Oppose the Homewood Historic District

The Homewood District (small blue box) with areas of concentrated poverty from Hennepin County datasets (shaded area)

Over the past year a proposal for a historic district in the Homewood area of North Minneapolis has been going through the process, and will come up again for review by the Zoning & Planning Committee on Thursday, Sept 28 at 9:30AM, after which point the Z&P’s recommendation will appear before the full council on Friday, October 6th. If you’re just looking for how to comment, skip the background section.

This post will be updated as things happen.

Updates

Background

The proposal was put together by Constance Vork, an exiting Heritage Preservation Commission member, and realtor who has sold numerous homes in North Minneapolis. The full proposal documents in detail the former residents of nearly every property in the proposed district, and is a fascinating overview of the area history. From the HPC’s website, this is what the district is:

The Homewood neighborhood is defined by the borders of Plymouth Avenue to the north, Oak Park Avenue to the South, Penn Avenue North to the East and Xerxes Avenue North to the west. This area was identified in a 2002 reconnaissance survey as a potential historic district and deemed eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places by the State Historic Preservation Office due to the neighborhood being a haven for Minneapolis Jews in a period of intense anti-Semitism during the first half of the twentieth century.
While important, this eligibility determination does not protect the neighborhood from out-of-character development, so on April 5, 2016 the City of Minneapolis’ Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) nominated the neighborhood as a local historic district and directed city staff to prepare a designation study, now available for your review.
Full report: http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@cped/documents/webcontent/wcmsp-194469.pdf [45MB PDF]

Also included in the report are public comments collected from a lengthy process, and as it turns out, the proposal has already seen a large amount of opposition. The district exists entirely within an area of concentrated poverty as defined by the Met Council (shaded purple in the map above). Outcomes of a historic district designation would further divide and exclude Homewood from the neighborhoods just to the east where median incomes dip even lower.

The district is bounded by two future planned high frequency transit lines, the blue line extension (Bottineau Transitway) and the C Line rapid bus service, it is also adjacent to an existing high frequency bus route, the 19. The area has extremely high transit ridership, and a historic district could be used to justify stalling or preventing any affordable housing, mixed-income, or small infill projects along these transit corridors where access to transit could be a major point in favor of affordable housing. It would increase the process burden on anything new, because anything new would constitute a change to whatever building qualities are deemed as conforming to the historic nature of the area. If every building has some historic story, it increases the difficulty of changing the property or redeveloping buildings that are beyond repair.

While memorializing the history of the area is a noble cause, designating such a large region as a historic district will have negative outcomes for area residents. Reading over public comments, you come to understand that many in the area are aware of the financial burden this would place on residents to maintain their homes. It would also make it more difficult to create more homes: renovating a single family home into a duplex or triplex would be met with even more process.

Instead of a historic district, one might consider converting a particularly noteworthy property into a museum, or something of that nature that wouldn’t shift a financial and process burden of maintaining the area’s history on local homeowners.

Submitting a public comment

To submit a letter of opposition to the proposed historic district, send an email to Z&P Committee members, preferably before Sept. 28th so they have a chance to read:

Council Members Lisa Bender (Chair), Andrew Johnson (Vice-Chair), Kevin Reich (Ward 1), Barbara Johnson (Ward 4), Abdi Warsame (Ward 6), Lisa Goodman (Ward 7), Blong Yang (Ward 5, containing Homewood), John Smoley (CPED Senior Planner)

lisa.bender@minneapolismn.gov, andrew.johnson@minneapolismn.gov, barbara.johnson@minneapolismn.gov, abdi.warsame@minneapolismn.gov, lisa.goodman@minneapolismn.gov, kevin.reich@minneapolismn.gov, blong.yang@minneapolismn.gov, john.smoley@minneapolismn.gov

Some possible talking points:

  • I respect the history of the area, but I oppose the proposal to designate the area as a historic district because of the financial burden it would place on area residents to maintain their homes.
  • The proposed historic district exists in an area of concentrated poverty, something that we should take extra caution with when placing additional restrictions on how people maintain their homes.
  • If we’re serious about addressing inequities in Minneapolis, this historic district proposal is a step backward.
  • A historic district is a form of exclusionary zoning, designed to make it harder to move to a neighborhood or alter its buildings in any way.
  • The historic district is adjacent to a high frequency bus route (19), and two future high-frequency transit lines. Given that the historic district would make it more difficult to make changes to housing in the area, this would make it increasingly difficult to build affordable housing on transit lines with quick access to jobs and resources.
  • Why not build a public museum to honor the history?

Project process history & documents

Z&P Sept 28th agenda: https://lims.minneapolismn.gov/Agenda/ZP/240

HPC Feb 28 meeting: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/meetings/hpc/WCMSP-194849

HPC Mar 14 meeting: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/meetings/hpc/WCMSP-195718

Project page: www.minneapolismn.gov/hpc/homewood

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