate countertops and white appliances.
So all told it’d be great if we could, say, put a 4plex on a single lot, or even two smaller detached homes, or really just a variety of options between “single family home” and “3+story apartment building.”
Single family homes are only really a viable option for the lower-middle class when land prices are very low. Once an area is built-out and land values are no longer dirt-cheap greenfield prices you’ve priced out most people below middle income for new construction. It doesn’t help that material costs are ever-increasing, often much more quickly than inflation. So you either deal with something a little older that’s depreciated a little bit or something built on the cheap on greenfield land that’s ridiculously cheap. But SFH are always going to be more expensive to construct per unit than apartments (economies of scale, redundant utility infrastructure, etc). Density is just making the best use of expensive land, and it’s the only way you’re going to get something affordable in the city where land prices are generally much higher.
I’d also bet that while people are willing to “put up with” “smaller” homes that are older because of “charm,” they may not be willing to put up with it in new construction, which would prevent smaller houses from being built.
That’s an interesting question. I actually think preferences there may be starting to shift. If you go on the Mpls/St. Paul home tour and look at renovations, there are some expansions but in most of the houses all of the work is done within the existing shell. And most of these remodels aren’t preserving historic kitchens and the like. They’re gut-and-build projects. They look very nice and the best ones fit in with the existing look of the house but I personally find more “charm” in remodels that use salvaged material.
My point in all this is I think at least some non-trivial number of homeowners don’t mind small houses, even without the charm. I suspect that number is going up (the extreme small house trend, etc.) but of course I have no data to back that up.
It’s easier to talk about drastic rezoning and development if you haven’t invested in property. I’ve said many times I would like more apartments in our neighborhood. But I absolutely don’t want the entire place converted to such. And I don’t want that for other neighborhoods either. We’re in one of the neighborhoods listed above as ripe for more rapid development, so the “slow churn” argument really doesn’t do anything for me. It won’t be slow for everyone.
Call me a NIMBY, I guess, but we decided to live here because of the amenities and the variety of housing. Change is healthy and I love the change happening in our neifghborhood and would support more. But there is a limit. At some point the neighborhood becomes something very different from that which brought us here in the first place.
Yeah, it’s not a quantifiable, scientific statement. Humanity isn’t.
Sorry if some of us don’t want to write zoning code of laws based on your ‘gut feelings.’ You really are a classic NIMBY with your reasoning: You’ve got yours (nice area with things you like about it) and now you don’t want anyone else to share it with you because they’d ruin it in some unquantifiable way. You own your house. You don’t own the neighborhood. You have zero right to be exclusionary to other potential future residents based on your own unquantifiable je ne sais quoi. Literally all you are presenting as your side of the debate is a slippery slope argument based on a ‘gut feeling’ about it. I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t take that anywhere near as seriously as well researched data about urban development patterns and housing prices and any number of other *real* things. Not to mention the complete naivety of thinking that you can freeze your neighborhood in time and prevent change, when everything else in the world is constantly changing.
Must everything be so fire and brimstone? I believe he said “change is healthy”, but is uncomfortable with the idea of radically changing zoning, across the city, in one fell swoop.
Although there is much to be said for adding density, I’m not sure that there are documented good examples that doing so with one big whack at the zoning rules. That’s not to say we couldn’t or shouldn’t be a pioneer here, but it is to say that we can’t just assume that that would yield the results we want.
I think a nuanced approach like allowing greater FAR but limiting total number of homes replaced would be a more appropriate way to try this. And, honestly, I think it would be better to limit to one area (like Whittier) and study the effects before replicating citywide.
I understand why David wants the Wedge to maintain single family homes. I myself live in a single family home that’s a 3 minute walk from a light rail station. But I don’t think anyone can make an argument as to why having single family homes within walking distance of a downtown of a major city, or a high capacity transit line, is a thing that is good and desirable to society.
Put another way, why is it better to have a single family with a couple of people living on a plot, rather than 10 or 20 or whatever you could fit in an R6 apartment on that lot? What’s the virtue of it to society? I get all the benefit that’s being internalized by the occupier of the home, but what’s the benefit externalized, and how is that greater than the total internalized benefit from 20 people living there and all that externalized benefit?
Ironically, I’m working on a post that David would probably find much more agreeable than Alex’s.
These are good questions. I think one external benefit is a sense of place. To me, it’s more attractive to live somewhere with pieple from all walks of life than some homogeneous place. The external benefit is that you’ll attract more different kinds of people to a place that has different housing options, get a healthy exchange of ideas and all of the other network-effect benefits.
What’s the external benefit to having a park vs. an apartment tower on the same land? It seems like it’s a similar question and answer.
Doesn’t Jane Jacobs talk about places needing variety?
What’s the difference between 20 40-story apartment towers south of 28th nearer to transit and destinations vs. 200 4-story apartment builds spread out more. I’d argue the former is a better in a lot of ways and worse in some. It’s a trade-off, which is why I’ve consistently said change is good but we should evaluate things on a project-by-project basis (or some larger granularity).
It’s about form and distribution and placemaking as much as it is about numbers. We can’t quantify everything of value.
Project by project basis is good in theory, but it adds way too much risk to the process.
I would like to build a small fourplex or something in this city. As in that’s literally a thing I want to do. Right now it’s not feasible anywhere, because it requires zoning that is so rare or lots so large to make the land acquisition costs prohibitively high. To build this in most of the city I’d need to get it approved first. I’d need to buy the land before I knew I could do what I wanted with it (or get a contract that lets me buy it pending approval, but if I was a seller of a plot I’d rather sell to the guy that’s ready to build than the guy that needs approvals). I need plans, and not just back of the napkin drawings or home plans I pulled out of a book, but actual site specific plans, put together by an architect and/or engineer. I’d need to go through the whole approval process. And every one of those steps costs time and money. And if I don’t get it approved, that time and money is gone, with no real return. A big guy can internalize that expense and spread it over the ones that do get built, but as a little guy, just starting out, my first foray needs to be a slam dunk.
Maybe there can be some process where I come to the city and say “I have no land, I have no site specific plan, all I have is this generic floorplan” and I can get some blanket approval that will let me build that project on generally any land of my choosing.
There are other tweaks that can be made to code to make this stuff buildable by-right, but there’s a lot of layers to peel away.
Just acknowledging that we’ve discussed this before and I’m totally on board with it.
I recognize the problem with “project by project” which is why I aded “or some larger granularity.” I’m not really sure what that looks like (a sort of mini-small area plan?) but I’m sure the more creative people here will come up with something. 🙂
Anyway, I think there’s a lot of housing types between SFH and 6 story apartment building, and many of them will meet your neighborhood requirements. We could spar forever on what’s appropriate in this neighborhood specifically, but in general I think there are a lot of places around the city that can’t support large apartment projects but can support stuff in the middle.
I would like to point out that an abundance of SFHs in an area with high demand and therefore high costs for those SFHs will lead to a homogenous group of people with similar incomes and (by proxy) backgrounds. If you fight infill development and densification of underutilized land you’re fighting against exactly the kind of thing you just purported to want.
And the only reason you’re worried about everything changing overnight and looking the same is because of pent-up demand from suppressing the natural changes that would have happened over time with crappy low-density zoning. If buildings had been getting replaced normally over the last 30-40 years we’d already have a nice mix of ages and densities there. Now there’s a bunch of catch-up, so any relaxation of zoning would mean a bunch of samey-looking buildings of similar design and density.
I don’t deny there are issues caused by the current zoning. I’m not advocating for the status quo in zoning.
I am literally saying we should not replace all or even 3/4 of the SFHs in the Wedge. That’s it. There are plenty of houses ripe for teardown in the Wedge and I wouldn’t blink an eye. Some of them are on my block. I supported the Orth teardown, though I think the loss of the boarding house was a negative for the neighborhood. We should allow that kind of housing again.
Again, I am not, not, not against more apartment buildings in the Wedge. I’m simply saying there’s a limit beyond which I and many others would move and I’d like to see that not happen.
And people wonder why I claim some people here are rabidly opposed to the idea of modest preservation.
Nowhere did I say no change allowed. In fact I said exactly the opposite and I’ve bee consistent in that. I don’t want to keep anyone out. If I had my way we’d build 40-story apartment towers south of 28th st. That’s only half a block from my house, by the way.
My feelings and preferences are no less “real” than your scientific data. You have to deal with the human element. Trying to ignore it is just going to result in failure for you. No one makes decisions purely on scientific data.
I have zero problem with sensible preservation. Throwing a fit every time someone tears down an old house of no particular historic value because they’re opposed to density or afraid of their property value going down (which is hilariously wrong) is just using preservation as a mask for NIMBYism. We’ve been tearing down old houses and replacing them with newer and bigger structures in cities since forever. Amazingly enough, even in really dense places plenty of old structures survived the transition. We’re nowhere close to having to worry about running out of pretty old SFHs in this city… there’s a lot of room to grow before we have something like Manhattan going on here.
And if you up-zoned everything immediately it’s not like every last house would be replaced with a towering apartment building overnight. Eventually supply would catch up to demand and plenty of houses would still be left standing. If you have a problem with that changing the ‘character’ of your neighborhood, you don’t belong in a city. Just as a churn of renters is normal and healthy for a neighborhood, a churn of buildings is too. This isn’t Georgetown or Beacon Hill–it’s some turn of the century houses that we have tens of thousands of all over town.
Read above. I do think there will be more pressure for teardowns in the Wedge. And I am fine with teardowns. Just leave a modest amount so people who like houses can live here and leave the neighborhood looking at least somewhat connected.
Future residents aren’t really excluded at all, even today. Turnover in the area is nothing short of torrid (I mean, we talk sarcastically about “transients” there for a reason). There are always places for rent. At reasonable prices even! No, you won’t get granite counters but those are highly overrated anyway. 🙂
So I don’t at all buy the notion that keeping some SFHs in the area locks people out. If there’s nothing to rent today there will be next month. And the area is at the peak of its heat. It’s only down from here at least until the next wave.
Keeping “some” SFHs in the area is not the same as being opposed to most or all new development in the area. Telling other owners they can’t build what they want near you is trying to ensure most or all SFHs remain.
And I don’t really get what you’re trying to say–of course there’s churn in renters. What I meant by ‘future residents’ wasn’t people moving into existing apartments, it was people who *could* live in the area in the future if adequate housing was built to meet the demand. As it stands now, plenty of people are being excluded from living there because there’s not enough housing units. You seem to want to keep it that way.
I don’t know where you’re getting your ideas because you’re literally attributing thinking to me that’s exactly opposite of what I’m thinking.
I’d LOVE more residents! I’m simply pointing out that the place isn’t so packed that you can’t ever find an apartment. People can live here if they really want to.
How did you come to the conclusion that I oppose most or all development. Do you think I’m part of MRRDC or something? Just assuming that because I’m a Wedge homeowner I oppose all change?
Says more about you than me, I think.
Also you must not have rented in a long time, because people don’t exactly choose the month they want to move. Generally your lease is up at a specific time and your rental options are whatever is available for that next month. You can’t just wait around being homeless for a unit to open up in the place you want to live. So if more people want to find apartments somewhere during any particular month than are available, you’ve got a shortage.
I broke my lease to move into my house. Breaking leases isn’t ideal but it’s certainly possible.
Even so, I don’t think I’ve *ever* seen a point where there is literally no apartment available anywhere in the Wedge. You don’t see them advertised in the apartment hunting guides. You have to walk the neighborhood to see some of them. The fourplex right next to our house seems like it has new people moving in every 2-3 months and that’s just one building.
BTW, I don’t mind turnover at all.
Okay, just a few thoughts:
– First and foremost, this was a thought experiment. I played really loose with the ‘maximum potential’ to find how much would be torn down how fast. I even included a discussion about higher-demand places and concluded that it would still take 50-100 years (likely long after most of us, maybe even our children, have passed from this earth. That’s assuming up-zoning areas further out wouldn’t soak up more demand than I predicted, and ignoring historic preservation we already have in place.
– You presume a variety of housing can’t exist without single family homes. Quite the opposite. Look at Loring Park. 3.5 story walk-ups, 6+ story apartment/condos, rows of attached townhomes, and high-rise towers all coexist. None of them would be possible under R2B zoning or below.
– If 50 years (the fastest possible scenario anyone could reasonably consider) is too fast of redevelopment for people to maintain a sense of place, I don’t know what to say. Again, thought experiment zone, but I would have to believe that a hypothetical neighborhood where every non-historically protected SFH but one has been redeveloped wouldn’t be sad to see the last go. The sense of place will have shifted from a mix of SFHs and small apartments to a mix small apartments and larger mixed-use apartments/condos with the demand for that level of urban living having become natural and apparent to residents and visitors alike. I mean, 100 years ago the house I live in was still farm land, and I live 4 miles from the CBD!
– The Wedge is among the most diversely densified (both in form and in zoning code) areas of the city. If you think the Wedge is a place that has great form, walkability, lack of homogeneity, and people of different walks of life, wouldn’t it make sense to allow the rest of the city to copy this template? Perhaps blanket R5 zoning is a blunt way to do this, but it’s the minimum non-mixed-use district that would allow the Wedge to be built in, say, Fulton or something. Which was more the point of this post (otherwise I’d have just written a “let’s upzone the Wedge and CARAG” post)
– Of all the people to worry about, single family home dwellers (the overwhelming majority of whom own their home, are typically white and wealthy) are the ones I think we should probably worry the least about in terms of a neighborhood changing so much they’ll be ‘forced’ to leave. Ignoring the positive neighborhood changes that would naturally follow redevelopment (better transit, more amenities, more jobs), owners get to cash out (at likely big profit, tax-free thanks to federal policies). They’re not forced to leave – sell anytime. There are definitely negative effects of redevelopment – and as long as we’re thought-experimenting let’s definitely solve those!
Thanks for the thoughtful reply.
Part of the reason I’m passionate about this is not just because I live in the Wedge. It’s also because I love history. I love Milwaukee Avenue. What if those lots had all been upzoned and developed? We would have lost a treasure. What seems pedestrian today can be cherished generations from now. Those Milwaukee Avenue houses were cheap workman’s houses at the time. It’s not on the same scale, but an analogous situation is the destruction of the Gateway. We curse those ’60’s-era leaders for destroying a place.
I certainly agree we need to rethink our zoning. As Peter has said many times, our zoning code isn’t flexible enough to allow what we want. I actually agree that R2B is not the right zoning for the Wedge. But neither is any other the other current categories.
I appreciate your point about allowing other places in the city to change organically. The Wedge is what it is because it was allowed to have different kinds of housing in it. Hop over to Lowry Hill and it’s a totally different kind of place. The houses over there are gorgeous; most are far prettier than those in the Wedge. But I prefer the Wedge because it feels less stilted and strait-laced somehow. Still, it needs more diversity of all kinds.
I think I and the majority of people here are actually quite close in what we want.
Maybe it’s best for Minneapolis if the SFH homeowners do leave. I don’t know, that’s not my expertise. And I understandably don’t get a lot of sympathy when I was faced with in the past (and probably will in the futures) the “problem” of developers offering more money than my house is worth so they could smash it to toothpicks and put up higher valued housing. But it’s not as simpler as “owner makes out like a bandit and moves to Eden Praririe.”
There’s a few issues:
1) Maybe there’s a reason you like that house beyond needing to live in some random house. Maybe your friends are in the area, you grew up there and it’s sentimental, or it’s by transit or within walking distance to where you work.
2) Unless you want to be absolutely creamed by capital gains tax, you need to put the money into another, more expensive house, with possibly with more maintenance, and certainly with higher property taxes forever.
3) Moving and closing costs are not free
4) Hold out for too much money and the developer will pass and buy out your neighbors instead, and you’re stuck with apartment balconies towering over your back yard instead of single story homes.
Capital gains on the sale of your primary home are exempt up to $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a married couple filing jointly. You’re not going to get creamed on capital gains from selling your house.
Reaching that 500,000 goal in 10 years requires growth of 2% per, or about 8,000 people per year. That’s a pretty ambitious target, but it’s not ridiculous.
Whether a neighborhood has a “sense of place” is a function of walkability, street layouts, landscaping etc., not building intensity. Los Angeles’ “Condo Canyon” is a miserable collection of highrises along a freeway like boulevard. But Downtown Vancouver, where the city has carefully controlled design standards, is terrific. There are loads of character rich neighborhoods of four story buildings, especially in places like Boston, Chicago, etc. Some single family neighborhoods are lovely, others are arid and awful.