Council declares houses historic

Many greek houses will now need city approval for exterior changes or renovations.

by Eric Swanson

The Minneapolis City Council approved the historic designation of 33 University-area houses Friday, many of which belong to greek communities.

The designation process created a stir between home owners and the city over possible added costs from historic designation.

The city’s historic designation requires home owners to have approval from the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission to ensure exterior changes fit the appropriate architecture of each house.

According to the Coalition for Non-Profit Student Housing, which represented much of the greek community, the designation will add costs and safety issues. However, city officials said that is not necessarily true.

The houses were chosen for historic designation because each house was at one point a greek chapter house exhibiting significant architectural merit.

The coalition opposed the designation during the yearlong designation process.

Coalition attorney Richard Snyder said they are considering the options available to them.

Council member Gary Schiff, 9th Ward, a University graduate, said there is little the coalition can do aside from suing the city. Even then, he said, it seems unlikely it would win due to a similar case the Minnesota Supreme Court decided recently.

In that case, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association sued Minneapolis because it thought the city acted unreasonably when it designated four of its properties historic. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city, upholding the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission’s authority to designate properties historic.

“The City Council is supposed to decide if the houses fit the criteria put forth by the (preservation board). In (the greek chapter house) case, the houses absolutely fit the criteria,” Schiff said.

The Heritage Preservation Commission has seven criteria in evaluation of historic significance. Properties must meet one of the criteria. The greek houses meet two, city officials said.

The council also decided to create a committee to settle on renovation guidelines the houses must follow in the future. Schiff said all parties will be asked to be part of the committee.

“We need to make sure the city is working with the University, fraternities and sororities to make sure these organizations remain a vital part of our community,” said council member Scott Benson, 11th Ward.

The new committee must be created sometime within the next three months. Schiff said the preservation board will organize the committee.

After the meeting, the student coalition members said they were concerned about the impact the decision might have on the University’s greek community.

“We are now at the mercy of the city,” said Chuck Mabel, a member of the student housing coalition and the Phi Sigma Kappa board. “The entire process has been unfriendly up to this point.”

Skeptical of the council’s decision, coalition Chairwoman Lynn Swon said she was displeased with the order of decisions.

“The designation was passed before the guidelines for future renovations had been set,” Swon said.

Interfraternity President John Kokkinen said greeks need representation on the new committee to create fair guidelines.

“We need to have representation on the committee to help alleviate some of the burdens,” Kokkinen said.

Although Kokkinen opposed the historic designation, he said it does not mean the end of greek life on campus.

“What the City Council does is not going to kill us,” he said. “We will find ways to adapt.”