Bring on the bulldozers? Minneapolis officials say that’s not in the comp plan

Scott Busyn says he doesn’t want to bulldoze your neighborhood.

President of Edina-based Great Neighborhood Homes, Busyn is among developers who see a business opportunity in Minneapolis’ proposal to upzone the entire city and allow for more multiunit housing.

But Busyn’s vision for building “boutique-style” apartments in residential areas is far from the hellscape that vocal opponents of the plan are imagining, he said.

“A lot of them look a lot like single-family homes,” he said. “That would be the goal. We’d want them to blend in. We don’t want them to stick out like a missing tooth.”

Over the past six months, opponents of the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan have warned that loosening zoning restrictions will allow developers to buy up and tear down single-family homes en masse to make way for out-of-scale large apartment buildings.

Advocates for the plan, and some developers, say that’s not going to happen. In the city’s lowest-density neighborhoods, the plan prohibits builders from buying up multiple lots and combining them. And City Council members say they are crafting rules to regulate lot-joining in other neighborhoods.

If developers do use the comp plan as an opening to bulldoze single-family homes, it probably won’t be to build triplexes, said Kelly Doran, the prolific builder who developed high-end student apartments near the University of Minnesota.

Doran doesn’t see these types of projects turning a profit for builders like him, and he disputes theories that developers — not city planners — are actually driving the proposals.

“I think that’s disingenuous at best on behalf of the people who oppose this process,” said Doran. “I don’t know of any developer — period — that’s promoting or interested in putting triplexes on any single-family lots in Minneapolis.”

Rather than seeing it as a financial boon for businessmen like him, Doran said he opposes the plan, agreeing that it could erode neighborhood character. “Quite honestly, I think it’s a silly idea, and you can quote me on that,” said Doran.

Lisa McDonald, a member of the primary group opposing the plan, believes the bulldozers are coming.

“Does the plan immediately result in all these things being bulldozed? No,” said McDonald, a former City Council member. “It creates a circumstance where savvy developers can go in and put property together and bulldoze homes to build. That’s what it does.”

Council President Lisa Bender said she’s heard concerns over the lot-joining issue and is working on how to address this in the new zoning code over the next couple months. Whatever the final language looks like, she said, it’s unlikely that developers will be permitted to combine lots and build enormous apartment buildings in neighborhoods where those kinds of structures don’t exist now.

“It won’t suddenly be allowed after the comp plan,” Bender said.

City planners released a second draft of the plan in late September, shaped by feedback from dozens of public meetings and thousands of online comments. Several City Council members are hosting or attending forums in their wards this month, and the council and city’s Planning Commission will hold public hearings in coming weeks to collect more feedback. A final version of the plan is expected to go to a council vote in December.

The current draft would allow for building up to triplexes in every neighborhood in the city — including blocks now reserved for single-family homes — and four- to six-story buildings along some transit corridors.

Mayor Jacob Frey said the current zoning codes allow builders to tear down single-family homes and build mansions. “You know what you can’t put up? Something more affordable,” said Frey. “I don’t think it’s good for neighborhood character or affordable housing to have policies that, practically speaking, exclude all housing options other than mansions.”

No one can predict with certainty how the market will react to the plan.

Council Member Linea Palmisano said developers looking to tear down homes, or wanting to combine lots to build larger structures, have already begun calling her office asking for meetings or early versions of plan changes. “It’s very feasible,” she said. Palmisano has not indulged any of the inquiries.

Busyn, of Great Neighborhood Homes, said he could envision tearing down dilapidated homes to build duplexes or triplexes, but he doesn’t imagine developers would go after high-quality ones. “There’s no big monster out there with a bulldozer,” Busyn said.

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