Neighborhood bickering costs students safety

Landlords claim they have no say in neighborhood development.

Anissa Stocks

A decade-old tiff between a University of Minnesota-area neighborhood and local landlords is keeping properties from upgrades.

Marcy HolmesâÄô aging housing stock has created issues for property owners and residents âÄî mostly students âÄî alike. But a neighborhood association bylaw preventing some landlords from having a say in neighborhood development, has thwarted most attempts to rebuild.

All new building projects in the neighborhood require approval from the city and the Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association. But the group doesnâÄôt allow nonresidential landlords a vote.

Tim Harmsen, owner of Dinkytown Rentals, said residential zoning in much of Dinkytown, which is part of Marcy Holmes, has stopped some development in the area.

In the past 10 years, landlords have tried to replace their older properties, but were denied permits by the city âÄî something they attributed to the MHNAâÄôs hostility.

In 2008, the city allowed Harmsen to construct the Dinkytown âÄúlodges,âÄù duplexes which were originally slated to be a single-family home. The propertyâÄôs construction was met with opposition from the MHNA. Ultimately, Harmsen was able to complete his project, but not without some hard feelings left over between him and the neighborhood leaders.

âÄú[Landlords] have been met with total animosity from the association ever since I can remember,âÄù he said.

Harmsen and other area landlords say the MHNA tried to limit their voices, creating property development problems around the University.

 âÄúWe pay property taxes and we donâÄôt have any say in what happens in the neighborhood,âÄù said local landlord Jason Klohs.

He has fought for a âÄústake in the gameâÄù over the years, filing a lawsuit against the group in 2009.

Harmsen said MHNAâÄôs rules are designed to keep landlords out of the conversation, weeding out some construction plans.

âÄúThe people who are hurting most from this are the student renters,âÄù he said.

Melissa Bean, executive director of the MHNA, declined to comment.

Klohs and Harmsen said their businesses canâÄôt operate or improve without a battle from the neighborhood group.

Strained communication between the organization and landlords has created disconnect over the years, said William Wells, executive director of the Neighborhood Improvement Association âÄî a group the local landlords started in response to MHNA.

Some neighborhood groups near the University allow nonresidential landlords to participate in meetings and vote in elections, for example the Southeast Como Improvement Association.

 SECIA director James De Sota said open conversation translates to better community ties.