HPC hears concerns about Prospect Park preservation

Prospect Park properties are currently under interim protection by HPC.

by Alex Holmquist

Prospect Park resident Greg Rottach was frustrated after submitting an application to the city to replace his basement windows that contained lead-based paint. Rottach said he began the application process about a year ago after receiving a grant from the Minnesota Sustainable Resources Center and had a limited time period to use the funds. But the father of two had an even greater concern: His children, ages two and four, tested positive for traces of lead in their blood. RottachâÄôs home is only one of many Prospect Park properties currently under interim protection by the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission. The current protection requires owners of contributing properties to submit an application to the HPC if they wish to make certain alterations to the exterior of their property. At an HPC public hearing Tuesday, residents voiced concerns about large application fees, lengths of time needed to gain the HPCâÄôs approval, restrictive design guidelines and the inability to review the guidelines before the neighborhood is designated as a historic preservation district. âÄúWeâÄôre not opposed to design guidelines,âÄù said Dick Poppele, president of the Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association, âÄúbut we are concerned about how they will be interpreted.âÄù Residents said they were also concerned the guidelines will prevent them from making their homes more sustainable. HPC Chairman Chad Larsen said the current guidelines are those of the secretary of state and that the guidelines drafted by the HPC would likely be similar, yet less restrictive. Other residents raised concerns about emergency situations that may cause a need for immediate renovations. Charles Simons said he was concerned about the process it would have taken to gain the HPCâÄôs approval to build a handicap ramp for his father, who is a Prospect Park resident. Commissioners said they would be willing to consider these emergency situations and put in place reversible solutions, such as a temporary handicap ramp. âÄúThe guidelines are here to protect you all,âÄù Larsen said. Simons said he built the ramp anyway after he was told he would need to appear before the HPC to get their approval âÄî a process he said would have taken two months and cost him a $650 application fee. Earlier this month, the HPC voted to extend the period of interim protection for an additional six months, against the wishes of some Prospect Park residents and City Councilman Cam Gordon, who recommended the process be halted. PPERRIA appealed the decision shortly thereafter. But several residents at TuesdayâÄôs meeting agreed that the pressures of development have recently increased as a result of pressure from the University and construction of the Central Corridor light-rail line. HPC staff submitted a report Feb. 9 in which they recommended RottachâÄôs application to replace his windows be denied, stating the approval of the application would âÄúimpede the normal and orderly preservation of surrounding resources within the district and city at large.âÄù The report also stated that RottachâÄôs application was incomplete, and that approving the application would significantly reduce the burden of proof required to show historic wood windows are âÄúcontaminated with lead that cannot be abated.âÄù Rottach said the staff report failed to include information he submitted about his two children; one was found to have one microgram of lead per deciliter of blood, and the other was found to have four. According to the Centers for Disease Control, if children test positive for a level of 10 or higher, public health actions should be initiated. Rottach said he felt his concerns were not addressed in a timely matter, and he was not satisfied by his interactions with HPC staff. âÄúThere really wasnâÄôt any give and take,âÄù Rottach said. âÄúThere wasnâÄôt a lot of communication.âÄù Joe Ring, chairman of PPERRIAâÄôs Historic District Committee, said he feels public safety should always outweigh historic preservation, and he has been troubled by inconsistencies from HPC staff. âÄúIt really is a mess,âÄù Ring said. âÄúYou never seem to get the same story twice.âÄù At a hearing Feb. 16, the HPC voted to approve RottachâÄôs application despite the recommendation by staff. Rottach said he has begun renovations, and the decision to approve his application was made in time to use the grant funding.