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Rules around teardowns, granny flats in Minneapolis to get major revamp

Four months after it’s month-long moratorium, Minneapolis gets serious about dealing with teardowns and “granny flats”

A home on Zenith Avenue in Minneapolis being remodeled earlier this year.
MinnPost file photo by Karen Boros

Four months after the city of Minneapolis imposed a controversial if short-lived moratorium on the demolition and new construction of houses in several southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods, a major overhaul of the city’s residential building code is in the works.

Two separate revisions are under discussion. One would change existing building codes for residential units of one-to-four units, the bulk of which are single-family homes. The second revision would allow for the construction of “granny flats”—residential units added to single-family properties.

“This is a continuation of the work that came out of the moratorium,” said Council Member Linea Palmisano, who is sponsoring the ordinances that would alter city codes pertaining to one-to-four unit residential construction.

“The big driver in this for me is to increase housing options within neighborhood,” said Council Member Lisa Bender, who is sponsoring the “granny flat” regulations. 

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Neighborhood groups, architects, contractors and city planning staff have been meeting to discuss the possibility of changes to the building code ever since the moratorium began March 7, 2014. (It was rescinded on April 11.)

Though details of the requirements are still under discussion, the new regulations governing residential construction of one-to-four unit structures are likely to address the height and setbacks of buildings, including minimum requirements for yard space.

Already, an agreement that emerged at the end of the moratorium requires contractors and builders to post their contact information at the building site, a move that has shortened the time it takes to enforce city code requirements.

Under the pervious system, neighbors with complaints had to contact the city inspections office, which in turn sent an inspector to verify the complaint. Under the new agreement, neighbors can take their complaints directly to the contractor or builder.

“These projects are very intensive, they are right next to your garden or the trees in your backyard,” said Palmisano, who plans to keep the new agreement in the building code. “Neighbors will have increased comfort, communications and enforcement. I hope it will help residents around these projects feel empowered.”

Details for the “granny flat” regulations are also still in the discussion phase. Currently, residential property owners are not allowed to add a unit to their property without going through the time-consuming process of re-zoning, a requirement that would likely be lifted under the proposed changes.

“We can make the decision to only allow them exterior to the building—converting a carriage house above a garage—or we can also allow interior units: a basement or attic apartment, for example,” said Bender.

“We’re seeing some shifts in how people are living in the city,” she continued, noting that 40 percent of Minneapolis residents live alone, according to the most recent census.  “We’re seeing more and more demand for smaller units and single person units in this city. This adds more flexibility on how to gain smaller units within neighborhoods.”

The changes would follow those made by other cities around the country, such as Portland, Oregon, which established “granny flat” regulations 20 years ago. According to Bender, the rules have become so successful that Portland is now waiving city building fees as an incentive to build more of the units, officially known as Accessory Dwelling Units.

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The “granny flat” regulations will be the topic of two Open House discussions planned for August, followed by public hearings and a vote by the City Council in late fall.

The regulations pertaining to one-to-four unit dwellings will be explained at an open house on July 16 at 4:30 p.m. in room 333 at Minneapolis City Hall. That will be followed by a public hearing before the Planning Commission July 28 at 4:30 p.m. in room 317 of City Hall, with a final vote by the council on the residential regulations expected by early fall.