Northfield Zoning Could Prevent This

November 18th, 2007 by Peter Schmelzer

Linden Street, Between St. Olaf Avenue and Greenvale Avenue

Neighborhoods have a fabric that binds them together, making them desirable places to be. Variation in the fabric creates charm and interest; tears in the fabric damage its integrity.

Here is Linden Street North in Northfield. It is a street lined with modest homes, most of which are one-story ramblers with a basement. These homes seem well sized for their lots; appropriately separated from each other.

Linden Street Duplex

Here is a recent duplex built where a similar rambler once stood. These buildings are right next to those above. In my option, this is a tear in the neighborhood fabric.

This is exactly the stuff Minneapolis neighborhoods recently reacted against.

Consider these aspects of the neighborhood and the difference between the ramblers and the duplex:

  • Approachable Front Doors
  • Relationship to the Street
  • Importance of the Automobile
  • Importance of Community
  • Storm water runoff
  • Green space
  • Pedestrian experience
  • Minneapolis revised their zoning ordinance to encourage more traditional forms and to simply limit the size of the building allowed on a residential lot. They did this in a few ways.

    FAR, or floor area ratio, was limited to 0.5. This means that for a 5,000 square-foot lot, the maximum house size is limited to 2,500 square feet total. 2,500 is still a fair sized home, much larger than the average existing home in Minneapolis.

    Home height was also limited to 30 feet instead of 35 feet. This resists the seemingly common desire for newer homes to tower over existing neighbors.

    Incentives were offered for detached garages, which do not count toward the FAR. Front porches and other traditional detailing earn points toward complying.

    And “natural grade” was defined, requiring minimal changes to the grading a lot had before changes. This was designed to prevent two-story houses from rising too far out of the ground which creates a high building mass. The idea was to promote traditional basements instead of “look-out” basements.

    For the specifics, see the Minneapolis Zoning Code, Title 20, Section 546.240.

    The Minneapolis zoning ordinance was revised in June 2007; time will tell if these changes have protected the character of Minneapolis residential neighborhoods. Northfield should be proactive in changing its zoning codes to likewise protect itself.

    Posted in All Entries, Best Practices, Community 1 Comment »

    One Response to “Northfield Zoning Could Prevent This”

    1. Peter Schmelzer Says:

      The following came to me via e-mail from a local resident. I agree. Gentrification may not be the case here (yet), but we do want to be careful about respecting the scale of our neighborhoods as we consider allowing more density.

      ‘Mostly, I agree with you and even have more possible code tweaks to ensure neighborhood features are preserved (like limiting garage doors to a small proportion of the front façade or requiring they be set back from the principal façade – I hate garage doors). I’m especially interested in preventing what my uncle’s Detroit suburb of Birmingham called Bigfoot houses – a middle class suburb became increasingly upscale with increasingly large houses on an increasingly large portion of the lot and of increasing height – this is the Linden Hills problem, too. But on Linden Street, that duplex does not look like a means to gentrify the area, but to provide more housing, perhaps more affordable housing. It doesn’t fit harmoniously into its surroundings, but I think the land use regulations should also not prohibit creative infill, including higher density housing options. For Northfield, the trick will be to limit blots on the landscape while preserving housing options. The Maple Hills subdivision (just north of Jefferson Parkway across from the soccer fields) blended multi-family housing, including supportive housing man aged by the CAC with market rate homes and the effect is pretty good, I think. Not the same style as Linden Street, but perhaps a model.’