City considering regulatory changes for University area

Overlay district could require more parking for smaller developments

A plan to create a new “zoning overlay district” in the area surrounding the University of Minnesota is one approach to alleviating longtime land use and development concerns. The idea drew mixed reactions from attendees at a community meeting on Monday, June 29 at Van Cleve Park, 901 15th Ave. SE.

Haila Maze, the principal city planner for Minneapolis’s Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED), who led the meeting, explained that the zoning overlay creates an “extra layer of policy for unique circumstances … It doesn’t behave like the rest of the city, so you need to think about it differently.”

Currently, the city has a dozen or so overlay districts, which vary on a case-by-case basis, she said. Some are geared for pedestrians for instance, or deal with nearby waterways. The University District overlay will “ensure high quality residential development through site design and parking regulation that acknowledges the unique demands placed on land uses near a major center of educational employment and enrollment,” according to a prepared statement.

It’s just one of many recommendations from the University District Alliance (UDA) and the city, which are synthesized in a 20-page report. UDA represents community stakeholders in Cedar-Riverside/West Bank, Marcy-Holmes, Prospect Park, Southeast Como and the University neighborhood to address common issues. Last fall, it formed a taskforce called the Zoning and Planning Regulatory Review (ZPRR) to study district-wide parking, occupancy, design standards, zoning, inspections and public involvement in the development review process, the report states. (Get more information here.

The overlay has implications for the types of housing that can be built throughout the district, along with property maintenance and parking. Their goal is to get the key provisions for enacting the overlay district approved by the City Council before a yearlong moratorium on construction and demolition in the district comes to an end later this summer, according to Maze, who added, “It won’t solve everything, but we hope it helps.”

Countering longtime problems

Among the issues that ZPRR was asked to respond to is the high demand for parking from residents, students, visitors, commuters and employees, which overflows into surrounding areas. “We’re talking about an area with a lot of students and a lot of drivers,” said Maze. “All sorts of folks are converging onto the area. We want to find ways to regulate and better serve residents and businesses and be flexible. We want to provide better options for commuters.”

Another issue centers on the demolition of existing housing stock to make way for new developments, especially those that “are not attractive or lasting, structures that are out of scale with surrounding uses, and impacts from certain types of student housing,” the report states.

In an effort to resolve both of those problems, several related ordinance changes are already in the works. One proposed change would simply define porches, to encourage better quality construction. Until now, some developers have been getting away with doing the bare minimum, said Maze. Additionally, the number of bedrooms in a building (of three units or more) will be the determining factor in how many parking spaces should be provided. Currently, the requirement is tied to how many units a building has.

The rationale is that many three- and four-plexes house around 20 people, including multiple drivers, but they have only provided four parking spaces. Residents often end up parking all over. The proposed legislation designates a minimum of one-half parking space per bedroom, with other provisions for location and dimension (and exceptions for shared vehicles). “It makes the building more responsible for the number of parking spaces,” which she said has long been the case for larger buildings.

However, some landlords and developers are opposed to the change because “It makes it harder to do the types of developments they like to do,” she said. In other words, they’re forced to do smaller developments to accommodate more parking.

Developers will now have to seek approval for small projects from the city and neighborhood groups, something they were able to bypass in the past and are naturally resisting, she said. It’s an example of how, “Everyone wants the area to succeed, but they have different perspectives on it. Some developers believe they’re creating assets in the area, while others vehemently disagree,” said Maze.

Community feedback

The recommendations will be presented to the city’s Planning Commission on July 13. From there, they’ll move to the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee on Aug. 6, going before the full City Council on Aug. 14.

City Councilmember Cam Gordon (Ward 2), who is sponsoring the ordinance changes, expressed optimism about ZPRR’s work. “I’m glad to see this coming forward. A large group met and analyzed the problem. It’s a key thing with the work of the alliance and to why we set up the moratorium … I hope it improves things,” he said.

He said it’s beneficial to have so many stakeholders participating in the process. “When we first got started, there was no landlords group [like there is now],” he said. “They’re coming forward, hearing from neighbors and developing partnerships to make it a better community.”

Rachel Ramadhyani, a Prospect Park resident, agreed with Gordon. She has concerns about inappropriate development and over-occupancy. “I can see the parking issues that arise. I think this overlay district is useful. It defines a bedroom for the first time in the zoning code.”
In her neighborhood, which many people want to see historically designated, she added, “I want to protect against demolitions. Also, areas that are zoned R4 or R5 but are functioning as R1 or R2, I’d like to see converted to comply with their actual use.”

Jason Klohs, an area landlord, said he’s skeptical of the changes. “The neighborhood is trying to stifle development by increasing parking requirements and decreasing the land that can be used for parking. The current standard might be flawed, but we’re going from one extreme to another,” he said.

last revised: July 3, 2009