A Tale of Zoning Manipulation in Saint Paul’s Tangletown

The house on Princeton Avenue.

Our town is filled with gates and walls invisible to the eye. Regulars at streets.mn know how the physical reality around is affected by zoning policy and staid old traffic development manuals, and it’s not my intention to bore you by banging that drum again. But when examples of bad practice come up, it’s important to spotlight them, particularly given the wonky, boring, and exclusionary nature of the zoning realm.

This is the tale of another invisible wall being built in Saint Paul to protect the wealth of a small group of private homeowners cleverly using taxpayer dime with only one small caveat, this one hasn’t happened yet.

It starts where it always starts, with concerned neighbors. Save Our Saint Paul Neighborhoods (SOSPN) is an organization that conjured itself from the well heeled shadows of Tangletown in the Mac-Grove Saint Paul in 2014 to save a quaint single family home on a big lot from becoming two quaint single family homes on decently sized lots. The group uses phrases like “historical value”, “sustainability”, and “neighborhood character” without attaching any concrete values to their claims.

They earned their first victory in 2014 that saved the old Dutch Colonial by endlessly berating the Director of the Minnesota Historical Society, who had made the grave error of purchasing the home and trying to improve it. Since then they’ve spent time berating District Councils, City Council, and the Mayor. This year they hosted a Mayoral Candidate Forum where they scowled and growled until each candidate stood and obediently shouted the words “Property Value” with varying degrees of sincerity.

For this tale though, we’ll go to September 2016, when SOSPN took its first stab at writing its own protectionist zoning code for Saint Paul’s Tangletown neighborhood, entitled the ‘Tangletown Conservation District.” (Tangletown Conservation District Proposed Final Version – Oct 13 2016.) The document boils down to essentially this: Nothing taller than what already exists, don’t touch the trees, and everything has to fit into the subjective notion of the ‘character’ of the neighborhood.  It’s that last bit that’s the real kicker. The vagueness of it, if ever adopted, essentially gives the neighbors of Tangletown a veto on any new development or remodel based on nebulous aesthetics.

Forget that.

First SOSPN dragged their exclusionary proposal before the Mac-Groveland Community Council. MGCC’s tepid response was a resolution of vague neighborly support, the fine print of which expresses serious concerns about the actual implications of the SOSPN documents.  A particularly poignant line reads

“Concern about the proper balance of individual versus neighborhood property rights.”

That’s the whole point of the Tangletown Conservation District though, to give entrenched, well-to-do constituents power over property they don’t own, to exclude the kinds of people they do not approve of.  It’s the whole point of SOSPN. It’s the whole point of every nay-saying platoon across the country.  It was the whole point of every neighborhood organization that quickly coalesced in the aftermath of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. It’s the bloodline of the redline.

After SOSPN collected their vaguely supportive resolution from the MGCC they brought it to Ward 3 Council Member Tolbert who put a resolution onto the consent agenda of City Council asking the Planning Commission to study and report the merits of a Conservation District in Tangletown. It passed and now we’re dedicating city staff time and resources to the larval form of an exclusionary zoning ordinance that will be used to bludgeon some upcoming development near Macalester College to death.

What happens next is left to the Planning Commission.  We can only hope that they return with the obvious: Tangletown is not under assault, it does not possess historical significance above and beyond the neighborhood around it, it does not possess additional ‘character’ above and beyond the rest of the neighborhood (save for kinking up the street grid), and it certainly does not merit a ‘Conservation District’. I pray for an abrupt and uneventful ending to our tale.

For me, the lesson is thus: the soft power in the city lives in these quiet undercurrents of dry, boring, bureaucracy. This kind of power is the ability to dictate who can live where, and by its basic nature, this kind of control is only accessible to those who possess the combination of time and education to keep a finger on its faint pulse.  Don’t be surprised when people who possess that combination use it to protect and grow their own wealth at the expense and exclusion of others.

No good tale goes without a moral, and mine is this: keep your neighbors accountable, and serve each other genuinely.

Document dump:

Tangletown Conservation District Proposed Final Version – Oct 13 2016

Articles near this location

48 thoughts on “A Tale of Zoning Manipulation in Saint Paul’s Tangletown

  1. John

    I can understand why the people of Tangletown are concerned about tear downs in their neighborhood. It’s because the new houses they put in place are almost always badly proportioned, over-grown, and hideously monstrous. (What is up with the enormous porch posts on steroids?) If the newly built homes were not such eyesores, i don’t think people would be so up in arms regarding this issue.

    If you are going to replace a building, is it asking too much that the new structure be better looking than the old one? I realize that taste is subjective, and one person’s fake Victorian is another person’s charming McMansion.

    But I moved into my neighborhood precisely because of the pre-War housing stock. Today, I have over-sized, suburban-style homes popping up like so many mushrooms in my once quaint neighborhood of single-story bungalows.

    If I wanted to live in Chanhassen, I would have bought a house there.

    1. Steve

      You bought a house, not the neighbourhood.

      If you want control over the other lots in your neighbourhood, there is a straightforward and legal way to do this without infringing on the rights of your neighbours – buy the land.

      Anything less is just asking your fellow taxpayers to subsidize your lifestyle.

      “If I wanted to eat italian food, I would have gone to an italian restaurant” – is not a justification for a law that says no one is allowed to build an italian restaurant.

      Freedom means freedom of movement, freedom to own, buy, sell, rent, and freedom to build, even if your neighbours don’t care for it.

    2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Maybe there could be a requirement that if you tear down a house, you have to add units to the overall mix once rebuilt. Maybe take a SFH and require it to be a duplex, with bonuses for if you do a triplex or fourplex. That would be a huge improvement over teardown McMansions.

      1. Monte Castleman

        I think the people building these large houses are the same people that don’t want to share a wall, ceiling, and yard with other people. So I that requirement would put the kibosh on teardowns for better or worse.

        Agree with the comment that taste is subjective. I myself have made fun of the “Houses of Too Many Gables” but on the other hand a lot of residential architecture can variably be classified as homage or parody. This includes the old houses in Minneapolis with stucco and fake timbers trying to look Tudor or the needless pillars of a suburban Colonial Revival inspired house.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          The people building these large houses are generally developers and general contractors, building them speculatively to sell. If they were allowed to build more dwellings rather than being forced to build SFH and nothing else by the heavy hand of zoning, maybe they would. I know I would love to build some multi-family housing near Macalester.

    1. genaberglundLynn

      That tactic did not help the neighbors win. The house was saved despite the ill-advised harassment tactic.

      The sellers were planning to build two very large (two story, 4/5 beds, 3 baths), unaffordable houses, fyi. They were planning to be living in one of those.

      There is so much wrong about the history people think they know.

    2. genaberglundLynn

      “But several dozen protesters gathered on the front porch of 1721 Princeton Ave. on Friday evening for a candlelight protest, chanting “Save this home” and “Don’t tear it down.”” Candlelight vigil for a house still makes me chuckle. Keep in mind that Fred Melo authored that piece.

  2. Tom Goldstein

    Completely biased, cleverly-written, uniformed article by someone who didn’t bother to actually talk to anybody involved with SOSPN. God forbid that neighbors want to save a historic home because they think place and character of a neighborhood matter. Saint Paul would be so much more appealing if all the homes were uniform tiny houses with tiny yards where nobody had pets or kids or cars or even books that might fill up a room.

    Left out of all the hero-worship for the much-maligned purchaser is that the ultimate plan was to make a pile of money by one day selling these homes. That’s capitalism at work, but don’t romanticize it as some kind of noble effort to increase the housing stock. And it was only because Macalester College held a right of first refusal on the property that had been overlooked during the sale of the home that the neighborhood was able to avert yet another bulldozed house in Ward 3.

    While purchase of a lot gives the property owner certain rights, those rights are not unlimited, and pushing for an overlay district that places limits on teardowns or alterations make perfect sense in a historic neighborhood.

      1. genaberglundLynn

        Nope. Purchase and renovation of Princeton house completely funded by private nonprofit HWF and the donated sweat “equity” of two staff people who worked weekends and evenings for three months on that house.

    1. Tom BasgenTom Basgen Post author

      Hi Tom, thanks. I’d like to think I’m pretty clever too, handsome too.

      Do you know what makes that house historic? Cause God love George and Jennie Williams but immigrants coming to America and building a house, while arguably the most American story of all time, is hardly historic when it has happened millions of times from the beginning of our nation up through today. It’s happening today Tom. We don’t need to preserve that story, we’re living it. Well, Ok, Trump. You got me there.

      Furthermore, any attempt to lessen one’s footprint while creating additional housing stock is a noble effort, and if you can make a buck while doing it that makes you smart too. Don’t get me wrong. Capitalism on the whole is a bum deal and it has no friend in me. It financially incentivizes homeowners to create artificial barriers to building housing because the more exclusive a home is, the more money it’s worth. That has the unfortunate effect of being bad policy who for everyone who doesn’t own a home where the frivolous rules are put into play.

      Beyond that, the Right of First Refusal was only brought into the play after the whole scenario was blown sky high by SOSPN. To say that it was Macalester and not SOSPN that was the cause of the death of the sale is disingenuous or at least, not particularly clever.

      Oh and I didn’t talk to anyone from SOSPN about the article because the article is based on an official proposal with a group with a statement of intent at the very beginning of the document. A document which was included for your reading pleasure.

      1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

        “…someone who didn’t bother to actually talk to anybody involved with SOSPN.”

        I think what Tom is saying here is that it’s unnecessary to give those who have added their statements to the public record a second chance to rectify their statements before using said public record.

        The whole point of a public record is that it is available to the public unaltered and arguably that provision is core to our democracy.

        This is why our state law dictates an “Open Meeting Policy.” This open meeting policy has three stated goals:

        • To prohibit actions being taken at a secret meeting where it is impossible for the
        interested public to become fully informed about a public board’s decisions or to detect
        improper influences
        • To assure the public’s right to be informed
        • To afford the public an opportunity to present its views to the public body

        Streets.MN, in my opinion, is an extension of that open meeting protocol and exists in pursuit of the same goals.

        It is my opinion that Mr. Basgen is not required to give public documents a second edit by their authors prior to publication of Mr. Basgen’s personal views. It may behoove Mr. Goldstein to remember that these source materials exist in order to foster democracy.

        For reference, I have attached the MN State Open Meeting policy in hopes that all parties may find it useful in fostering a respectful conversation in pursuit of a better city.


        1. Cindy Syme

          That would be great if those meetings we accurately portrayed by the Planning Commission. But we must be vigil about what is actually reported. For example, the public meeting input for the Ford Site plans were wildly inaccurate in the initial report. Only because citizens involved looked carefully at those pie charts, did they eventually revise the public input from a majority for the current plan, to a larger majority against. That’s why it’s important to have more than one avenue of information.

          1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

            Speaking as one of the people on the Commission, we had all the Ford comments available to us before anyone made any decisions. I know many of the 20 Commissioners read every one of the 400+ comments before making up their own individual minds.

            Speaking personally, some of the comments were better informed than others. Petitions, in particular, are a dubious reflection of public opinion, because nobody has any idea how they were generated. To me, the fact that the vote was unanimous points to the quality of the work that the City has done in creating the Ford site plan.

            1. Cindy syme

              Interesting that a member of the Planning Commission considers the voice of the people as dubious. I respectively disagree.

              1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

                “The voice of the people” is an interesting concept that I have written and thought about many times. Who gets a voice? How is that voice expressed and gathered and represented? What kinds of people are we talking about? Are we talking about wealthy people? People that own property? People that speak English? etc etc. I am proud of the work that the Commission has been doing to more accurately reflect the actual population of Saint Paul. The vast majority of the new Commissioners, for example, are people of color. I am one of the few renters on the Commission, for example. These are just a few of the things that we should be thinking about when we do public engagement.

                1. genaberglundLynn

                  In my 15 years of public engagement experience those who resist change are often the loudest and show up at hearings. The folks who think, hey, that’s a cool idea or I would like that in my neighborhood, often don’t take the time to show up at hearings or make comments.

      2. Tom Goldstein

        My point is that no matter what your perspective on SOSPN, the housing code would have allowed for a teardown. It was only because of clause insisted upon by Macalester when the property was sold that there was any leverage with the buyer. Why did Macalester include that clause? Probably because somebody at the college–perhaps smarter than you–recognized that maintaining the historic character of a neighborhood was an important value for a city built around sustainable neighborhoods.

        Density has its place, though density for density’s sake doesn’t create neighborhoods–it just crowds a lot of people together who may have no interest whatsoever in who lives around them–just as long as there’s a brew pub, coffee shop, and bike lane nearby, right?

        Sure, millions of historic homes were built in the 20th century, but you’re treating it as one big inventory when it’s just as important where the remaining homes are located as how many of them exist. They aren’t monuments to a bygone era, but living, breathing structures that will outlive you and I if we don’t treat them with disdain the way you seem to. Tearing down a bunch of historic homes so we can turn Tangletown into Dinkytown is not my idea of a positive step forward in Saint Paul.

        There was nothing noble about the intent of the buyers of the Princeton Ave property; they saw a chance to convert a lot into two properties and hopefully realize a nice payday for their retirement. It is one thing for someone to put vacant lots back into service for housing, or tear down an abandoned property that is beyond saving for the same purpose. In fact, there are two vacant lots that have sat across the street from my house in the Midway for nearly twenty years that I’d love to see converted into single family homes.

        But for you to see nothing of value in a historic home because it’s just part of some kind of inventory that is disposable is the exact mentality that led to all the foolish urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s that wiped out so much historic architecture that we now just read about in books. And for what? A bunch of concrete obsolescence that makes American planners look like short-sighted idiots.

        Keep writing your fables. Just don’t pretend you’re an expert on urban planning because you’re capable of being clever.

        1. Mike SonnMike Sonn

          Mac probably had a right-of-first-refusal because they owned the property before and sold it to an employee and wanted to keep that option open for future employees. I doubt it went any deeper than that.

          And your condescending tone is so off-putting that I have a hard time imaging what a Goldstein administration would look like and how it would do our city/region any good even if I did agree with your policy positions.

        2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Your idea of history is ahistorical. The gradual intensification of city land use is very much how history went.

          The foolish urban renewal of the ’50s and ’60s was not at all the same thing. It was tearing down for its own sake.

          But sure, neighborhoods aren’t made up of things that people like (those darned brewpubs, bike lanes and coffee shops). It’s just the structures that already exist that really matter. Uh huh.

        3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          “Density has its place, though density for density’s sake doesn’t create neighborhoods–it just crowds a lot of people together who may have no interest whatsoever in who lives around them–just as long as there’s a brew pub, coffee shop, and bike lane nearby, right?”

          This is a pretty condescending attitude toward different kinds of social life. Like saying “kids today…” and pointing to smart phones or something.

          So what “creates neighborhoods”? Walking, sidewalks, bike lanes, cafés… those are a good start.

          What doesn’t create a neighborhood? My easy answer is people sitting in traffic and honking at each other. To my mind, solo driving is the most socially destructive urban pattern we have in our cities, and has done more to undermine “neighborhoods” than any other social change we’ve made in the last few generations. All the things you list in your comment here are far more conducive to basic human interaction — and therefore community — than folks sitting in their car by themselves, futilely getting angry about the world around them.

          1. Katie

            Not weighing in on the larger controversy, but Macalester bought the property in 1970 as part of the High Winds Fund and its efforts to keep professors living near the college. It sold the house to Professor West in 1972 as part of its effort to buy homes in Tangletown and around Macalester and encourage professors and other faculty members to live in them and energize the neighborhood in the midst of white flight to the suburbs. My understanding is that these properties were sold at a very low cost by Mac in the first place and the right of first refusal ensured they could pass them on to new folks and faculty if they became available again.

            1. genaberglundLynn

              Pretty close to accurate. Some dates may be slightly off and there were covenants put on the properties to keep them out of hands of landlords, but the general idea is spot on!! Tangletown would probably be controlled by landlords renting to students if HWF had not stabilized homeownership during white flight era. Thanks Katie!

          2. Tom Goldstein

            I found the whole tone of the article to be arrogant, from the headline of “A Tale of Zoning Manipulation in Saint Paul’s Tangletown” to lines like “another invisible wall being built in Saint Paul to protect the wealth of a small group of private homeowners cleverly using taxpayer dime” and “berating District Councils, City Council, and the Mayor. This year they hosted a Mayoral Candidate Forum where they scowled and growled” and “give entrenched, well-to-do constituents power over property they don’t own, to exclude the kinds of people they do not approve of,” etc.

            I understand that the author of an opinion piece is entitled to certain “poetic license,” but the use of this kind of language to impugn the motives of people who don’t at all fit the condescending assessments made of them is unacceptable. Since sarcasm seems to be the coin of the realm when those wearing the sustainability hat go after those who disagree with them about teardowns or what makes for a good neighborhood, I was making some broad generalizations in response to underscore that point.

            Most teardowns that occur in Ward 3 are out-of-town developers buying up affordable bungalows and replacing them with out-of-character McMansions that tower over the surrounding homes. If Mr. Basgen was really concerned about what practices are doing the most harm in excluding people from being able to live in more affluent neighborhoods, that should have been the focus of his one-sided piece. Instead, he takes some cheap shots at people who weren’t willing to allow developers to exploit their community.

            I’m sorry if running for mayor somehow disqualifies me from using sarcasm to make a point, but this is an issue I’ve worked on for several years and during that time I found no one involved in the effort doing so with the goal of excluding people from the neighborhood–other than unscrupulous investors and developers looking to make a buck at the expense of everyone else.

            But since I am running for mayor and apparently some people did not appreciate my tone, I apologize and want to clarify that I very much appreciate the many brew pubs and coffee shops that have sprouted in Saint Paul and fully support the entrepreneurs who have taken the risk to make them happen.

            I also appreciate the efforts to make Saint Paul a much more walkable city than it is and to make getting around on a bicycle far easier than it has been historically–so long as the implementation of those goals is not done in the insular fashion that I’ve witnessed the past several years. But that’s somewhat off-topic to this discussion, so that’s a fight we can have another time. (insert smiley face here.)

            1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

              If you have time, send us your “voter guide” Q&A so we can post it. I’d love to hear more about your approach to density, walkability, etc. I think you’re the last mayoral candidate outstanding… not including Tim Holden.

            2. genaberglundCleveland Avenue Bike User

              Because mayoral candidate Goldstein just made it sound like he supports the implementation of bike infrastructure in Saint Paul, I am just leaving this link to Mr. Goldstein’s FB post here and quote of text therein for people to consider, as they wish.


              “Tom Goldstein for Saint Paul
              October 21, 2015 ·
              One of the surprising things I’ve learned in my doorknocking of the neighborhoods around St. Thomas University the past several months is the widespread opposition to the proposed alignment of Cleveland Ave as a north-south route for the St. Paul Bike Plan.
              And it’s not anger from “crotchety old people” or the anti-bicycling crowd, though there is some of that. Rather, I’m hearing frustration from moms and dads, avid cyclists, and all sorts of level-headed, common sense folks. Although the city can demonstrate a series of public meetings in 2011 and 2014 during a very short window of time, the anger level suggests that the public process was neither welcoming nor inclusive.
              I know some of my biking friends will disagree with that assessment, but some of them will also acknowledge that Cleveland Avenue is not a route they would use because the street is just too narrow. I agree.
              I’m sure those who have been waiting for these routes to be completed see no reason for further delay. Maybe so. But the hallmark of good government is that you do the work on the ground to build support, not simply push through a solution because “that’s the way it is–we’re tired of waiting.”
              Please turn out on Wednesday, October 28th, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. to share your thoughts and concerns at the city-sponsored Open House. And let’s put the brakes on this plan until we have an alignment that really does reflect the best path forward.”

              1. Tom Goldstein

                Not sure why “Cleveland Avenue Bike User” feels the need to post anonymously, but I appreciate him linking to my FB comment about the Cleveland Ave bike lanes made in 2015. I think it’s completely consistent with what I said here about wanting to make St. Paul a much more bike-friendly place but that the implementation of that plan must include far greater public input and engagement than what has taken place in the past. Thanks again for sharing on my behalf that post.

                1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                  That’s a particularly strange thing to say with reference to the Cleveland bike lane, that got lots of public input as part of the plan and then lots more as people brought up late objections to its implementation.

                  Also, hindsight should surely tell us that the outcome of that late input was pretty atrocious – spending a lot of money that was supposed to go to pedestrian and bike facility improvements on two completely unneeded parking bays.

                  Moreover the lanes are there now, get used and none of the terrible predictions of doom seem to have come about.

                  If you ask me (and yes I realize you didn’t), a lesson of Cleveland Avenue is that perhaps people who seek to be community leaders should seek to tamp down unfounded concerns rather than magnify them.

                  1. Tom Goldstein

                    I think leadership is about listening to neighborhood concerns and trying to respond to them.

                    As I noted in my original FB post, I was somewhat blindsided by the resistance to the bike lanes and had no idea it was an issue until I started knocking on people’s doors in July 2015. Ignoring those concerns when people at door after door were bringing up the issue would have been arrogant and irresponsible.

                    I’m not going to rehash that entire discussion other than to note, as I said then, that concerns were not being expressed from one particular group of people but across the spectrum, including bike enthusiasts. To push ahead with a plan at that point and “tamp down unfounded concerns” is not in my view leadership, but the opposite.

                    From my view, a “we know better than you” approach to governing is exactly why we have so much friction around teardowns, parking meters, bike lanes, the Ford Plant, etc.,instead of building consensus. Some want to frame it as one group being enlightened about what progress looks like and the other opposed to change, but I don’t find that simplistic view to be accurate.

                    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                      You’ve described communication, not leadership. (Not that communication isn’t really important!)

                      Leadership requires judgment and the fortitude to be able to say, “I hear your concerns but I think they are misplaced.”

                      As we’ve seen, the concerns about Cleveland Ave were misplaced.

                    2. Tom Goldstein

                      Adam, you represent one point of view. On what basis would I have concluded that those concerns were misplaced? Bicyclists to this day tell me they do not like riding on Cleveland Avenue between Grand Avenue and Cleveland. I think in certain circles people clearly feel that bike lanes on Cleveland are a great idea, but that doesn’t necessarily represent the prevailing view. Show me the data on bike use of Cleveland and I might be persuaded.

                    3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                      The “concern” that cost the most – in actual dollars – was parking. Because of it, we got two expensive parking bays. They are almost always empty. Thus concerns about parking were unfounded, as we knew from looking at parking demand at the time.

                      It’s just disingenuous to pretend that a meaningful amount of concern was from people who bike who thought it was too narrow. But even if it wasn’t, those people still have the option of biking elsewhere. The lanes don’t harm them at all.

                      Meanwhile, the other day I road behind a dad with two little kids following behind him on that stretch (between Grand and Randolph) and I’ve never ridden through there without seeing other people doing the same. I don’t have numbers, but I do have eyes and whenever I’m over there I see a people using it. Hopefully the city will do (or has done?) actual counts to back that up.

                      It’s not at all clear to me that you understand that you hear disproportionately from people who agree with you or that talking to people who don’t like it is not at all a way to measure how many people do.

            3. Tom BasgenTom Basgen Post author

              I’m sorry if I came off as Arrogant. The tone I was attempting to strike was Fury. To have some finger-wagging, condescending, perennial, Boomer candidate impugn my motives only compounds that emotion, but I’m happy to elucidate the roots of the anger for you.

              I sit in at a lot of the same community meetings you do, but we view from different angles. I’m younger, a mechanic, a renter, I own a car but ride my bike most of the time for transportation because of [[grocery list of benefits]]. I’ve been to enough meetings to find the trend line, when public comment starts, for the most part those who stand to speak are much older than I and vilify me for things that I’m not doing, they’re things I just.. am.

              “Cyclists slow traffic and don’t pay their fair share.” False. “Renter’s are transients who don’t care about the neighborhood.” False. I cannot even ballpark how many times I’ve heard that same refrain from how many different people.

              They other parts of myself that get impugned are harder to quote the opposition because you have to innuendo distaste for the not wealthy and the young. It absolutely sucks to be excoriated for something about yourself that just IS. You probably know that particular lesson better than I do, but still you scurry to curry favor from the parts of our community that trade on that kinda of bologna.

              It’s galling to be constantly treated like I don’t have skin in the game. I LITERALLY have skin in the game. I’ll show you my scarred up hand (courtesy of a hit and run Toyota Forerunner) the next time I see you. I had the house I was renting for four years sold out from under me by a Plymouth landlord who read a PiPress article about a hot housing market in town. So my motives are pretty simple: I want to go to places without being chewed on by Toyota Forerunners, and I want to live inside my home.

              Now I’ve read enough books and got enough of that good book learning that I know when my neighbors, who struggle to count their blessings despite all the local accountants, make up their own nebulous rules about beauty, and they come with an implied veto attached, as the guy they constantly vilify I’m probably gonna be the one who suffers the negative externalities of those rules. So yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and take my cheap shots before y’all raise the rent and they’re not that cheap anymore.

              Colon hyphen end parentheses. 🙂

        4. genaberglundLynn

          Tom’s right that the couple who was planning to tear down the Princeton house were not doing it for noble purposes.

          But, it is WRONG to assume the ROFR created any leverage. It didn’t because it had no legal effect. I will tell you why in person, but not on a public comment board.

          How do I know this? I researched it at the time of the proposed tear down. I lived this history.

          The house was saved because the couple, now in the middle of a firestorm of public acrimony, began to realize that getting out of the deal was a good option and maybe, the best option if they could “be made whole”. So, two people at Macalester College delicately negotiated over several months a way to get them and the contractor out of the deal. The real history is not so simple or easy. It’s not true that the ROFR was the leverage.

          And the people who bought the house and now live there are lovely and we should really stop relitigating this.

          Perhaps someday, if they are allowed to do so, they will respectfully build on the adjacent lot and add density; which is a future issue related to the premise of the article. Should someone owning a double lot in Tangletown be allowed to build on the adjacent lot? Reasonable people can disagree. I find myself just on the side of leaving it to the existing forces already at work: zoning, district councils, neighbors, etc. And Tangletown already has a lot of resources and knowledge that other n’hoods don’t have. Adding a conservation district seems like addressing a First World problem of little import, when there are so many other more important issues we face.

          1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

            “Should someone owning a double lot in Tangletown be allowed to build on the adjacent lot? Reasonable people can disagree.”

            Can they? As you say, there’s zoning and planning approval and whatnot (which is probably excessive too, but whatever), but barring that, how is it reasonable for anyone other than the owner to argue that a home can’t be built on an open lot?

            1. genaberglundLynn

              Private property rights are the primary basis for being able to do what you wish with your property, which is why I am against a conservation district that would further limit pp rights, such as the right to build on an adjacent lot.

              A reasonable argument against my position might go something like this: having more space between a limited number of properties in a n’hood adds more variety of options, so we should consider and value that rare circumstance and weigh it accordingly.

              I don’t think this point is very persuasive, but it is reasonable. If the point were balanced by an idea to change zoning at corner lots within a residential n’hood (to support duplex, 4, 8, or 12 unit buildings) I would find the point more persuasive.

    2. genaberglundLynn

      Correction. The ROFR was not legally effective. Two people at Macalester carefully negotiated a purchase from the owners intending to tear down 1721 in order to help the buyer get out from under the storm of criticism and then restored the house. Inside story not reflected by comments on this page.

      I wouldn’t want to be renovating a house in an historic preservation district!

      I support appropriate density in Macalester Groveland & Highland. It’s frustrating to see SOSPN extend their preservationist agenda to the Snelling rezoning study and in the Ford site. SFHs can co-exist with significantly higher density on major thoroughfares. Let’s fight those battles!

  3. Hamp Smith

    As someone who lives in the area and also was an employee of the Minnesota Historical Society for 30+ years I would like to make a couple of points about this article. First, the director of the society, Stephen Elliot, had nothing to do with the proposed purchase. The person involved was an employee acting on her own and MHS was not involved with it, one way or the other. Second, the author’s characterization of the neighborhood is off the mark. Not everyone here is wealthy, or even close. There are all shapes, sizes and styles of homes here (mine is under 2,000 sq. ft.) and much of the neighborhood concern is to protect that variety of housing. We have seen small bungalows replaced with hulking, suburban style homes that are built on speck and quickly sold. I am not against new housing stock but I don’t want Mac Groveland to look like another piece of sprawl. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for reasonable lot/house footprint ratio. Not every new home needs to be a 3K sq. ft. $750,000 behemoth.

  4. Students_TStudents_T

    Mod here. This is obviously a heated topic with a lot invested from both sides. We don’t always need to agree, but we do need to be respectful. Assumption making and personal attacks (on both sides) only hinder discussion and distance people from the points trying to be made in the debate.

    Feel free to check out the our comments policy for some light reading (though I’m sure everyone on here has..) https://streets.mn/about/comment-policy/

  5. Meg Arnosti

    The author has a distorted lens when it comes to interpreting the actions of neighbors in Tangletown and the motives behind Save Our St. Paul Neighborhoods.

    Teardowns are done to make a profit. Small houses are removed and larger, more expensive houses are built in their place. Some of these houses tower over their neighbors, blocking light, causing runoff. Teardowns also incur a great deal of waste. There is no requirement that homes be stripped of reusable or architectural materials. Teardowns have become rampant in Edina and in parts of Highland. Existing regulations are an open invitation for insensitive developers and wealthy buyers to push their suburban sensibilities into urban neighborhoods that so many have worked long and hard to build.

    The Tangletown Conservation District has been proposed to try to combat the teardown trend. The goal of the district is to encourage people to continue to maintain older homes and to ensure that new construction be in keeping with the scale of the neighborhood. Tangletown has property values as low as $150,000, and has many renters which are important to the economic diversity of the neighborhood. A laissez faire approach to teardowns leads to the replacement of smaller, more affordable housing with larger, more expensive homes, decreasing the economic diversity of the residents.

    The Dutch Colonial home at 1721 Princeton was never going to be renovated. Documents filed with the City at the time of the purchase agreement show that the house was to be torn down and two 4,000 square foot homes, a 2-car and a 3-car garage were to be built, taking up most of the lot. These proposed homes were not “quaint.” The developer used tactics such as turning off the heat in the middle of winter so that the pipes would freeze, in order to destroy the home beyond repair.

    Save Our St. Paul Neighborhoods had nothing to do with the house at 1721 Princeton. It is a city-wide effort to work on neighborhood issues and combat the teardown trend. There were 5 Mayoral Candidate Forums, ranging from the Hmong-American Partnership to the Midway Chamber of Commerce and the St. Paul Labor Federation. Only one focused on neighborhoods. There were four questions. 1. How mayors and the City of St. Paul can solicit more community input. 2. How to encourage home ownership in lower-income neighborhoods. 3. How to address the challenge of out-of-scale buildings. 4. How to strengthen district and community councils.

    Perhaps the author has a problem with people participating in a democracy. He describes working with the community council and the city council as “berating.” Fact-free ranting on the Internet is a more accurate description of the word. We would encourage the author to seek the input of the people he is writing about before launching another uninformed opinion piece.

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