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The previous post showed how owner Mike Crow repeatedly gave false testimony during public hearings and in court in order to get a demolition permit for his property at 2320 Colfax Avenue South. His lies were then passed on in the testimony of City Planner John Smoley.
This post turns to the others who perpetrated these lies: the Lander Group’s hired credentialed preservation expert, Amy Lucas; the owner’s real estate broker, Tom Dunn; and Pete Keely of Collage Architects, head of the Lander Group’s development team.
In the fall of 2012, Michael Lander’s architect Pete Keely made a presentation of the plans for a proposed apartment building at 2316-2320 Colfax before the Lowry Hill East (Wedge) Neighborhood Association. Most of the meeting was devoted to showing plans and explaining the project. The meeting was packed with local residents, of which a sizable majority were opposed to wrecking the two houses on the site.
As controversy grew over the proposed demolition of the Healy-designed house at 2320 Colfax Avenue South, the pro-demolition forces seized on Crow’s public statements about its condition, setting up an echo-chamber effect in their individual statements.
Amy Lucas of Landscape Research, who had been hired by the developer to assess 2320’s historic importance, agreed with City Planner Smoley’s findings in the initial Staff report (September 25, 2012), specifically, that the property did not meet the criteria for local designation “due to lack of historic significance.”
In a letter to Pete Keely (December 12, 2012) Lucas reports: “Fires in 1991 and 2011 have left little interior fabric. The second and third floors have been completely rebuilt; the first floor entry hall retains some wood paneling and stair railing. . .The house at 2320 Colfax Avenue South has extensive integrity issues and is no longer representative of an intact Healy design.”
Lucas presumably went through the house, yet for some reason she did not observe any of the appointments and architectural features that remained in the private rooms on the first and second floor, and instead repeated what Crow had said about the house, namely, that fire had destroyed the upper two floors.
Throughout the hearings on 2320 during 2012-2013, Lucas’s opinion remained completely in line with owner Mike Crow’s testimony. In her Historic Evaluation of 2320 in March 2014, Lucas reports: “The second and third floors were burned and the 1992 rehabilitation removed flooring, walls and doors. The plan of the upper floors was also changed during the renovation. At the interior, the second and third floors were completely reconfigured after the 1991 fire; all historic fabric was removed from these floors. [. . .]The house at 2320 Colfax Avenue South maintains its historic location, but possesses poor integrity in setting, design, materials, and workmanship. The house burned in 1991 and has been converted into a rooming house. The majority of the historic features and historic materials have been removed and/or covered.”
At the Heritage Preservation Commission’s hearing on March 18, 2014, on Crow’s appeal to issue a demolition permit for an historic resource, Lucas testified: “I don’t know if any of you have been in the house, but when it burned the second and third floors burned completely. So they were rebuilt as small rooms upstairs. [. . . ] [The house] today no longer has the integrity of its original design. The interior has been muddled greatly.”
Ironically, she allegedly had been inside the house, examining it for her report, yet somehow she did not see that the layout and rooms on the second floor were intact in their original configuration. The existing cove ceilings and baseboard trim revealed during salvage operations strongly suggest minimal to no changes there.
In District Court in May of 2014, Lucas gave similar testimony. Although John Smoley acknowledged to the court that Anders Christensen’s research is the primary source of information about T.P. Healy’s work, under cross-examination, Lucas would not acknowledge Christensen’s expertise, suggesting that somehow she got her information from other sources.
In preparation for that March hearing, Collage Architects, represented by Pete Keely, submitted a memo to the HPC on behalf of the Lander Group Development Team (February 17, 2014). This memo contains the same inaccuracies as Lucas’s, and throws around some figures for good measure: “Although this property was designed and constructed by T.P. Healy, the home is nothing close to the original construction. Over 75% of the original materials in the home have been replaced due to extensive fires, and insensitive remodeling.[…]2320 Colfax has extensive integrity issues and is no longer representative of an intact Healy designed home. Nearly all of the construction above the first floor and most of the first floor are not Healy constructed components as these have all been replaced.[…]
Over 75% of the home has been changed. This house is beyond restoration and would require re-construction [sic] to bring it back to the home originally designed and constructed. Approximately 80% of the original siding is severely damaged or missing and was a major cause for the re-siding in 1960 and 2003.”
One wonders where they got the figures from–clearly, not from looking into the rooms and under the top siding.
At the hearing Pete Keely reaffirmed the claims articulated in the memo: “We are here to say that the integrity of the home, the usefulness of the home has gone away. [. . .]There is really not much left of that original home, and so in terms of the integrity which has already been talked about, the dollars put forth into it already muddy waters as to what is real or not real.”
One can certainly agree about the “muddying waters” aspect of this testimony, not to mention the ironic “what is real and what is not”.
Another person who stood to reap significant gain by bringing 2320 down is real estate broker Tom Dunn. His aptly named company is called Terra Firma, that is, Latin for ‘land”–not Domum for “home”. Dunn contended from the beginning that he had tried to sell the house as investment property, but failed. He asserted over and over that the rooming house rental model is no longer financially feasible, and that he could not find a buyer interested in the house as a residence.
When asked point blank at a Zoning and Planning Committee hearing if he had offered the house for sale via the Multiple Listing Service, Dunn answered, “Yes.” ( May 21, 2013). However, a check of MLS records finds no evidence that Dunn ever listed the house on the service, revealing a lie that is solely of Dunn’s doing.
At the March 2014 HPC hearing on the appeal to demolish an historic resource, Dunn waxed metaphorical in an extremely ironic plea for commissioners to see through the “myths” about 2320:
“I want you to listen to the facts as they are being presented. Did you know that the Vikings didn’t have horns on their helmets? They didn’t have horns on their helmets. That was a rumor started by ancient Romans and that’s a myth that’s been perpetuated throughout time and that’s essentially what’s being done. A myth of the historic nature of this building when there really is none. So I really want you and encourage you to listen to the facts. [. . .]
There is just no reason to stand in the way of allowing this project to go forward, other than based on some logic that you’re committed to a cause of some kind. But in this instance it really doesn’t have any relevance. So I just want you to listen to the historic nature, to what the experts are saying about the historic significance of this property. There just isn’t any.”
Dunn went on to repeat similar testimony in District Court. If we can believe Crow and his attorney, the sale price of the two parcels at 2316-2320 Colfax as land is $950,000. When the sale to the Lander Group closes, Dunn will receive a commission well into five figures.
As the icing on the cake of lies, at the hearing in District Court on December 18, 2014, Crow’s attorney Stephen Harris told the judge that closing on the property would take place on December 22, 2015. Harris asked for a bond of $950,000 should the judge grant an injunction against demolition. Yet as of January 20th, no sale had been recorded, the house was still standing, and Crow has been seen repeatedly going in and out of it. UPDATE: The demolition permit was issued on February 19, 2015, after it was sold to Lander. The house was wrecked on the 25th). Why did Harris tell the judge that the sale was closing just days after the hearing? Is that what Crow told him, or did he make it up in order to get the judge to require a very high bond? Did both of them know that Lander would be doing the demolition?
Throughout the two-year-long process of hearings, demolition advocates repeated the same false testimony: that fires had completely destroyed the second and third floors; that the upper floors had been completely rebuilt and reconfigured after the ’91 fire; that remodeling had removed the “historic fabric” of the house; that what was left of the original features was visible in the public spaces; that the house was so far gone it would take a fortune to rehab. Not one of these claims could be supported by a close examination of the house itself.
Owner Mike Crow was careful to allow access only to the entryway, hallways, and front parlor when he showed the house. But does this excuse those whose testimony apparently was based only on the appearance these spaces? Did these people, who will benefit financially from getting the Lander development project through, bother to question Crow’s assertions? Did they examine the private spaces of the house? If so, how did they fail to see and to report what was revealed by the salvage operations in December?
Jonathan Swift’s observation that “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it” is a good assessment of what happened during the process of testimony regarding the importance and condition of the Orth House at 2320 Colfax Avenue South. It’s both infuriating and heartbreaking that the truth was revealed only as the house was undergoing demolition.
Some of us have little trust in the City’s resolve and even desire to correct this corrupted process. Will truth have to keep limping behind lies in public testimony? Only time will tell.
A previous post reported that the salvage operation preparatory to the demolition of the 1893 Healy-designed house at 2320 Colfax Avenue South, aka the Orth House, revealed that most of the architectural features of the house were intact.
A subcontractor involved in the salvage operation sent this e-mail to the Healy Project:
“So many people have either lied or credulously accepted lies about the interior of 2320 Colfax. I’d talked my way into a couple of rooms earlier this year so I knew there was more there than they were letting on but I had no idea… The entry, all 3 parlors and the dining room were essentially the same as you see them in those 2 old interior photos on the Healy site. Wainscoting, window & door casings, cove & coffered ceilings, huge paneled pocket doors, it was all there. The cased openings between parlors and about 4 feet of the North end of the dining room were sectioned off with easily removable drywall partitions.
The real surprise, however, was the 2nd floor, purportedly ‘gutted’ by fire. 5 of 6 bedrooms had all of their original millwork, cove ceilings, pocket doors, 10-panel closet doors. One of the bedrooms had a fireplace with a brown ceramic face/hearth and with a cabinet built into the wood surround. The only things new in each of these rooms were their doors communicating to the central hall. Anyone taken upstairs could be easily led to believe that the floor was a drywall gut-job, as long as they were kept in the hallway.
The 3rd floor still had some original millwork but, as was so often the case, it was relatively plain.
Seriously, this could’ve been a million-dollar house.”
To get to the link showing photos and video taken by Ezra Gray, click here.
This post will outline the process by which a property owner, by repeatedly lying, finally got City officials to issue a demolition permit for a mostly intact 1893 house that had been declared an historic resource.
Owner Mike Crow repeatedly misrepresented the condition of a house he wanted to sell as land. At neighborhood meetings, before the Minneapolis City Council and Heritage Preservation Commission, and in District Court, Crow asserted again and again that there was nothing left of the original, historic house at 2320 Colfax Avenue South.
At the hearing before the Heritage Preservation Commission on April 13, 2013, Crow testified: “The only pictures he [Anders Christensen] showed you is the only part of the house that still has anything left, and a good portion of that is not the original house. Everything on the second and third floor was completely gutted.”
The Minneapolis Planning Department, apparently eager to get the house down and the Lander Group’s apartment building up, accepted Crow’s word on faith, without visiting the site. Basing his opinion on four exterior photos instead of on an examination of the house itself, John Smoley, preservation expert for the Planning Department, repeated Crow’s assertions: “Fires in 1991 and 2011 have left little interior fabric. The second and third floors have been completely rebuilt [. . . ] 2320 Colfax has extensive integrity issues and is no longer representative of an intact Healy house.”
Thus began the spreading of the big lies about 2320: That fires had destroyed the upper two floors, that the second and third floors had been completely rebuilt, removing all of the original appointments, and that the only original components were those visible in the entryway and a front parlor.
Despite these assertions by Crow and Smoley, the HPC declared the house at 2320 Colfax Ave. S. an historic resource. In May, by unanimous vote, the Minneapolis City Council, after hearing the same testimony that Crow and Smoley had presented to the HPC, reaffirmed the HPC’s declaration. The house was officially declared an “historic resource” of the City of Minneapolis.
However, after the 2013 election, Crow decided to appeal the HPC’s decision. In his request for a permit to demolish an historic resource (January 8, 2014), Crow declared: “We purchased the building in 1991 after it had been severely damaged in a fire. The second and third floors were taken down to the studs and rafters. Nothing on the 2nd and 3rd floor survived other than apiece [sic] of trim here and there, every room in the house had some damage from the smoke, fire or water. There is not one single room that is in its original state. The only two rooms that are the most intact in the entire building are the foyer or entry and the original living room with fireplace.”
Ironically, throughout this process, Crow had been adamant in insisting that if people had seen the house, they would know that his description was accurate—This despite the fact that he had shown the house to several representatives of the Healy Project–but not to John Smoley.
Smoley made his first on-site visit to the house in January 2014 in preparation for the HPC hearing on March 18th. Even after seeing the physical house, in the staff report for the hearing, Smoley repeated Crow’s assertions in architectural jargon:
“The property does not retain integrity of materials. The majority of the building’s original exterior and interior materials have been replaced or covered.. . Remodeling on the first floor has been very heavy, though nowhere near as extensive as on the second and third floor spaces. There, the character is almost completely late twentieth century due to a comprehensive 1980s-era remodel designed to repair fire damage. [. . .] Integrity of workmanship is evident in very few remaining exterior features apart from two bow windows and a brick chimney high atop the roof. On the interior, first floor spaces provide limited evidence of late nineteenth century craftsmanship, separated by far more evidence of late nineteenth century work. In any event, the presence of these few, scattered historic features is not sufficient evidence for this residence to retain integrity of workmanship or integrity in general.”
After hearing their testimony, Commission Sue Hunter-Weir commented: “[A] year ago we looked at this property; we knew about the fire, we knew about the siding, we knew all of those things and still thought of this property as an historic resource and that was appealed to both Zoning and Planning and City Council and they upheld that. So it seems to me like we’re being asked now to say it’s not historic enough.”
The HPC denied Crow’s appeal.
Crow then appealed to the City Council. In his “Determination of Historic Eligibility,” Crow sings the same tune, this time with ad hominem attacks (presented here verbatim): “The entrenched foes of new development encouraged the self promoting amateur historian, working in conjunction with a striving TV starlet to generate letters of opposition from folks ignorant of the property. Unwittingly damaging the Preservationist’s cause. With cries of wolf at every new development credibility is diluted, further inhibiting incubation of sound policy. Not everything can be preserved, but if anything it should be the masterpieces. 2320 Colfax was far from a master piece [sic] when it was built much less after three fires, one of which took off the second and third floor.
There is very little left at the property which was built by Mr. Healy.[…]The appellant cites original woodwork, leaded glass and a middle room of the first floor having a fire place. These peices [sic] will surely be saved prior to demolition if they have value. However approximatly [sic] 400 square feet of a total building square footage of over 4,400 means ‘little interior fabric’ of the original remains intact.”
At the April meeting of the Zoning and Planning Committee of the City Council, Crow and Smoley gave basically the same testimony as presented at the HPC. This time, Crow got what he wanted. The committee reversed the previous decisions by the HPC and City Council.
On a motion from new Z&P Chair Lisa Bender, who has publicly supported the Lander development from the outset, the committee approved Crow’s appeal. A month later, the full City Council voted 11-2 to issue the demolition permit for an historic resource. One of the dissenters was 5th Ward CM Blong Yang, who had in fact toured the house. CMs Elizabeth Glidden, Cam Gordon, Barb Johnson, Kevin Reich, and John Quincy, all of whom a year before had declared the house an historic resource, reversed course, and voted for demolition.
When the Healy Project took Mike Crow to District Court for his plans to demolish an historic resource, once again Crow and Smoley repeated their testimony that the upper floors had been burned and rebuilt, that the interior fabric was destroyed, that the house had no integrity of materials, etc., etc.–this time under oath.
These are the facts. All testimony is taken verbatim from the public record.
“. . .at the length, the truth will out.” The Merchant of Venice, Act 2.
Next: The testimony by the owner’s broker, Tom Dunn (Terra Firma Commercial); the developer’s hired historic preservation expert, Amy Lucas (Principle, Landscape Research); and Pete Keely (Collage Architects) of the Lander Group Development Team–all of which repeated the initial claims of owner Mike Crow.