Ordinance works to preserve buildings

Cam Gordon first proposed the conservation district ordinance in 2012.

Ethan Nelson

Prospect Park houses featuring Greek columns and lofty towers may soon be able to retain their characteristics even in the face of development.

After nearly two years of discussion and revision, the Minneapolis Zoning and Planning Committee will consider an updated draft of a conservation district ordinance Thursday. Conservation districts, an idea first inspired by concerned residents of the Prospect Park neighborhood, would protect designated areas of the city that have defining architecture, without classifying them as the more tightly limiting historic sites.

Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon first proposed the ordinance in 2012, though he has since made changes. Residents
expressed concerns that the original guidelines were too strict, Gordon said.

Although some residents and city leaders are supportive of the proposal, it’s still unclear whether the measure will gain widespread support.

“I’m hopeful all the concerns have been addressed and that we have something we can work with,” Gordon said.

Before, residents thought an amendment would prevent development and alterations to buildings, he said. For example, when a property is being studied for historic designation, all work in the area must stop.

But Gordon’s proposal now allows work to continue in a potential conservation district until an application process and study is complete, he said, a change that wouldn’t hinder development.

Concerns also surfaced that a conservation district wouldn’t provide enough protection for some buildings.

In response, changes in the ordinance would charge the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission with reviewing all proposed conservation districts and nominating the areas as historic landmarks if necessary, Gordon said.

Ward 10 City Councilwoman Lisa Bender, who chairs the Zoning and Planning Committee, said she and other City Council members previously thought some of the language in the ordinance was ambiguous and could be misinterpreted by property owners.

Two-thirds of property owners in a contiguous area must agree on guidelines to attain conservation district status, according to the
ordinance, and the area must “embody notable attributes common to the district,” like architectural or engineering aspects.

“We’re relying on property owners to do a lot of work,” Bender said, so the procedures must be clear. Now, she said, many of those ambiguities have been hammered out.

Andy Aldrich, a University health and wellness senior, said he’d welcome conservation districts to Minneapolis, though the extra regulations might be cumbersome for newcomers.

“It could deter people from moving to the neighborhood,” he said, “but that’s part of living in a historic neighborhood. It’s almost your responsibility as a historic homeowner to maintain that heritage.”

Aldrich lives in a Prospect Park house built in 1910, which he said maintains almost all of its original style.

Though residents of Prospect Park originally brought their concerns to Gordon, he said he also had Dinkytown in mind when he was drafting the ordinance.

Gordon said he hopes the proposal will be beneficial in the long term and allow people to define areas they want to protect.

“There have been ongoing concerns about development near the University,” he said, “and the [Green Line light rail] is coming in, and there’s a potential for people to try to buy up a lot of homes and build on them. So I think they want to clarify their position.”

Bender said she’s unsure if the city will see a lot of interest in conservation districts.

“It’s something that will take of lot of time and buy-in from property owners,” she said.