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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.
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.
“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.
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
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.
*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.
|The west side of the 2800 block of Colfax Ave. S in the Greenway: a 1970’s 2-1/2-story walkup, three modest-sized houses, and two apartment buildings under construction.|
|The west side of the 2600 block of Colfax Avenue S: two large 1960’s apartment buildings and turn-of-the-century houses|
|The west side of the 2300 block of Colfax Avenue S: the back of the funeral home parking lot and four 1890’s houses, three of them built by T.P.Healy, all currently rooming houses.|
|Doomed by redevelopment? The Edward Orth House, 2320 Colfax, one of two houses developer Michael Lander intends to demolish for a four-story apartment building.|
|The Wedge (when it wasn’t the Wedge) under development as a streetcar suburb in the 1890s, as seen from Lyndale Avenue.|
On December 17th, an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “Minneapolis Sees High Density Future,” proclaimed in its opening sentence, “Minneapolis, the city of the single-family home on a tree-lined boulevard, sees its future in the apartment towers rising 20 stories above busy downtown streets.” The article quotes the city’s director of community planning and economic development, Jeremy Hanson Willis: “If we’re going to compete in the 21st century as a competitive global city, we have to attract people who want to live in cities. And cities are dense, urban environments.” (Has Willis ever seen a city with a rural environment? I hope not.)
|High-density housing: great places to live?|
Much of the article is devoted to developers’ comments about zoning. The gist is that they don’t like being hindered by having to get variances to build lucrative (for them) so-called “multifamily apartment complexes.” The message is that the City and developers can’t wait to nearly double Minneapolis’s population by cramming citizens into high-rise housing in the neighborhoods north of Lake Street. Higher density benefits City government by bringing in more tax revenue, while the developers will be raking in enormous profits. Architects, construction companies and trade unions will benefit, too, from the frenzy of new buildings going up.
Who won’t benefit? The residents of neighborhoods redeveloped into this high-density Utopia. The planned Lander development at 2320 Colfax S. is a harbinger of the changes the City anticipates bringing to the Wedge, Whittier, and other Minneapolis neighborhoods. If the City’s vision is realized, as in the bad old Urban Removal days of the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties, hundreds of houses, duplexes, and smaller residential buildings will fall, replaced by 5- to 20-story apartment buildings.
Contemporary urban planning theory justifies, indeed lauds this kind of redevelopment as necessary, to borrow a phrase, for the “competitive global city.” The informative word here is of course “competitive.” The focus is squarely on big business. Planners and city officials alike love to see the $$$ rolling in from these new projects, and eagerly anticipate the revenue generated from it in the future.
|Nicollet-Lake in 2015? Minneapolis, “competitive” city of the future, cow town no longer.|
The City and its planners have long touted the wonders of collaborative planning between neighborhoods and proposed developments. This collaboration, however, is purely theoretical. At the first hearing about the Lander proposal before LHENA’s Planning and Zoning Committee, a sizable majority of residents at the meeting spoke out against it. The 2004 LHENA study calling for the downzoning of the Wedge north of 24th Street was cited as what the neighborhood envisioned for its own future. But we all were wasting our breath. The assumption by the City and the developer is that, thanks to R-6 zoning, the new four-story apartment complex is as good as built. So what if an historic house is wrecked and low-income tenants are displaced? This is a necessary evil to achieve the new “competitive global city” of Minneapolis.
The term “dark side of planning” was coined by Oxford professor Bent Flyvbjerg to describe this kind of disconnect between planning theory and practice. . In keeping their eyes on the starry skies of economic development for the City, planners and officials turn away from looking at the malevolent consequences of redevelopment on the people who live in the affected areas. For this reason, Flyvbjerg contends that actual urban planning practices frequently violate accepted norms of efficiency, equity, democracy, and hence, of planning ethics.
|Too bad we can’t lift our houses out of encroaching high density development, as did Carl Fredricksen in the film “Up” (made by Minneapolis native Pete Docter).|
One need only to look at the past disasters of City planning to see what can go wrong: Cedar-Riverside, St. Anthony Main, Nicollet-Lake. I have no confidence in the assertions of R.T. Ryberg and Jeremy Hanson Willis that they know better than Minneapolis citizens what kind of city we want to live in. They are speaking for moneyed interests, not for the ordinary people who live here.
Last week I was talking to my Wedge neighbor Don, who, since buying it in 1972, has lovingly restored an 1890’s Queen Anne. He remarked that when he saw the proposal to wreck 2320 Colfax and build an apartment building in its place, his heart sank. For him, for me, and for the many other long-term Wedge residents who fought the development and zoning battles of forty years ago, this new thrust of City planning is like a nightmare come to life. After decades of quiet, neighborhood residents are going to have to organize against high density development, or accept the consequences. If you want to save the old houses of the Wedge, speak now or forever hold your peace–for once they’re gone, they’re gone.
|Wow, am I glad that the developer took down that nasty old house made from Minnesota virgin timber so it can be replaced with a new, clean, “green” apartment building made of concrete, particle board, and sheet rock.|
Next: An interview with visiting officials, city planners, and architects from Gopher City, MN (with a nod to Sinclair Lewis)
In 1980 when then-Wedge-resident Anders Christensen examined the building permits for all the houses in Lowry Hill East, he discovered that a master builder named Theron Potter Healy had built 30 of them. Further research revealed that during his career (1886-1906), Healy had built over 120 houses and commercial buildings in Minneapolis.
In 1993 Healy’s most celebrated creations, the Queen Annes of the 3100 block of Second and Third Avenue South, received national historic designation as the Healy Block Historic District. In 1977 Healy’s Bennett-McBride House had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a superb example of the Queen Anne architectural style.
During the first Wedge Zoning and Planning Committee meeting on the Lander Group’s redevelopment plans for 24th and Colfax, architect Pete Keeley said he had contacted the City, and they had said the two houses slated for demolition had “no historical significance.” At the second meeting, another man supporting owner Michael Crow alleged that the Minnesota Historical Society, too, had said that the Healy house at 2320 was not historically important. I’m sure that both claims are true: Neither the City nor M.H.S. have anything on record about either house.
None of Healy’s Wedge houses have received historic designation, but that does not mean that they are not historic or architecturally significant. Many historic buildings have not received official historic designation (through the Historic Preservation Commission or the National Trust, for example), but that in itself does not speak to their importance.
Consider, for example, the Wedge’s own “Healy Block”, the 2400 block of Bryant Avenue South. Eight (probably nine) houses on this block are Healy’s: 2401, -05, -09,(-10),-20, -24, -28, -36, and -39, ranging in style from Queen Anne to Colonial Revival.
|2439 Bryant, Colonial Revival, 1905|
|2409 Bryant, Queen Anne, 1895|
On Bryant Avenue north of 24th Street (in the R-6 zone) are four other Healy houses; three of these are currently rooming houses. None of the houses on the 2400 block are rooming houses, although half of them were at one time. Former residents have told stories of tenants riding motorcycles up staircases, drunken brawls, drug deals, even murders taking place in these houses. Yet today, with the investments in time and money of their owner-occupants, they have become beautiful and valuable homes.
2320 Colfax, the Healy house slated for demolition, represents a pivotal point in Healy’s career. It is one of only two houses built by Healy in 1893. The other 1893 Healy house, 821 Douglas Avenue, was wrecked in 1981 by developer Paul Klodt. 1893 is a significant year in the history of architecture, the year of the Chicago World’s Fair. In this year the Queen Anne style began to fall out of fashion, replaced by the Colonial Revival style, made popular by the Fair’s “White City”. 2320 is Healy’s first Colonial Revival house, a significant part of his architectural legacy.
An old photo of 2320 reveals the original appearance of the house, with a large barn in back, and open field to the north:
|The Orth House, 2320 Colfax, as it appeared when new.|
|The house today. The porch has been enclosed, but the original roof line, profile, and fenestration remain.|
Obviously, some people don’t care diddlysquat about history or architecture, and this blog is not addressed to them. I have learned a very important lesson from my service on the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission and the Advocacy Committee of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota: Governments and institutions are not concerned with saving buildings. Communities must define and speak out on what’s important to the community–and work to preserve it.
The 2004 LHENA Zoning Task Force clearly articulated what is important to Wedge residents, that is, ensuring the livability of the neighborhood by preserving the current mix of houses and multiple-unit buildings. Michael Lander has already redeveloped the southern part of the Wedge along the Greenway with high density apartment buildings and condominiums. This redevelopment makes sense in that it replaced a defunct industrial area. But the apex of the Wedge is a different story. Development supporters have made much of the idea of saving the neighborhood “core”, while keeping the “fringe” high density. Truth to say, the apex is such a small area that most of it can be considered “fringe” of the greater neighborhood, the current view from City Hall. The point is moot: R-6 allows high density throughout, so-called “core” included.
Last month a first in a series of meetings was convened by the City to look into the feasibility of establishing “conservation districts” in Minneapolis. Such districts would offer more protections than the zoning code, but fewer than those of historic districts, such as the Healy Block. A conservation district would certainly be a big step forward in saving the houses in the apex of the Wedge, but the idea is only at the beginning of a long planning process, with no guarantee it will be adopted.
|“360 Degrees of Wedge Healys”–Photo art by Richard Mueller|
In conclusion, I want to stress that if you want to save 2320 Colfax and preserve the other houses in the Wedge, don’t expect City Hall or an historical society to do it for you. Property rights are held sacrosanct in this country, and owners can wreck properties on the National Register if they so choose. Case in point–the developer in Arizona who wants to demolish a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Despite a firestorm of outrage and temporary stay of demolition from the City of Phoenix, the developer is still determined to take it down.
Former Zoning Task Force member Sue Bode said at the first LHENA hearing about the 2316-2320 plan, “Taking down a Healy house is like destroying one by Frank Lloyd Wright.” If you care about Healy’s legacy, if you care about the old houses of the Wedge, speak out.
|CAN PREVENT DEMOLITIONS!|
I. The Sad History of Zoning in the Wedge (Lowry Hill East)
|Map of Lowry Hill East|
As followers of the Healy Facebook page know, in October, the Zoning and Planning Committee for the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) met to look at a proposal by the Lander Group to redevelop a site on the northwest corner of Colfax Avenue and 24th Street in the Wedge. The proposal, presented by Peter Keely of Collage Architects, called to wreck two extant houses, 2316 and 2320 Colfax, and erect a five-story, 48-unit apartment building. While emphasizing the “green” aspects of the proposed building, Keely also repeatedly stressed that it was considerably smaller than R-6 zoning allows.
After Keely’s presentation, the large group in attendance spoke of their concerns. Comments ranged from outrage at the size of the project to arguments in support of it from the man who owns the two houses, Michael Crow. The majority of the response was decidedly negative. At the end of the discussion, Steve Benson, chair of the 2004 LHENA Zoning Task Force. spoke eloquently of the need to secure the livability of the neighborhood by preserving the extant houses. Keely, after saying earlier that the proposal was the only “economically feasible” one for Lander, agreed to come back with another one at the November meeting.
What has all this to do with Healy? The Orth House at 2320, currently a 17-unit rooming house, was designed and built by Healy. According to Michael Crow, the original architectural features are gone, and it would be no loss to wreck it. The architect reported that City Planning agrees, saying that it has “no historical value.” Well, if the house really is as torn up as they contend, I wonder who’s responsible. Could it be Crow, who has run the place as a rooming house for the 21 years he’s owned it?
I will return to the historical and architectural importance of 2320 in another post, but now I’d like to focus on zoning issues and how they relate to preservation. I know, zoning is one of those topics that put people to sleep. But before you start dozing off, please try to keep awake long enough to learn the background of zoning in the Wedge.
In 1963 the City upzoned much of Minneapolis, including the Wedge, to high density R-6 zoning. These were the postwar days when much of old Minneapolis fell to the wrecking ball (the Metropolitan Building, for example). When the Wedge was upzoned, the houses started to come down by the scores, replaced by two-and-a-half story walkup apartment buildings. The City made the north-south streets into “paired commuter one-way corridors”, that is, racetracks for suburbanites to speed through the scary inner city.
In 1970, a group of Wedge residents banded together to form LHENA for the purpose of cleaning up and stabilizing the neighborhood. They picked up trash, they fought slumlords, they put unruly tenants on notice, they started “The Wedge” neighborhood newspaper. Their main goals, however, were to better control traffic flow and to downzone the Wedge to a lower density designation.
|Minneapolis’s first co-op market, the Wedge, was founded in 1974.|
Amazingly, LHENA partially succeeded in meeting these goals by getting rid of the north-south one-ways and by downzoning the inner core of the area south of 24th Street to R-2B. North of 24th Street, however, R-6 zoning remains in place for all of the existing houses. In 2004 LHENA’s Zoning Task Force submitted a detailed plan to the City, arguing why downzoning the Wedge apex is essential for retaining the unique character and livability of the neighborhood. The City (figuratively) threw the study into the wastebasket. Apparently the City is quite happy with R-6 in the apex and is looking forward to cramming into it as many units as possible.
On November 14th, Peter Keely returned to the LHENA Zoning and Planning Committee with a new plan for the 2316-20 redevelopment. The revised proposal, it turns out, requires no variances from the City to build. Big surprise, eh? The fact is that as long as R-6 zoning is in place, developers can build pretty much whatever they want, without the blessing of the community. Presenting this plan to the zoning committee is simply window-dressing for Lander. At the second meeting, the focus was on hearing and commenting on the proposal. Anders Christensen was allowed to speak briefly on the historical significance of the houses. A man who identified himself as a supporter of Michael Crow claimed that the Minnesota Historical Society says that 2320 has no historical importance (more on this in next post), and the committee’s attention returned to issues such as parking, the placement of garbage cans, the wonders of brownstone, etc. “Progress” marched on.
|Returning soon to the Wedge?|
The most alarming aspect of this seemingly benign proposal is that it signals a return to the Bad Olde Days of house demolition, with the attendant fallout of displaced tenants. After nearly four decades of stability, the residents of Lowry Hill East–and those at City Hall–must decide if they really want to see the apex of the Wedge turned into a nondescript Midwestern version of the Bronx, indistinguishable from other redeveloped urban areas–or if they want to retain the distinctive charm of the existing blend of houses and smaller apartment buildings.
The reality is that with R-6 zoning, developments like this cannot be stopped via the mechanism of City government. But that is not to say they can’t be stopped. Lowry Hill East’s nickname “The Wedge” came about not only to reflect the shape of the neighborhood, but the direction of its political thrust.
If and when these two houses fall, others will inexorably come down, too. It would be the end of the Wedge as we know it. Preservationists, those who love the Wedge and its houses, it’s time to stand up and be counted.
Next: The architectural and historical importance of Healy houses in the Wedge.