Committee supports changes to heritage preservations

Motion moved forward without recommendation for discussion.

An amendment to city preservation regulations that would reduce the amount of construction needed for the city to issue a demolition permit will face the Minneapolis City Council later this month. At a Zoning and Planning Committee Thursday, some community members expressed fear that the amendment, if passed, would give the city too much power. Others thought it was a step in the right direction because it would help preserve historical buildings. The proposed updated language says that for any project changing 60 percent or more of a property, the owner would have to get a demolition permit from the city and attend a public hearing. Brian Schaffer, part of the Heritage Preservation Commission, said a current permit loophole allows near-complete demolition to a property without a public hearing as long as at least one wall is left standing. Ward 9 Councilmember Gary Schiff had concerns that a percentage-based system would not necessarily protect what is considered historic about a property. Schaffer also cited five other problems the Commission has with the current ordinance. Specifically, he emphasized protecting the entirety of potential historical districts when threats are posed through individual cases. The CommissionâÄôs proposal would allow the City Council to postpone a building permit 180 days if a city evaluation determines that a home is in a potentially historic district. This would allow the neighborhood and Commission time to determine if the district is actually historical and what needs to be preserved. In order to help changes to properties mesh with what the Commission wants, they also want to beef up the application process. They did not give specific examples of what will be different. Jack Byers, also part of the Commission, said the Commission is often accused of holding up projects when they feel that they have not been provided enough information by permit seekers, and have to do extra work. During the public hearing portion of the meeting, community members in attendance expressed concerns about the publicâÄôs opportunity to give input, citing they were not given the chance to communicate with the city. Ward 7 Councilmember Lisa Goodman said she thought the city did give ample opportunity for public comment. âÄúIf you are trying to tear down a historical building, it is not just the city trying to hit you over the head,âÄù Goodman said. âÄúIt is public opinion of those who live in that area that think that the building is unique.âÄù Community members voiced concern about the meat of the amendments as well. âÄúBasically what weâÄôre trying to do is use historic preservation as a weapon,âÄù Gerald Ockenfels , owner of two Dinkytown properties, said. Ward 3 Councilmember Diane Hofstede said she would review the plan and get opinions from community members. The committee moved the motion forward without recommendation. The issue will be discussed at the next Committee of The Whole meeting, then at the next City Council meeting, March 27. As far as the amendment concerns the 15th Avenue SE Urban Design Plan, which would place high-density housing between 14th and 15th avenues, Hofstede said she didnâÄôt think there were any historical resources that would pose road blocks for the project.