In the Fabled Land of Big Developer™ Giants

It seems like every time someone wants to build a multifamily residential building, there has to be a public brawl about density and character in front of the City Council first. It’s completely unnecessary, but you get used it.  

This week I wasted another perfectly good Wednesday night of my quickly evaporating twenties in Saint Paul’s City Council chambers arguing against a development moratorium on Marshall Avenue. Long story short: it’s a great place to build apartments, the city needs apartments, a guy wants to build apartments within “by right” zoning parameters.  So the only way to fight it is to go to the City Council and ask for an overall ban on development where the guy wants to build.  

When you’re bickering in front of the Council, the most convincing arguments are not the guys who get up and rattle off a list of statistics. Instead, the most impassioned and convincing arguments use narratives and tropes, creating a story that’s easy to empathize with and follow.  The narratives and tropes on display that night are ones you’ve probably heard before: “Neighborhood Character”, “Historical Homes”, “Homeowner Good, Renter Bad”, etc. But the one that caught my attention that night is common but never struck me before “Big Developer™ Bad.”

I’ve got no love of big corporations. Faceless, people-chewing automata if you ask me, but that night at council I had unwittingly sat right next to Mr. “Big Developer”. He was an older bespectacled fella in a suit and tie, appropriate garb for a big business villain. Before our issue had come up in the meeting he had politely introduced himself.  Being petulant and bored, I smiled politely, shook his hand, said my name, and didn’t bother listening to him.  So when our issue came up we both stood, surprised at the other’s involvement in what he thought was to be a lonely fight.

He made his way to the podium and spoke before me. If I’m being perfectly honest, bumbled his way through an argument. He seemed exasperated and confused.  He was following the rules and building within the limits dictated by his property’s zoning. He informed the community well in advance and in return they had rounded on him, fangs bared.  

After I had bumbled through my own argument against the moratorium we both sank into the benches of the council chamber watching four times our number rise to argue for the moratorium. One of them was a Catholic padre. Sure, their arguments were razor thin, but the optics weren’t great.  The Big Developer™ sat hunched forward through the arguments, listening intently, running his hand through his hair absent-mindedly.

After the hearing he asked me, incredulous, “Who ARE you?”

I didn’t have a good answer other than ‘housing advocate’. Nosy idiot would have been too honest. He clearly wasn’t expecting any friends that evening. That baffled me. The Pioneer Press opinion section told me the suits owned city government. This suit had just suffered what I can only describe as a procedural beatdown from one of the council’s most pro-development members.

This suit was a Big Developer™ for sure, a rich guy from Inver Grove, an unlovable character as far as city politics goes and he’s probably gonna build some boring apartments that are probably too expensive even for their proximity to St. Thomas University. He’s still got an outside shot of getting this thing built, and if he can prove the moratorium is targeting his development specifically, he can sue the city and blast the thing out of the sky.

If this suit, with his money and his company, is getting such a rough time, it’s no wonder we don’t see the little boutique local developers that people rising in opposition say they prefer in their histrionic testimony.  Who but the Big Developer™ can survive in an environment where anything that increases density gets met with a small cadre of retirement age homeowners organizing against it? 

Going toe to toe with a NIMBY uprising requires resources, and if you don’t have money that means you better have the time. A “little local landlord” who wants to go from a duplex to a triplex doesn’t have time to go to 10 district council listening sessions while working a day job and managing property.  A family who wants to build an accessory dwelling for an aging grandparent lacks ability to lobby City Council against a platoon of grumpy neighbors while trying to deal with the challenges that their situation already provides. They might not even know the process to do that.

When we look at The Big Developer™ a little closer you find a villain of our own creation.  If The Big Developer™ is the only thing capable of getting permission to build something then everything will be built by The Big Developer™.

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33 Responses to In the Fabled Land of Big Developer™ Giants

  1. Anton Schieffer
    Anton Schieffer October 25, 2017 at 8:52 am #

    Thanks for writing this, it definitely squares with my own experience on it. Big Developers™ seem to be a villain that is created out of convenience, but it doesn’t have a lot of basis in reality. Developers are not always very strategic about the medium-to-long term, and if they’re colluding with one another in smoke-filled back rooms, they sure aren’t making much progress with the cities they operate in.

    I wrote a piece for streets.mn earlier this year about upzoning much of South Minneapolis after it had been downzoned around 1975. That would probably lead to more development opportunities for new housing, so I was half-expecting to hear some positive feedback on it from Big Developers™. I didn’t (but I got some ambivalent feedback!), and I think there are a couple of reasons behind that. The first is that individual developers honestly don’t like each other very much. They think their competitors have better access to capital, are doing shady things at city hall, etc. Upzoning would just mean their competitors (or new development companies) would be able to take advantage better than they would, so none of the Big Developers™ have advocated for it.

  2. Bob Roscoe October 25, 2017 at 9:06 am #

    The address ‘1984’ is somehow apt for this urban predicament.

  3. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell October 25, 2017 at 9:12 am #

    Big Developers are not all bad… nor all good. Many are quite between the two. There are certainly some who are 100% focused on squeezing every last bit of profit out of any project they do regardless of the negative impact on others.

    There are also some who want to genuinely benefit the communities and people where they build. I know one who, while I disagree with some of the street-front design of his buildings, also subsidizes about 20% of the apartments to help lower income people have good stable housing. And when he does have retail space (he should have much more though) he is quick to work with small local businesses to help them along.

    Many are in the middle. They want, and need, to make a profit on what they do but they also want to benefit the community if they can. Have a conversation with them and learn about where they’re coming from and what their goals are. See if both their goals and good urbanism goals can be met simultaneously. Help them understand good urbanism and how it benefits them or perhaps how it provides a gob of community benefit with only a very slight cost to them. Help them with anti-NIMBY arguments for why their moderately high density good urbanism benefits the local community.

    Some developers are jerks, but many are quite good folk.

    • Jeff October 25, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

      Not unlike homeowners in their capacity to be good or bad. The difference is that we can’t identify with a developer the way we can with a homeowner.

  4. Alex Schieferdecker
    Alex Schieferdecker October 25, 2017 at 10:45 am #

    I’m reminded of this piece from Strong Towns: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2016/11/8/lessons-learned

  5. Eric Molho October 25, 2017 at 11:10 am #

    I sit on the Union Park District Council Land Use Committee and have been an active volunteer in the broader neighborhood for several years. I have supported many developments that require the removal of buildings and opposed the development of other buildings. While I agree with Tom’s global point that there is a reflexive, NIMBY, bad Big Developer(TM) attitude that pervades many of such conversations, I don’t think that’s the case with Marshall Avenue. Perhaps we can add some context to the witty one-liners.

    Marshall Avenue was, in its heyday, a street of single family homes nearly as impressive and desirable as Summit Avenue. Wanting to see the homes and historic character (ugh, those evil words) of this street supported should not be dismissed as merely neighborhood protectionism. If one walks, runs or bikes along the avenue from the river to Snelling, you’ll notice that the housing stock is pretty remarkable. You’ll also note that there are several buildings that look starkly out of place, ugly and inappropriate. These are block apartment buildings that replaced single family homes in the middle of the last century. Today they look at best mediocre and boring and at worst, ugly and poorly maintained. I find it difficult to believe that anyone would look at those buildings in the midst of these homes and say, “Yes, give me more of that! That’s a great thing for our city and our neighborhood.”

    For neighbors the loss of these homes is not just a loss of historic character but it is an increase in the chronic ‘town-gown’- relationship problems between the University of St. Thomas and the greater neighborhood. Replacing a single family home (even one that now has two or three units of stable renters) with a multi-unit development that clearly is designed on providing student housing causes real problems for neighbors. It’s not that RENTERS are bad or unwelcome. It’s that there is chronic problem with the behavior of some (not all) University of st. Thomas students that negatively impacts the quality of life for people who live anywhere within a mile or so of campus.

    There are dozens of places within Union Park that are ripe for additional density and more apartment buildings. There are lots of mixed-use corridors that would be great for 4 and 5 story buildings that will enhance the tax base of the city and add additional much needed housing. Pausing for a while to ask the question, “Is Marshall Avenue the best place for this redevelopment?” doesn’t feel anti-developer to me. It feels pro-planning and pro-thoughtful growth. There’s a lot of us who want to see more development in Saint Paul. It doesn’t mean that every project and every removal of an old building is a good idea.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller October 25, 2017 at 11:45 am #

      Marshall is an arterial street served by transit. Of course it’s the best place for this development.

      • Eric Molho October 25, 2017 at 11:53 am #

        What value, if any, do you place on the existing buildings, Adam? What value do you place on a mix of single family home owners and renters? Your answer seems to imply that this is an easy choice. That the benefits of redevelopment are so strong that they outweigh the potential negative impacts on the neighborhood. I am not that confident given the history of how these redevelopment projects have impacted this specific neighborhood in the past.

        • Alex Cecchini
          Alex Cecchini October 25, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

          I actually think that the typical negative impacts people associate with student renters are far less likely to occur in an apartment building than in a shared rental house. To be clear, I also think those negative impacts (noise, house parties, structure upkeep, etc) are:
          1) rarer than people make out;
          2) less likely to negatively impact neighboring property values than people claim;
          3) enforceable through means other than zoning; and
          4) often outweighed by the positive quality of life indicators neighbors take advantage of without realizing it (ex. having access to more shops, restaurants, etc than a neighborhood without the critical mass of student housing).

          Those points also ignore the more general positive benefits to society (ex. climate change) or to the dozens more people who would then have a place to live near where they attend school.

          To answer your first question very frankly: I don’t personally put much societal value to any of those homes along Marshall. We have so many historic districts in this region/country already, the marginal benefit of preserving more is very small at this point. And that goes double when the people advocating for preservation can’t even seem to keep the argument limited to the value of preservation itself, but skip right into why allowing more rentals and ugly buildings are the main problems.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller October 25, 2017 at 3:45 pm #

          What negative impacts?

          The value of existing buildings is in either (1) their usefulness, or (2) their historic significance. This moratorium isn’t based on either.

          I don’t put any value on mixing in single family homes. What possible reason is there to value that particular form over others?

          It’s an easy choice to say no to this moratorium. How the zoning should change, if at all, is a more complicated question, although mostly still works out as “upzone.”

        • Eric Anondson
          Eric Anondson October 25, 2017 at 11:38 pm #

          Because the universities and colleges aren’t being made to limit attendance, preventing development of apartments with higher numbers of units ENSURES that even more houses will be bought and converted to student rental to meet the demand of student enrollment numbers.
          Allowing as many of these student rental apartment buildings as the market can supply is the best way of preserving the most historic houses as homes for families. Preventing this development gets you more homes converted to student rentals.

        • Scott Walters October 27, 2017 at 11:49 am #

          I lived in one of those big old houses as my first home in Saint Paul. 1863 Marshall was/is a cool old house, at the time cut into 5 apartments. She was reasonably maintained and presented well to the street. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of many of her neighboring structures. If a new apartment were reasonably well designed and constructed of reasonable quality materials, I don’t think the fabric of our neighborhood would be significantly impacted.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini October 25, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

      I would just like to say that the last half of your second paragraph and the final 2 (ie, the bulk of your text) are very clearly about stopping what you don’t like as the primary justification for the moratorium rather than a positive affirmation/support of the reasons why preservation in this specific place is the best approach.

      I don’t think the author is specifically arguing that any planning is bad, that considering how public or private investments can impact quality of life (for better or worse) should be outlawed. He specifically called out the range of objections neighbors bring to the table regarding new infill development (which can include things like noise, traffic, parking, character – however valid they may be), and centered his post around one specific one – Big Developers.

      I actually disagree with the author that this developer is even one of the Big Developer ilk in the first place – I follow multi-family development in the Twin Cities pretty closely and his name doesn’t ring any particular bells with the usual large local firms (let alone the true national Big Developers). In any case, he makes a good case for the reasons small folks who might otherwise build a triplex, single-room occupancy structure, a meager 3-story, 6-10 unit apartment, cluster of townhomes, or any other small-scale development are conspicuously absent from our urban infill scene. The process not only requires the right type of personality – working crowds, pitching projects in the right way, attending many meetings, and all with a product that is still financially viable – and many people who’d just like to build a few more housing units are turned away from that. Wouldn’t it just be easier to plunk whatever capital you have in a money market account instead?

      As Tom notes, that leaves housing development to the projects where the juice is significantly worth the squeeze. Whether or not the benefits of welcoming new neighbors on your block outweighs the negative impacts of those larger buildings (real or perceived) – I know which side of that question I fall on – the result is that almost all we see is 4+ story proposals. So to reiterate Tom’s last paragraph, this is a problem of our own creation.

      • Eric Molho October 25, 2017 at 12:39 pm #

        “I would just like to say that the last half of your second paragraph and the final 2 (ie, the bulk of your text) are very clearly about stopping what you don’t like as the primary justification for the moratorium rather than a positive affirmation/support of the reasons why preservation in this specific place is the best approach.”

        I think that’s a fair and valid criticism. So let me try to make the positive case.

        Marshall Avenue (and for the sake of this argument I’m referring to the zone in question from roughly the River to roughly Snelling Avenue) appears to be seeing increased interest in new development. This stretch of the corridor has a variety of uses and buildings already in place and has multiple zoning labels including business, multiple family and single family. Some residents are concerned that new development will have a negative impact on the neighborhood. All of us would probably have a slightly different scorecard as to whether or not those concerns are valid and (if we do think they are valid) how much they should matter in a redevelopment conversation.

        So why would a moratorium be a good idea? Theoretically, it might help with the following:

        1. Evaluate the case for historic preservation. Is the housing stock on Marshall so special that it deserves special attention or protection? Is there a value to the existing buildings that is greater than the value of potential new buildings? Our existing city processes doesn’t do a great job of answering that question and perhaps a study would.

        2. Evaluate the case for changes in zoning. Are there characteristics of this neighborhood that should be zoned differently than they are zoned currently? Do we have the right tools in place to encourage redevelopment for those areas where change is desired and to protect those areas where change is discouraged?

        3. Create an opportunity for a systemic, neighborhood-wide conversation about redevelopment. Instead of individual, project-by-project discussions and debates, the moratorium could result in a robust plan for the neighborhood that identifies design standards or areas of change or partnership opportunities.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller October 25, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

          At the risk of being uncharitable, which is not my intent, it’s heard to read that as saying anything beyond, “we think development is possible and we want to stop it because of unnamed concerns about negative impacts.”

          Nobody likes change, but it has to happen somewhere. People want to live in St. Paul (and other cities). From pretty much every public policy standpoint, that’s a positive thing. Urban living is healthier, more sustainable, less energy intensive and most compatible with offering community support and needed services and amenities.

          That should mean that we should have very good reason to say no. Especially when we’re going beyond out existing, ridiculously overly-restrictive, zoning to do so.

          So, again, what are the very good reasons for this? Because it should like neighbors are just afraid of change.

  6. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary October 25, 2017 at 11:36 am #

    “a public brawl about density and character”

    “bickering in front of the Council”

    “histrionic testimony”

    “a small cadre of retirement age homeowners”

    I agree with your overall message, but really feel that the language is unnecessarily condescending toward the homeowners who come to these meetings. This is what public engagement looks like, and although I often disagree with their ask — lower density, less replacement of buildings, etc — I think there needs to be a call for trying to see the world through their eyes.

    For many of these homeowners, their home is their largest asset. For those in especially desirable neighborhood, their value has shot up as the area has become more in-demand — turning what was once a “piggy bank” into a hot stock.

    For the older ones, if they ever lived in apartments at all, they were the apartments of 40 years ago. My 66-year-old dad, who has lived in a single-family home his entire life except ages 21-25, affectionately calls his apartment during those years, “cockroach castle”.

    So is it really any wonder that some of these residents offer “histrionic” testimony against something that they believe will change their neighborhood to something they have experienced to be bad, and will possibly devalue their largest asset?

    My own thinking on this goes something like this:

    1. The homeowners are not the villains.

    2. We should support higher-intensity development, but we should address

    3. Specifically, I think we should be prepared to be able to address concerns about traffic impact, parking impact, and the actual lifestyle and living experience these apartments offer

    4. We should have these answers even if a development is allowed as of right. (Although we of course should not vote down the project if the answers are not agreeable)

    • Morgan Bird October 25, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

      “For those in especially desirable neighborhood, their value has shot up as the area has become more in-demand — turning what was once a “piggy bank” into a hot stock.”

      So they are knowingly making fat bank off of denying a basic necessity to younger generations. If condescension is the worst these people get they should consider themselves lucky.

  7. Sean S. October 25, 2017 at 11:46 am #

    The problem this article misses (and this is also true for the neighborhood opponents) is the biggest flashpoint for affordability AND neighborhood conservation in general is not small multifamily developers, but rather large scale apartment developers who are often focused exclusively on the luxury rental market, increasing rents dramatically in areas while taking up in some cases multiple blocks. The handful of people building triplexes, frankly, are irrelevant both in terms of actually expanding affordability and also irrelevant in terms of actually “destroying” neighborhoods. When you look at the portfolio of Doran alone you quickly realize that bickering over triplexes is frankly a waste of time for both neighborhood conservationists and affordable housing proponents when there are clearly very, very large developers looking to corner markets and consume block after block of land while having a tight control over the rental market through sheer market share.

    • Tyler Hamilton October 25, 2017 at 12:20 pm #

      Apartment buildings that add a decent amount of new units, even if they’re market-rate or luxury, are critical to preserving our stock of naturally occurring affordable housing. My partner and I paid $1030/month for rent, but it just went up to $1245/month and the property managers are putting on a new coat of paint to make it look nicer.

      If we don’t let developers build market-rate and luxury housing, they’ll just refurbish existing housing for the same market. Not building is the worst thing we can do for housing affordability and preventing displacement.

      Also, of course triplexes are irrelevant right now. That’s his point. Our zoning code and “public” engagement process *makes* them irrelevant, and that has to be fixed. Someone without the resources of a larger developer has little to no chance of making it through our broken public engagement process and finding a spot to develop thanks to our broken zoning code.

      And we need to fix that.

    • jeffk October 25, 2017 at 1:34 pm #

      Your claim is that increasing supply increases costs.

      Far be it for me to play the role of market fundamentalist but if your claim is correct, every economist in the world would be very eager to talk to you!

      My point is not that the beginner basic laws of economics are infallible, but that we need to stop accepting the claim at face value that new “luxury” (code for any market rate) new units increases rents on nearby properties. I guess it’s possible, but it would be utterly staggering given what we know about supply and demand.

      My guess is that it’s a misplaced cause and effect. We see new units appearing and rents increasing and conclude the new units must be causing it. Let me suggest something that doesn’t break economics: cities are becoming more desirable, some neighborhoods in particular. The tidal wave of demand looms over those neighborhoods whether they build new or dig in their heels. If you dig in and restrict the supply, the problem is just worse.

      • Mike October 25, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

        If you understand land value, property tax, and zoning, you would know that these do have an impact on rent. When an area has a large increase in luxury development the surrounding area land increases. When an area is upzoned the property taxes increase. Take for example some of areas that have been upzoned, some have property taxes increase around 24%. This does get passed onto the tenants with rent increases. When older buildings have property assessed that is near luxury developments the assessed land value is increased.

        • jeffk October 25, 2017 at 2:32 pm #

          You can avoid that by upzoning everything. When you look at the city as a whole, more people sharing the same infrastructure means property taxes go down on average.

          I would grant that there may be some kind of secondary feedback effect (perhaps a bunch of new places pushed into a neighborhood changes its reputation and increases demand and supply simultaneously). But so long as you don’t lock 90% of a city away as single-family only, there’s plenty of space for everyone.

        • Alex Cecchini
          Alex Cecchini October 25, 2017 at 3:06 pm #

          I think you are describing three different effects:
          1) A site’s development potential based on zoning determines the land value. A change in zoning may make the assessor increase the land value, which then increases property taxes. I’m not sure this is done, and the number of parcels in Minneapolis or St Paul receiving significant upzoning is pretty small.
          2) New development bringing new amenities to a neighborhood like restaurants or stores (the new Target in Uptown is a major quality of life improvement for me!), which increases the value of properties nearby.
          3) New development brings nothing but people, but rather than continued infill within an already-valuable area, it’s development that’s moving on to adjacent neighborhoods that were previously seen as less-valuable (for whatever reason, some of them Very Bad). This signals to other properties nearby that rents and sale prices they can fetch are now higher and assessors agree.

          Re: (1), this could be seen as good (a Land Value Tax encourages people to make the most use of their property – adding units or commercial space and thereby accelerating neighborhood growth/diversification in the long-run), or bad (in the short-run, owners and tenants who don’t change the property’s use see their annual housing costs increase, even if slightly). But as this post’s map shows, the land value per home varies greatly by neighborhood and what’s on the land (this tweet agrees). Unless a small apartment is zoned for something like a high-rise, the land value per-unit gap is small enough it wouldn’t be perceptible on rents. The people who’d see the biggest impact are rich homeowners in high-value neighborhoods, and dare I say urban progressives should treat such an impact the same way they support high marginal tax rates. And again, this all assumes the assessor can even accurately identify a site’s value based on zoning, and then does so. We often see land bought for redevelopment purchased at much higher prices than the county’s assessed value.

          Re: (2) I’m not sure this is a problem?

          Re: (3) This is obviously a problem. This is the gap between the macro supply/demand effects and the micro, neighborhood-level changes in home prices due to allowed supply. This requires market interventions, many of which have been discussed on this site and by current planners/elected officials with both Minneapolis and St Paul.

    • kingledion October 25, 2017 at 2:05 pm #

      Triplexes _should_ not in any way be irrelevant to the future of development in MSP. That is the important point to take home. The building of such small-ish housing is critical to increasing density without the dreaded ‘big apartment’ feeling.

      Let me show you an example by comparing two primarily residential zip codes, one from Twin Cities, one from a denser metropolitan area. We can compare 55116, which is roughly Highland, St. Paul, with 02145, in Somerville, MA, an inner ring suburb of Boston.

      The two zip codes have similar populations, housing units, jobs, children, and poverty levels. Data from 2011-2015 ACS via American Factfinder website.

      55418 02145
      Population 24723 25291
      House Units 11911 10609
      Jobs 6849 5053
      Children 3263 2883
      Poverty 9.3% 13.7%

      These are similar neighborhoods, but when we look at the housing stock, the similarity disappears. Using the ACS numbers, we can divide housing into four categories: single family detached, small group (row houses, duplex, triplex, and apartment buildings with 4 or less units), medium apartments (5-19 unit apartments) and large apartments (20+ units). The breakdown is as follows:

      55116 02145
      Detached 50% 14%
      Small 5% 62%
      Medium 14% 14%
      Large 31% 10%

      St. Paul as a lot of single family housing and big apartment buildings. Somerville has a lot of duplexes and three unit walk-up apartments. Who wants to guess the resulting effect on density?

      55116 occupies 17.4 km^2; 02145 is 3.6. Despite having 1/3 as many large apartment buildings, Somerville manages to be almost 5 times as dense. Admittedly 55116 has a good chunk of parks, the as-yet-unfilled Ford site and a golf course; 02145 has none of these so comparing built up areas would reduce this to maybe a factor of 3. Nonetheless, converting single family detached stock to duplex and triplex stock would be sufficient to at least double the density of any area in MSP.

      This is what needs to happen to keep housing affordable and allow future growth in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The article linked in the post that sums up the City council meeting explains everything you need to know. The desired building is a 10 unit apartment, perfect for a main arterial road in a core city of one of the biggest metro areas in the US. There isn’t much to object to here. If the residents want to preserve the suburban character of their neighborhood, then they should be living in Anoka or Plymouth or something.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller October 25, 2017 at 3:57 pm #

      The lack of people building triplexes are very much relevant to the affordability problem. As Tom argues, that it’s so costly and inefficient to build those units is part of the reason we haven’t been adding them (along with mostly having zoned them away), which adds up to a lot of missing units.

  8. jeffk October 25, 2017 at 1:43 pm #

    The interesting new twist in the current political climate is that NIMBYs can couch their push back in hip anti-capitalist language, despite that they’ve been neo-liberals their entire lives; most work for for-profit companies, drive their cars to shop at Walmart, and are capitalist private home-owners themselves.

    I’m not one to say capitalism doesn’t deserve its share of criticism (the idea of free-market health care is insane to me). But it’s frustrating to see the assault on the people who build homes, when we need homes. As best I can figure, development is probably the best, least-evil application of capitalism. People building, over the course of centuries, is what makes our cities unique, adaptable expressions of the vision of the citizens of that place.

    • kingledion October 25, 2017 at 2:10 pm #

      Jeffk,

      It is just opportunism that is driving these attacks. In Silicon Valley it is enviornmentalism that is driving the attacks on new housing. Despite the fact that people drive into the Valley from Salinas and Stockton, NIMBY owners can make a straight faced argument that building will damage local habitats. So then when every apartment complex in Cupertino isn’t built, acres of open land 50 miles away get bulldozed, paved and developed instead.

      Since it isn’t nice to say out loud that you want to keep minorities out any more, the argument becomes historic preservation, anti-capitalist developers, pro-enviornmentalism….NIMBYs will use whatever argument is at hand.

      • Eric Anondson
        Eric Anondson October 26, 2017 at 12:01 am #

        In the six months I’ve worked in Sunnyvale and lived in Santa Clara now, the environmentalist objection isn’t one I’ve heard much lately because the evidence is so overwhelming that not building housing near jobs is causing destruction of wilderness and farms further away.
        The biggest objections I’ve heard at public hearings is that any apartment building only causes more traffic. Cities like Mountain View and Sunnyvale have gotten the message and are trying to bring more apartments near the job centers. Driving commuters in the Twin Cities have zero appreciation for truly horrific congestion that the Bay Area has every day.
        Another of the most common objections I’ve heard while I’ve been here is the tired “neighborhood character” of single story houses. This is why most of the apartments I’ve seen coming in are conversions of tired underused single story office or industrial to multi-use with apartments on top. South Bay has a difficult time building apartments too close to neighborhoods of single-story single family houses compared to office or industrial conversion.

  9. Bob Roscoe October 25, 2017 at 4:14 pm #

    Most “big” developers don’t want to bother with tri-plexes. But there are many small scale developers that can feasibly build tri-plexes. In my architectural work, I know several of them. Their relatively small footprint and site area are more in scale in many instances in neighborhoods with single and duplex residential structures. An issue here is that single unit and duplex code requirements are less complicated.

  10. BruceB October 25, 2017 at 6:12 pm #

    As an owner of 2-4 unit properties in Uptown/Minneapolis and someone who is building a triplex in Minneapolis, I’m an advocate of all types of new development to address the lack of housing available. With all of the luxury apartments on the greenway that went up, that didn’t cause me to raise the rents of my places nearby. What it did is; open up housing in the middle price ranges that some of the people who could afford much nicer places to moved out of. I still get 15-20 inquiries for any vacancy so the demand is still very high. My rent does up with the high level of demand that scarcity causes. Building more apartments eases that pressure. I’d love to build more duplexes and triplexes but there isn’t hardly land available in the areas I own. A simple answer to adding more units to increase density without changing the character/characters of the neighborhood is either upzonging or allowing small developers like me build non owner occupied ADU’s. If I could add a unit to each SFH and duplexes I own, I could add 10 more 2-3 bedroom units in Uptown in a year in neighborhoods that people desire without changing the scenery/visuals at all. 1/3 of my tenants don’t have cars and the only argument I could see is the people who beat the “let’s make new development have parking”. but in talking at neighborhood meetings, it seems this is a rationale they use to try to block any development.

    • Pete Barrett November 11, 2017 at 7:11 pm #

      You’re in danger of redlining the TLA meter. (Three letter acronym)

  11. John Edwards
    John Edwards October 25, 2017 at 6:13 pm #

    Great post. As a public meeting aficionado, this rings true to my own experiences.

  12. Richard Wayne October 25, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

    It is also about our tax base. I don’t mean to be crass, but between the highways, universities, churches, schools, and government buildings (and the smallest geographic county in the state)—we need a bigger tax base. Density provides that. People want all these services and rec centers and quality schools, but that requires a more robust tax base. The only way to do that is to build up, and putting apartment buildings on major streets makes sense.

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