Historic North Wedge Walking Tour: Sunday, September 7th

1873 map of North Wedge, just Edmund Brewster's patch of prairie. (Image courtesy Ezra Gray)

1873 map of the North Wedge, then Edmund Brewster’s wet- and grasslands. (Image courtesy Ezra Gray)

The second Healy Project walking tour, this time of the North Wedge (apex of Lowry Hill East neighborhood) is set for Sunday, September 7th, beginning at 1 p.m.  The tour will start on northeast corner of Mueller Park (West 25th Street and Bryant Avenue South) and will wind around the area north of there, to Franklin Avenue and back, highlighting Healy-built houses, and including some houses by other Minneapolis master builders.

A Wedge Healy classic, built during the winter of 1895-6.

A Wedge Healy classic, built during the winter of 1895-6, one of the houses on the walking tour.

Healy researcher Anders Christensen will cover architectural history and the evolving development of the area, and Wedge historian Kathy Kullberg will provide insights into the residents’ lives and Wedge social history. As a special part of the tour, ticket holders will be shown the interior of two 1890′s houses, one of them built by Healy, the other by master builder P.C. Richardson.

2428 Bryant

See the interior of this beautifully restored 1899 Healy-built house on the tour.

IMAG0522_1

This interior of this house by master builder P.C. Richardson will also be part of the tour.

Tickets are $10, with a limited number available. Sign up for the tour on Eventbrite by clicking on this button:
Eventbrite - Historic North Wedge House Tour

 

Combining New and Old: A New Vision for the Orth House

Combining old and new buildings in adaptive reuse is a practice that Minneapolis has not embraced yet.  Minneapolis lags behind many other cities, especially those on the coasts and in Canada, in saving old buildings by incorporating them into new construction. (See some examples of adaptive reuse here.) Developers in Minneapolis assert that adaptive reuse is “economically unfeasible”, and that it’s necessary to demolish existing houses in order for them to get the profit they require. On the other hand, some preservationists dislike combining old with new, insisting that the building (whatever it is) be preserved in its original configuration. However, if the building cannot be saved in its first or second incarnation (for example. as a single family home) adaptively reusing it with new construction is the green, economical, and smart choice.

"Adaptive reuse A NEW PURPOSE FOR OLD BUILDINGS Latham Architects – Is a building in the hand better than two in construction?"--Irish Sustainable Building

Ireland: “Adaptive reuse A NEW PURPOSE FOR OLD BUILDINGS Latham Architects – Is a building in the hand better than two in construction?” Yes!–Irish Sustainable Building.

In Minneapolis, the City has consistently taken the opposite course, approving wrecking permits for perfectly good buildings so that developers can maximize profits.  On August 13, on behalf of the Healy Project, architects Peter Kim and Bob Roscoe presented a new idea to the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association’s Zoning and Planning Committee for redevelopment of the properties at 2320 and 2316 Colfax Avenue South. Their idea is offered as an alternative to the Lander Group’s proposed 44-unit, three-story apartment building that requires wrecking the historic Orth House at 2320 and the house next door at 2316.

plan bob

Bob Roscoe at the Z&P presentation.

“This design incorporates the existing two historic homes on the property. It is extremely important to the residents and neighbors of Colfax Avenue that the two historic properties be kept, rehabilitated and incorporated into the proposed design at this location. A modern blending of materials can be utilized while at the same time remaining sensitive to the nineteenth century use of wood, shingles, and decorative elements found on the original buildings. A plan that utilizes historic houses as a triplex with additional urban housing units that is sensitive to the urban fabric and to architectural language. Compared to the proposed development, this idea preserves street appearance and contains 72% of the number of proposed units. The Healy Project contends that utilizing historic buildings in this location will contribute to both the economic and cultural aspects of development in LHENA.”–Introduction to Alternate Idea for 2320 Colfax.

Architect Peter Kim

Architect Peter Kim

Roscoe and Kim’s plan provides for 32 units: 1 bedroom 18 units; 2 bedroom loft 6 units; 2 bedroom + 8 units. Total 32. It provides for 30 parking spaces: Basement 24, Off Street 6. The new apartment building is placed behind the two existing houses, which would be rehabbed and incorporated into the new housing development.

To view the plan, click here: 2320-Draft2

LHENA President Leslie Foreman (left) with Tim Dray and Bill Neuman.

LHENA President Leslie Foreman (left) with Tim Dray and Bill Neuman.

The first part of the Wednesday meeting was the presentation of the Lander apartment project’s most recent “tweaking”, with zoning variances, by Collage Architects. Apparently completely uninterested in any proposal involving preserving the house, after Collage’s presentation, CM Lisa Bender and all the other Lander proponents walked out of the meeting. Only Wedge developer Don Gerberding remained for Roscoe and Kim’s presentation.* It’s a sorry situation when City officials are so bound up in the same old, tired models for development that they can’t bother even to consider the new.

If the property at 2316-2320 were a vacant lot, there would be no controversy.  New development would be completely appropriate.  But it is not vacant land, and the houses to be destroyed, especially the Orth House, can never be replaced. (See blog post, “Greenwashing Demolition.”) When will the City stop favoring new, big apartment development, and start looking at the old buildings that make Minneapolis Minneapolis? Apparently not as long as the current City Council and Mayor are in office.

Old farm buildings converted to senior housing in the Netherlands.

Old buildings converted to senior housing in the Netherlands.

*Note: Gerberding currently has a controversial proposal in the works to redevelop the northwest corner of Franklin and Lyndale Avenues in the Wedge. The day after this presentation, an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that Gerberding has defaulted on a $400,000+ loan from the City from 2008, and the City is looking into suing him.

–T.B.

A Place That Matters

Click here to DONATE to save the house via Paypal. Donations are also being accepted via GoFundMe “Help Healy Project Save the Orth House.”

This morning neighbors and other admirers of the Orth House gathered in front of 2320 Colfax Avenue South to take a photo. The photo was then uploaded to the gallery of photos of “Places That Matter” on the website of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

DSC00935

Gathering at 24th and Colfax for the shoot.

DSC00940

Holding the big sign with “This Place Matters”, a trademark of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

group closeup

Canines and humans letting everyone know that “This Place Matters.”

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The official photo uploaded to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s gallery of pics of places that matter.

documenting

Videographer Marlee MacLeod documenting the event, interviewing Trilby Busch.

2320 front

The historic Orth House, designed and built in 1893 by T.P.Healy, and the transitional design in his illustrious career as master builder.

Photos by Bradley Lemire        

Healy Project Files Suit to Stop Demolition of the Orth House

2320

The Healy Project has filed suit against the owner in District Court to prevent the demolition of the Orth House, 2320 Colfax Avenue South, in Minneapolis. The lawsuit will establish that the property is a historic resource and that the property will be preserved for the benefit of future generations of Minnesotans. Moreover, the lawsuit
will establish that there are viable options to demolition for this property.

Last year the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission declared the Orth House an historic resource, exemplifying the work of a master builder and architect, Theron Potter Healy. As noted in a 1981 Twin Cities magazine article (“Legacy of a Master Builder:
Theron Healy’s Dream of Minneapolis Lingers in his Queen Anne Architecture”), the house is the transitional design in Healy’s illustrious career. The Orth House is the only one of the four built by Healy in 1893 that is still standing. If left uncorrected, demolition of the Orth house represents an unacceptable and irreplaceable loss to the current and future residents of Minneapolis.

The Healy Project will present various options for redevelopment of the property, including adaptive reuse and integrating the house with new construction. We envision a Wedge streetscape that includes a mixture of old and new buildings of various styles, offering a variety of housing options affordable to all economic classes of residents and
future city residents.

We look forward to partnering with the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association, the City, and city residents in building a sustainable city from our existing housing stock.

ain't over.

Happy Earth Day, Zero-Credibility City of Minneapolis

Green Planet
On this day that celebrates Planet Earth, residents of our beautiful planet are urged to conserve dwindling resources by recycling everything from plastic bottles to buildings. The “Zero Waste” initiative of the City of Minneapolis similarly encourages citizens to conserve resources:

“Zero Heroes strive to have Zero Waste. They do this by working to first prevent waste, and then by recycling all they can of the waste that remains.  To lower this amount of waste we need to take a step beyond recycling: waste prevention. Waste prevention is reducing the amount of waste and the toxicity of waste. Waste prevention saves natural resources, energy, and may even save you money.” City of Minneapolis Web Site

Minneapolis, the Zero Waste city wants us to recycle and ride bikes--while the City sends hundreds of tons of historic houses to the landfill.

Minneapolis, the Zero Waste city, wants us to recycle and ride bikes–while the City sends hundreds of tons of historic house to the landfill.

However, while the City Solid Waste and Recycling Department is urging citizens to compost and recycle bottles and papers, the City Planning department has been facilitating the demolition of an historic house–which will send 180+ tons of materials to the landfill.  This  disconnect between saying and doing shows a gobsmacking hypocrisy: Citizens recycle while the City cancels out their efforts by a thousandfold in the demolition of one house.

“The facts are in – no matter how much green technology is employed, any new building represents a new impact on the environment.It makes no sense for us to recycle newspapers, bottles, and cans while we’re throwing away entire buildings and neighborhoods.It’s fiscally irresponsible and entirely unsustainable.”Jerri Hollan, FAIA

“Zero Waste” makes zero sense when the City shows blatant contempt for the most important piece of sustainability–recycling existing buildings.  City Planning sent staffer John Smoley to the HPC twice to argue for its “save only the best buildings in the best neighborhoods” policy–and twice, after vigorous debate, the HPC affirmed that that the Orth House, 2320 Colfax Ave. S. is historic and should be placed under interim protection while a designation study is completed.  But when the owner’s appeal to demolish was heard before the City Zoning and Planning, CM Lisa Bender, taking the unsupported testimony of the appellants as fact, declared that no viable alternatives existed to wrecking the house, and made a motion to overturn the HPC’s decision. The motion passed with no debate.

What the City plans for the Orth House and others in the Wedge and other not-good-enough neighborhoods.

“By 2030, we will have demolished and replaced nearly 1/3 of our current building stock, creating enough debris to fill 2,500 NFL stadiums. How much energy does this represent? [E]nough to power California (the 10th largest economy in the world) for 10 years. By contrast, if we rehabilitate just 10% of these buildings, we could power New York for over a year.”UrbDeZine SanFrancisco

Recycling existing buildings is essential to creating sustainable cities.

Recycling existing buildings is essential to creating sustainable cities.

The hypocrisy of the City regarding recycling would be laughable if it weren’t so appalling. Minneapolis needs to start practicing what it preaches. Citizens recycling cans and bottles is wasted effort if the government is not encouraging the recycling of buildings.

Don’t jive us, City of Minneapolis. Be a Zero Hero and affirm your alleged commitment to Zero Waste. Allow the historic Orth House to be recycled.  The Greenest Building is the one standing. 
don't raze me, bro

Stop Demolition: Allow a designation study for the Orth House

Demand that Minneapolis, the “Zero Waste” City, allow the ordered designation study for the historic Orth House to be done.

2320
Last week the Minneapolis Zoning and Planning Committee, after listening to an hour of testimony, voted on a motion from CM Bender (Ward 10) to approve the owner’s appeal to demolish the Orth House, 2320 Colfax Ave. S. Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) was the lone dissenter. This vote overturned the decision of the Heritage Preservation Commission to allow the house interim protection (180 days) while a designation study is done. CM Bender must be called to account.

Last year the HPC declared the house to be an “historic resource” and the City Council unanimously upheld this decision. The owner, Michael Crow, and developer, Michael Lander, came back to the HPC this year, saying a designation study hadn’t been done and asking again for a permit to demolish an historic resource. The HPC reaffirmed their previous decision, and ordered a study.

Why wasn’t a designation study done? So far, we have no answer. The issue before the City Council is whether or not viable alternatives to demolition exist for the house. Ignoring the testimony of experts like architect John Cuningham (whose firm did the Uptown small area plan) and structural specialist John Jepsen, who both examined the house inside and out, CM Bender based her opinion on the testimony of those who would reap substantial financial gain from the house’s demolition: the owner, his broker, and the developer.

CM Bender declared that it is not feasible to rehab the house as a single-family home. No one testifying suggested that option, focusing instead on the need for affordable multi-family housing in the city. The owner, Michael Crow, declared that he has spent $250k on improvements to the house. City inspections records show that he spent less than $24k. Last year Crow’s broker, Tom Dunne, when asked directly if he marketed the property on residential MLS, said yes, but admitted this year that he has not. Is the Minneapolis City Council simply going to accept the claims of the owner and broker as fact? Shouldn’t all allegations by appellants be fact-checked by the City?

don't raze me, bro
The City Council should not be taking the word of the owner or developer, or anyone else, on faith. Unless the designation study is done, we have no way of knowing who is giving an accurate, fact-based assessment of the house. Since the vote last year, nothing has changed with the condition of the house or the City ordinances governing historic resources. Ask the CMs on Z&P who voted to grant the house protection last year to justify their change of position (Kevin Reich 1, Barbara Johnson 4). Ask the other CMs who voted last year to follow correct procedure and allow the designation study to go forward (Cam Gordon 2, Elizabeth Glidden 8, John Quincy 11). Copy Mayor Betsy Hodges, who served as CM Ward 13 last year. Ask the new CMs to let the study proceed. Send an e-mail to CM Goodman, thanking her for her support.
Let the City Council’s decision about the Orth House be based on verifiable facts, not the appellants’ unsupported allegations.
The full vote of the City Council on this motion will be held, without public hearing, on Friday, April 25th, at 9:30.
Contact city council members NOW and ask that the City follow correct procedure and allow the designation study to be done. Keep your message short and to the point. Request a response. For a list of current Council members, see http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/council/
green authentic_________________________________________________________
What the facts are:

Re: Sustainability. While the City is touting its “Zero-Waste” initiative, City Council is heading towards approving the demolition of a sound, historic house, sending 180+ tons of materials to the landfill. The City and the developer are using “trickle-down” sustainability, putting the responsibility on the project’s residents, who are expected to sell their cars, bike, use public transportation, and recycle.

Minneapolis, the Zero Waste city wants us to recycle and ride bikes--while the City sends hundreds of tons of historic houses to the landfill.

Minneapolis, the Zero Waste city, wants us to recycle and ride bikes–while the City sends hundreds of tons of historic houses to the landfill.

Re: Density. The developer claims that his so-called “Eco-flats” will provide needed density on transit hubs, a goal of the City Planning Dept. Density and transit hubs already exist in the Wedge. These amenities are there now, new development or not. The population of the Wedge is being increased by 47% by new development along the Greenway. How much density can the neighborhood absorb?
Re: Neighborhood support. The Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association does not support the Lander development. A motion to approve the project did not pass the board. A survey of e-mails to the City regarding this issue shows overwhelming support for the house by residents with addresses in the Wedge.
Re: Affordability. Rent in new buildings, to be economically feasible for the developer, must be set at market rate or higher. The 1,800 new units in the Wedge are luxury housing. The Lander project will bring more gentrification, marketing to affluent white people. The affordable housing is the existing houses and apartments, not new construction. A perfect site for an apartment project is available at Franklin and Park. Why doesn’t the City urge Lander to build there, rather than facilitating the wrecking of an historic resource?
Re: Preservation. As noted in the 1981 article in Twin Cities magazine, 2320 Colfax is the transitional design in the career of celebrated master builder Theron Potter Healy. The Heritage Preservation Commission determined that the house is an historic resource. But the City thinks historic houses are worth saving only if they are in “good” neighborhoods. As CM Goodman observed, “This house will see an untimely death as a result of its location. If this was in Lowry Hill or Kenwood we would not be having this conversation.”

STOP DEMOLITION
Ask CMs to pay attention to the presentation of these facts at Z&P last week. Demand that the City follow protocol and allow the study ordered by the HPC to be completed.

Council Members by Ward:

1. kevin.reich@minneapolismn.gov, 2. cam.gordon@minneapolismn.gov, 3.jacob.frey@minneapolismn.gov, 4. barbara.johnson@minneapolismn.gov, 5.blong.yang@minneapolismn.gov, 6.abdi.warsame@minneapolismn.gov, 8.elizabeth.glidden@minneapolismn.gov, 9.alondra.cano@minneapolismn.gov, 10.lisa.bender@minneapolismn.gov,11. john.quincy@minneapolismn.gov, 12.andrew.johnson@minneapolismn.gov, 13. linea.palisano@minneapolismn.gov

Thank Lisa Goodman for her support 7.lisa.goodman@minneapolismn.gov

lowry hill healy

This Healy house, a design descendant of the Orth House, is on Lowry Hill.

Perverting New Urbanism II: Greenwashing Demolition

Developers repeatedly trot out claims based on the tenets of New Urbanism: affordability, diversity, easy access, and sustainability. For example, as seen in the previous post, the Lander Group’s promotion of its 2320 Colfax project as “affordable” is not credible, given the rents required for units in new Wedge buildings. However, the Lander Group’s bogus claim of affordability is not the most egregious subversion of New Urbanist principles. A much more serious misrepresentation resides in the statement that this building will consist of “‘Eco-Flats – promoting ‘Green-Living’. . .close to and providing a variety of transportation options, services, recreation, and green space.”

What does this mean? Not that the building is green, but that the living in it will be green. How will this be green? By the developer putting in fewer parking spaces than will be needed for 45 units, providing an HourCar, a “variety of bike storage options”, and a bike-repair stand. First of all, the assumption that the majority of tenants won’t own cars is ridiculous. That’s an ideal of New Urbanist planning that is far from being realized. 80% of American adults own at least one car. If the project has the Wedge average of 1 1/2 tenants per unit, the complex could be short of parking by 34 spaces. Many workplaces are simply not accessible by public transportation, and many people who bike to work often suspend bike commuting during the winter. Second, the amenities available nearby (bus routes, bike paths, HourCar, parks, nearby shops and restaurants) are already there, and will be there, Lander project or not.

Using the prefix “Eco-” as a descriptor is a marketing ploy to suggest that this project will be good for the environment–which it most decidedly will not be. Wrecking the houses at 2320 and 2316 will cost the developer about $60k–to be added to construction costs–and would involve removing 250+ tons of building materials, excluding the foundations, to the landfill. Historic preservation is environmental preservation. According to the World Bank, “sustainable development recognizes that growth must be both inclusive and environmentally sound to reduce poverty and build shared prosperity for today’s population and to continue to meet the needs of future generations. It must be efficient with resources and carefully planned to deliver both immediate and long-term benefits for people, planet, and prosperity.”[1] The proposed Lander development at 2320 Colfax is decidedly inefficient in its use of resources. Ironically using the rhetoric of ‘green living,’ the developer seeks to destroy the Orth House and replace it with new construction–the least environmentally responsible option available.

don't raze me, bro

Article after article about conservation reiterates the point that “green building” is an oxymoron. You can’t have both. As Jerri Holan, a Fulbright scholar and member of the AIA, points out: “The facts are in – no matter how much green technology is employed, any new building represents a new impact on the environment.It makes no sense for us to recycle newspapers, bottles, and cans while we’re throwing away entire buildings and neighborhoods.It’s fiscally irresponsible and entirely unsustainable.” [2]

The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation and City Council have determined the Orth House to be an “historic resource.” Razing historic buildings results in a triple hit on scarce resources. First, we are throwing away thousands of dollars of embodied energy. The greenest thing we can do is to continue the life of a building whose resources have already been extracted from our planet. Using data from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, we can calculate that the Orth House, at 6,400 square feet, embodies roughly 9.6 billion BTUS of energy, equal to 77,000 gallons of gasoline. If that building is torn down, all that embodied energy is wasted. What’s more, the demolition process itself consumes energy.[3]

Once it's gone, it's gone.

Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

The Lander website claims that their project would use “better construction techniques.” Hmm–better construction than what? Certainly not better than the house currently standing at 2320, which was built by T.P.Healy in 1893 of lumber from Minnesota’s virgin forests. The historic Orth House would be replaced with materials vastly more consumptive of energy. What is the Orth House built from? Timber, plaster, limestone, and bricks. These are the least energy consumptive of materials. The major components of new buildings, by contrast, are the most energy consumptive–plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum.

The greenest building is the one that's standing. c. National Trust for Historic Preservation

The greenest building is the one that’s standing. c. National Trust for Historic Preservation

An important part of New Urbanist strategy is the preservation of existing buildings and historic architecture. The reasons for this are twofold: historic preservation not only saves “places that matter” for future generations, but conserves rapidly dwindling natural resources and energy sources. The fact that the Lander project is a larger building than the Orth House does not offset the energy consumed in destroying the old one and building the new. Even if this building were LEEDS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified[4] and built on an empty lot (which it is not), it would take many decades to offset the loss of resources. “By 2030, we will have demolished and replaced nearly 1/3 of our current building stock, creating enough debris to fill 2,500 NFL stadiums. How much energy does this represent? [E]nough to power California (the 10th largest economy in the world) for 10 years. By contrast, if we rehabilitate just 10% of these buildings, we could power New York for over a year.”[5]

VIDEO_Metrodome_Demolition_Takes_Down_Concrete_Ring-syndImport-061042

Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome 1982-2014

New building can never be greener than existing structures, yet Minneapolis keeps saying it espouses sustainability while demolishing dozens of buildings annually. At the root of the problem is the functional life of new buildings. Contemporary buildings are considered to be disposable even as they go up. Take, for example, the Metrodome and the 1981 Walker Community Library building. These structures stood on sites cleared of older buildings for their construction. Only three decades years later, they both were demolished, sending thousands of tons of building materials to landfills. Meanwhile, across the street from the third Walker library, the first 1911 Classical Revival library building still stands, adaptively reused as commercial space.

The first Walker Library in Uptown.

The first Walker Library in Uptown.

New Urbanism is a comprehensive philosophy of urban planning. But so far, Minneapolis has been dealing with demolition on a case-by-case basis. An owner wants to wreck an historic resource: staff representing City Planning say, sure, wreck away. . .There are better examples of Healy’s work. This process of finding better examples of this and that can go on until there is literally one Healy house left standing. Lander’s development could have a suitable place in Minneapolis, but not on the site of the Orth House. If 2320-2316 were vacant lots, the Lander project would have already been built. Minneapolis should not be curating a museum, but maintaining community character and identity.

Minneapolis must develop a policy dealing with demolitions that takes into account both historical and ecological resources. Marketing buzz words should not be a substitute for responsible urban stewardship.

“Our duty is to preserve what the past has had to say for itself, and to say for ourselves what shall be true for the future.”–John Ruskin

green lab

–T.B
C.A.C.

Perverting New Urbanism for Fun and Profit

In promoting their new projects, developers repeatedly trot out claims based on the tenets of New Urbanism: affordability, diversity, easy access, and sustainability.

“New Urbanism promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities. These contain housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other.”–NewUrbanism.org

Want to live in hip, starry-neon-skied Lime in the Wedge Greenway, where (as their sign proclaims) “tarts” are welcome? Prepare to shell out big bucks for a small space.

Let’s look at the claims of the Lander Group for its proposal at 2316-2320 Colfax Avenue South and see how they square with the aims noted above. Lander wants to wreck the Orth House at 2320 to clear the site for a 45-unit apartment building. The Lander website says that the 2320 project is “geared to more affordable budgets with the smaller sizing, and real transportation options.” To be cost-effective for the developer, the rents in new units need to be set at least at market rate. Currently, rents for 500-square-foot studios in new Wedge buildings start at $1200 per month. This is not “affordable” housing by any stretch of the imagination. Even if Lander/At Home do as stated keep the rent under $1,000 to start with (still above average for the area), there’s nothing to stop them from raising it afterward.  This is exactly what happened at the joint Lander-Gerberding apartment project at 46th and 46th. They were initially advertised as market rate [1], but now are luxury [2]. If the developer is serious about affordability, let him sign a contract with the City for a fixed-rent range.

The fact is that the older rental units are the affordable ones.  New apartment construction, to be cost effective for the developer, must have rents set higher than for existing structures. The result is what we now have in the Wedge Greenway: 1800+ units built or under construction that are inhabited largely by young, affluent white people.  The aim of the marketing campaigns for these Greenway apartments is to attract young suburbanites to the city for  a few years before they settle down in neighborhoods of mostly single-family homes: “Don’t get hitched until you enjoy your year at Lime”, “I don’t remember her name, but her apartment” (Elan).  This kind of marketing and pricing does not produce a racially, socially or economically diverse community, but an enclave of privileged “urban tourists,” slumming in the Wedge for a few years.  So much for developers adhering to the “diversity” and “affordable” parts of New Urbanist planning.

The Lander website touts “real transportation options” (as opposed to imagined options?) available to future tenants. “The building concept promotes ‘green’ living – close to and providing a variety of transportation options, services, recreation, and green space.” Lander’s “concept” has not produced these amenities, which are available to anyone living in the area. Bus lines run on Hennepin, Lyndale, and Franklin right now.The Wedge has always been a very walkable part of the city, close to lakes, parks, and shopping. Minneapolis is currently the most bike-friendly city in the country. Hour Cars are available now at Franklin and Dupont, a short walk away; bike racks can be built into any structure.

In addition, the developer and development supporters totally ignore New Urbanism’s mandate to conserve resources: to lift people out of poverty, to use energy wisely, and to build community. An important part of this mandate is to preserve the cultural resources and history of the community–an aspect developers conveniently forget, and in fact, as is obvious in the case of 2320 Colfax, scorn.

“Regional architectural styles, historic preservation and shared public space are also crucial.”Charter for the New Urbanism

This is what the idealized sketch of the proposed Lander building looks like:

Architectural drawings are often out of context, a building surrounded by sky and trees (and sometimes a flock of birds).  This building could go just about anywhere, a ho-hum block of flats that is hyped as “affordable” and “sustainable”–but isn’t. (See post on “Greenwashing Demolition). Imagine instead an adaptive reuse of the Orth House, designed to fit in with new residential construction on the site, a multiple-unit complex that would not require sending 250+ tons of building materials to the landfill.

“Cities grow, evolve and combining the new with the old in the same area will acknowledge the history of the place. Projects that pay homage to the existing fabric of a space, but also incorporate new architecture would be my ideal.”–Martina Ernst, Wo-Built Inc. – Innovative Design and Build, Toronto

The Lander proposal is designed with one primary goal: to maximize profits for the developer, with no regard for the neighbors or neighborhood. Let’s not forget that the Lander project did not win approval by the LHENA neighborhood board.

Lander, the property owner, and their for-hire expert contend that the Orth House does not have structural integrity. But don’t just take the word of people who will make hundreds of thousands of dollars from its demolition. John Jepsen of Jepsen Structural Services, a company specializing in structural shoring, lifting and straightening, has examined 2320 Colfax. Last year he testified before the City Council that the house is structurally sound, “built of old growth timber, straight and true.”

The owner and the broker who engineered the deal with Lander also contend that it would economically unfeasible to rehab the house.  Again, are we to simply take the word of those who will reap substantial financial gain from its demolition?  Those who have been inside the house, like myself, have found that many of the original features remain on the first floor and on the exterior.The upper floors were redone after a fire, but this provides interesting options for redesign.

A redevelopment that would include the Orth House would be the green, sustainable, affordable option, a reuse that would be sensitive to community concerns, city history, and fit in with existing buildings in the North Wedge.

Reuse. Reinvest. Retrofit. Respect.

–T.B.

Size Matters: Development at Franklin-Lyndale

 NOTE: This is an expanded version of an op/ed piece appearing in the March 2014 issue of Uptown Neighborhood News.
“Spot zoning is a provision in a general zoning plan which benefits a single parcel of land by creating an allowed use for that parcel that is not allowed for the surrounding properties in the area. Because of implications of favoritism, spot zoning is not favored practice.”–USLegal.com

At the February 13th meeting of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association Zoning and Planning Committee, developer Don Gerberding presented plans for a proposed mixed-use building at the Franklin-Lyndale intersection. Gerberding contended that the development, which would require five zoning variances, needs to be this big to be “economically feasible.” Many in the standing-room-only crowd found fault with various aspects of the development, such as height, mass, noise, ugly appearance, and parking. In response to the concerns voiced, Gerberding said he would “tweak” the design. (See Report on meeting in Southwest Journal.)

“Tweaking”, however, will not fix the basic problem, namely, that Gerberding’s proposal requires spot zoning. Gerberding is asking for a building two stories higher than current zoning permits. In addition, he wants a variance that allows his complex to be erected within 3 feet of the property line of the Aldrich Avenue buildings. Gerberding is asking that the City give his project special treatment, allowing him to build a much larger building than zoning allows.
In this architectural rendering, the intersection appears flat, although there actually is a slope upwards on the right hand (Franklin Avenue) side. The traffic volume looks more like 1914 than 2014. In the 1870s this was the northern boundary of Lake Blaisdell, 20 acres in size, 40′ deep in places. (What are those birds preparing to do, I wonder.)

Most of the objections to this proposal would be addressed if the project were redesigned to conform to the parcel’s current C1-C2 zoning. My friend Mike, whose father represented Minneapolis’s Third Ward in the 1950s, told me that when he read through his dad’s papers, he was struck by how many of the correspondences concerned zoning–scores of applicants thinking that their businesses should be made exceptions to the law. If the City is going to give special dispensation to Gerberding’s proposal, it had better lay out documented proof that the spot zoning will not have negative consequences for residents and City taxpayers. If the City decides to gloss over problems and approve the variances, it should provide just compensation for property owners on Aldrich and Franklin Avenues, who will be very negatively impacted by the development. 

Vague assurances that the proposal fits the City’s plan for increased density at transit hubs are not good enough. The claim that the size/height of the building (75′ high) and number of rental units (85) can be justified because the City endorses public transportation is disingenuous. Traffic snarls and severely limited parking are already acute problems at this intersection and in the surrounding neighborhoods.  This intersection used to be the northern end of Lake Blaisdell– which is why it floods every time it rains hard, and why they can’t put in underground parking on the site.

Lyndale Avenue side, showing the parking entrance which would sit exactly opposite the Wedge Co-op’s parking lot.  The Co-op has to hire cops to manage the traffic melee that ensues at peak shopping times.  In this view, there’s one small bus, some cars, and, amazingly, no bicyclists or traffic cops. But the mysterious flock of birds is hovering over Franklin.

Minneapolis currently is the nation’s most bike-friendly city, but this has had no discernible impact in relieving congestion at this crossroads of two major traffic arteries at an Interstate on/off-ramp. The complex with its 212 for-pay “district parking” spaces would make the intersection a bigger bottleneck for years to come. It astounds me how city officials and supporters of this proposal so easily dismiss the traffic congestion in the area: In the near future, everyone will be riding bicycles and buses. Just put some bike lockers for tenants in the apartment complex and voila! problem solved. Yeah, right.

Why does the City have a zoning code, if it is to be selectively applied according to developers’ “needs”? Approving spot zoning opens up the City to demands from other property owners for equal treatment.  Cynics wonder if allowing selective zoning for this project might be a sneaky way for the City to open up other “transit hubs” in the area to higher density redevelopment. If that’s so, it’s a dangerous game they’re playing.  Developers aren’t the only ones who can sue the City.

Rooftop restaurant on the proposed project.  Does the City so easily forget the recent war between local residents and owners of rooftop bar-restaurants in Uptown?  Do they expect bar patrons here to be less rowdy, quietly whiling away the evening eating and drinking until closing time?

To avoid community rancor and potential lawsuits, the City must do an objective harm/benefit analysis of the impact of the zoning variances on surrounding properties. This process must be transparent, with claims by City officials of neighborhood support backed up with specifics.  The developer and his backers keep claiming that the project has significant community support. Council Member Lisa Bender said that some want the proposed building to be taller. (Quoted in CityPages blog ) Someone thinks this building should be seven or more stories high? Really? Who–and why? Let’s see the proof: an accounting of communications pro and con to the mayor and council members about this proposal. So far, local residents have gotten mostly opaqueness, not transparency, from City Hall. City officials, put your cards on the table, and let’s see what hand we’re being dealt.

The northwest corner of Lyndale-Franklin, c. 1920. Streetcar tracks run on Lyndale, sidewalks have grassy boulevards with trees, and a gas pump sits on the Lyndale side of the building. No birds. Today, trees and grass are gone, vehicles fill the streets, and the building’s facade has been bricked up. It’s one of the city’s busiest crossroads. If you want gas, you can go to the cramped SA station at 2200 Lyndale.

Gerberding began his Wedge presentation by telling us that he designed this project for the benefit of the neighborhood. Don’t do us any favors. If he finds it impossible to come up with an “economically feasible” development that conforms to the property’s zoning, let another more imaginative and resourceful developer take a crack at it.

–T.B.

DEN$ITY: Building Utopia in Gopher City


Last week we had the pleasure of attending a conference on “Building the Urban Utopia: A Blueprint for the Competitive Global City.” The featured speakers were part of a contingent from Gopher City, MN:  Philip Space, internationally renowned architect and author of “Den$ity for Dummies,” Janus Babbitt, publisher of the Gopher City Truthiness Tribune, and city planner Uriah Heep IV.

PHILIP SPACE [under fluttering corporate banners]: I’m pleased as punch to be part of this great public-private partnership leading Gopher City into the world-class Midwestern Utopia it deserves to be. When I look around at city neighborhoods, I see a messy clutter of old houses, apartment buildings, and locally-owned shops. Our mission is to transform poor old Gopher City into a gleaming Shangri-La of new highrise apartment blocks, corporate stores, and rooftop bars.

URIAH HEEP IV [M.A.,Ph.D. Stalinist Planning and Architecture]: We at City Hall understand that government alone cannot build the competitive global city.  Instead, our task is to facilitate increased density by protecting developers from the outcry that inevitably arises when a big development is proposed in a city neighborhood. O, that a developer’s grasp should exceed his reach, or what’s a citizen participation process for?

The City benefits when we issue demolition permits for historic buildings, wreck them, and then put up “green” buildings, so the citizen-taxpayers should foot the bill on every single level. Gopher City can become a mecca of tunnel-like streetscapes, interchangeable with any other city in the world, if only we had the will to clear out both history and the poor. Who likes having neighborhood riffraff hanging around bus stops and cluttering the sidewalks and public schools? What better way to run them off to suburban ghettos than by pricing them out with trendy new luxury apartments and condos? 
PHILIP SPACE [pointing to a cardboard box with tiny cafe tables on the top]: I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to design the new GerbilCage Lofts, which have been certified as sustainable by an Internet outfit, GreenCon.com, which sells green building certification to developments. A bike rack out front mitigates the cost of discarding a carbon-negative building into the landfill, and encourages the building’s occupants to bike in the three months it’s possible to bike in Gopher City, given the weather. In any case, we don’t need to allocate enough parking for buildings. If tenants can’t bike, they should be walking or using public transportation. Do the right thing, residents. Pay it forward. Besides, we need those parking spaces for suburbanites who drive in for a night on the town.

URIAH HEEP IV: That’s right, Phil. An important piece of our development initiative is to attract suburbanites to play in the city. We need to offer mixed-use commercial nodes that allow people to drive into town, eat, drink, and be merry high above the streets below, free from complaints from neighbors down below about noise and vomit. 
Too drunk to remember name of the babe you slept with? No one cares here.

PHILIP SPACE: You got it, Uriah. But don’t forget that we must make these apartment developments attractive to Neo-Urban Suburbanites by urging them to sow their wild oats in the city before settling down in the ‘burbs. We want to make sure the city is a stop on the journey of a citizen’s life, but not the destination. This requires targeted marketing like the Slime development uses in attracting tarts to their bro-plexes: “Kicked out of your dorm? Live here.” “You’re going to screw here, why not bunk here?” “We put the -m in condo-.” Isn’t that hilarious? Slime’s marketing shows such a great sense of humor! Advertising condos promoting the ideas that women are sluts and men are drunken horndogs is so not politically correct–and that’s what makes it “cool” and “edgy”.

Hey, sluts, whoop it up for a year at the City’s new bro-plexes.
JANUS BABBITT: We of the media recognize that the City and private developers can’t accomplish the building of the high-density New Jerusalem on their own. They need the help of newspapers, TV, and internet trolls to get these highrises built. My paper, the Truthiness Tribune, is happy to cooperate with City Hall in promoting high density development in Gopher City. Thirty years ago, by controlling news coverage of the issue, we engineered the sale of land we owned near our building for the City to build a domed stadium for our professional football team, the GC Lemmings. Last year, we helped again, getting $38 million for our remaining land and building so the private-public partnership could wreck the existing Rodentdome and replace it with a bigger, better new Lemmingbowl–all with substantial help from the taxpayer, and no public referendum! Now, that’s what I call journalism.

Vigilant trolls on blogs like UrbanGC grease the skids for development by framing local obstructionists–a.k.a. “preservationists”–[laughs] as NIMBY losers standing in the way of Gopher City’s rise to global greatness. Whose backyards should we build in? Ours? [laughs and slaps knee]. If mocking and name-calling don’t work, the trolls can always sort of agree with the obstructionists and spin wonderful greenwashing counterarguments to confuse them.

So-called “historic” Gopher City neighborhoods need to stop crying over their old dumps and stand aside for the next architectural wave. In the future people will laud the eight-story bro-plexes and office blocks built out of waxed paper and wasps’ nests – organic! sustainable! – as avant garde. As we all know, people always resist change, especially in the arts. In fifty years, those cranks will just love these innovative bro-miciles. We are at the forefront of a movement to warehouse insouciant youth. The only cost will be to the community. Those in government and business will profit, as they should.

PHILIP SPACE: Let me indulge in a little bragging about Gopher City’s newest development, a mixed-use behemoth designed by yours truly. We didn’t bother with changing the zoning; we got variances, lots of them. Zoning codes which stipulate building height and allocated parking are clearly for hoi polloi, whom we don’t want in Gopher City anyway.

With the cooperation of the City, we built the seven-story GerbilCage Lofts. In addition to 90 bro-pads, the Lofts boast a rooftop restaurant, Whore d’Oeuvres, and a ground floor pastry shop, Cheap Tarts. It’s the perfect development to anchor high density in the surrounding neighborhoods. Of course, those in the surrounding neighborhoods cried foul, but so what? Typical NIMBYs, thinking only about themselves and their neighborhood’s livability [shakes head]. Perennial faultfinders in affected neighborhoods like Gopher City’s Triangle never seem to like our big development proposals. Not cooperating? Maybe it’s time for some traffic problems in the Triangle. Oh, wait, they already have those. Haha!

JANUS BABBITT [high-fives Space]: Phil, you are a hoot! Let me conclude by summing up the blueprint for building cowtown Gopher City into a thriving global metropolis: To be competitive, contemporary cities need to be designed to bring in money for the developers and government. Density is synonymous with urban prosperity. If you’re not a person of means, there’s no room for you in the dense new Gopher City being built for the affluent and Neo-Urban Suburbanites.

The Gopher City of the Future will bulldoze the Gopher City of the Past. Who even needs that? All cities should be the same city, indivisible, with the same corporate chains and luxury boutiques for all who can afford them. The collusion of government and business is the wave of the future–and, I might add–[chuckles] the past.

HEEP: [clapping] Hear, hear!
[Applause. Space claps Babbitt on the back, and they bow to the audience.]
Rush hour traffic by GerbilCage Lofts

–Trilby Busch
  Ceridwen Christensen
. . .with thanks to Sinclair Lewis and Stephen Colbert

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