BY ED FELIEN
You can’t see it, but the change has been profound. Drive down 34th Avenue and it looks like nothing’s changed (other than the encroaching construction!). The houses, the commercial buildings, everything looks the same, the way it’s always been.
But it won’t be that way forever.
The city has passed its 2040 Plan that up-zones the entire city.
I wrote to Council Member Andrew Johnson: “What are the zoning changes planned for 34th Avenue from 42nd Street to 58th Street?”
He responded almost immediately: “At a high-level … with the 2040 Plan, south of 51st Street, 34th Ave will go from a maximum allowable 2.5 stories to 3 stories. Between 42nd and 51st (proximity to the LRT station and through “downtown NENA”[Nokomis East Neighborhood Association]) it will go to 4 stories as maximum allowable.”
The city plan would allow the purchase and demolition of all the homes on 34th Avenue from 42nd Street to 51st Street, and the replacement of those homes with 4-story apartment buildings, and if the quality of construction followed the standards set in other parts of the city, then the apartments could be 4 stories built out to the curb, with tarpaper that looks like bricks stapled over plywood. The cheap quality of construction and the elimination of “luxuries” like lawns and parking spaces could provide maximum profit to developers.
Of course, that nightmare probably won’t happen (at least, not right away), the city reassures us. Johnson continues: “It would be great to see some well-designed in-fill development that can enhance the charming main street feel of downtown NENA, but despite this unprecedented time of activity, there just hasn’t been interest. This is due to a number of factors that make 34th somewhat challenging, and the zoning changes won’t affect that in a substantial way.”
Johnson is probably right. The change would be gradual. You’ll notice the new apartment building, but it won’t seem to change the nature of the neighborhood. The neighborhood will change, but at a rate that seems normal.
There have been strong objections to the 2040 Plan from inner city neighborhoods. They know, for them, the change will not be slow and will not seem normal. Developers have long been coveting inner city blocks for construction of apartment buildings. Land prices are cheaper in the inner city, and the city is willing to give them tax breaks and free money if they promise to call some portion of the building affordable housing.
The Metropolitan Council said for 2018, the affordability limit was 80% of the area median income. In 2018, the area median income (AMI) for a household of four was $94,300. Under these limits, a family of four could earn up to $71,900 to qualify for affordable housing. They could rent a 2-bedroom apartment for $1697 a month.
Currently [5/7/19], there’s a 2 BR, 1 bath house for rent in the Phillips Neighborhood at 2800 Cedar Ave. for $1,095 a month. If that house gets taken for the construction of an apartment building, along with other actually affordable houses in the inner city, then a family with two children will have no option but an apartment and no possibility of a private yard and a swing set.
This means the elimination of communities of color, African American, Hispanic, Somali, Hmong, etc. that now live in Phillips and Powderhorn. And this is done in the name of racial justice to provide affordable housing to minorities. It’s the same justification a general used to justify burning an entire village in Vietnam, “We had to burn the village to save it.”
It means less green space and a greater concentration of poverty, and that’s a formula for more social problems and prescription for trouble.
But those problems are far removed from 34th Avenue. Council Member Andrew Johnson’s first responsibility was to look after the interests of people living in the 12th Ward: “I worked with residents who expressed concerns to build consensus among neighbors and amended the proposed zoning to better fit the neighborhood.”
People in the inner city should be disappointed that their Council Members didn’t take the same interest.
Johnson: “I have held four meetings in Ward 12 in partnership with our three neighborhood associations (LCC, SENA, and NENA) to share information, answer questions, and most importantly, hear from constituents.”
The neighborhoods at ground zero in the inner city didn’t have anything like that kind of input and discussion.