New amendment limits the size of homes surrounding the University

McKenna Ewen

The Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed the “McMansion” amendment Friday, or the “McDorm” amendment as Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon described it.

The new ordinance would limit the size of new houses built in the city, and restrict the size of new additions on existing houses that exceed the requirements.

The demand for student housing in campus neighborhoods drives the construction of “McDorms.”

Landlords often purchase lots, build very large homes and try to maximize the number of potential occupants because students want to live close to the University, Minneapolis City Planner Molly McCartney said.

Southeast Como Neighborhood Coordinator James De Sota said he has heard numerous complaints from residents concerned about larger homes in the area, specifically when addressing the possibility of tearing down an older home to create a rental property.

“We’ve had issues where certain structures have been built as big rooming houses that filled up an entire lot line,” De Sota said. “It’s certainly a problem.”

The new ordinance limits the height of homes to 30 feet or two-and-a-half stories, depending on which is lower. Homes cannot take up more than 50 percent of the lot and hard surfaces can only cover 65 percent of the property.

These requirements would not affect existing structures.

Current homes that exceed these requirements are allowed a one-time expansion of up to 500 square feet.

The restrictions would go into effect immediately, pending Mayor R.T. Rybak’s signature.

Ward 2 councilwoman Betsy Hodges originally introduced the amendment to address increasing concerns over larger homes in Southwest Minneapolis, but it will have a ripple effect around the University, limiting the number of people tearing down single-family homes and replacing them with massive rental properties.

“I don’t want people moving to the city Ö then 30 years later, finding out that the character of their neighborhood has changed completely because the housing stock is so fundamentally different,” Hodges said at the council meeting.

McCartney started working with the issue last summer and cited increasing concern from the Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como neighborhoods.

According to the city, the negative consequences of larger homes include altering neighborhood character, increasing water runoff, blocking sunlight, and invasive privacy issues.

City documents state that 727 homes, or nearly 1 percent of all single-family homes in Minneapolis, currently exceed the maximum requirements.

Marcy-Holmes Land Use Committee Chair Jo Radzwill said the increase in large rental properties goes against the character of the neighborhood.

“Our goal is to get responsible renters and responsible landlords,” Radzwill said.

She said the amendment is helpful, but the neighborhood would like to see the permeable surface ratio and floor ratio expanded to multiple-family homes as well.

The permeable surface ratio is the amount of hard surface on the property, including driveways and blacktops.

That would help curb the problem significantly in the areas surrounding the University.

“We feel they are overlooking the parking part of our neighborhood plan,” she said.

The Marcy-Holmes neighborhood plan currently allows for half a parking space per bedroom, but many of these multiple family developments only have to comply with the city’s requirements, she said.

If the permeable surface ratio were expanded to multifamily homes, it could discourage larger homes from building parking lots on their property that increase water run-off.

Radzwill added that it would be helpful for neighborhoods to become a larger part of the development process.

Property owners do not need to communicate with members of the neighborhood beforehand unless a variance is required.

“We feel the administrative review process does not offer the neighborhoods a lot of input into the kind of development they would like,” Radzwill said.