Residential construction solutions narrowed in Edina

 

 

The Planning Commission has given the go-ahead to bring possible changes in Edina’s zoning ordinance to the Edina City Council for feedback.

From changing side yard setbacks and how city staff handle construction complaints to allowing single-car garages, the Residential Redevelopment Subcommittee presented both specific and general recommendations to the commission Wednesday, Feb. 13. No formal commission vote was taken on the recommendation.

The next step for the changes is a city council and planning commission joint meeting March 5. The commission wants feedback during the session from the council on what changes the commission should pursue, commission Chair Kevin Staunton said.

The recommendations were created using comments during the subcommittee’s two public forums, emails and comments on the city’s Website, Speak Up Edina. The subcommittee also met with builders, contractors and city staff.

The comments fall under the impact of modifying a lot – house height, yard setbacks and grading – and construction impacting the neighborhoods with debris, trash, noise and street parking problems, Subcommittee member Mike Platteter said.

They approached it as a complicated issue that doesn’t have only one solution, he said.

“One of the things we’re asking is how do individual property rights and community rights intersect,” he said. “Where does the individual – what they can do to their property – intersect with drainage for everyone, with trees for everyone? How does that impact the rest of the community? One person’s dream can become another person’s nightmare, particularly if you have water drainage into somebody else’s basement or next to it.”

The subcommittee formed in late October to begin examining the issues. The city received an increasing number of complaints about large homes replacing smaller houses on lots smaller than 75 feet.

Edina’s zoning ordinance was written to regulate the larger lots in western Edina, Subcommittee member Ken Potts said. Most of the teardowns are occurring in northeast and in a portion of northwest Edina.

“The idea of teardowns on the existing non-conforming lots below 75 feet in width didn’t seem to be considered,” he said. “The teardown/rebuild just wasn’t happening. And I think one way to characterize the pressure that has been created is the idea that you can build a home the size of what is easy to build on a large lot and try and fit it onto one of these smaller lots. And in fact that’s a lot of what we heard at the public input sessions.”

The rebuilt homes are being built to the maximums of the city’s limits on houses, he said.

Whether Edina should move away from its one residential zone and create multiple residential zones with different requirements is also up for discussion.

Commission member Nancy Sherer said she’s increasingly believing that Edina needs more than one residential zone in its zoning ordinance.

“We, as a community, have not ever gone there, but I’m starting to believe that’s the only way we’ll manage some of this,” she said.

Side yard setbacks vary between 5 and 10 feet currently. But when taken with the lot coverage and height requirements, it can cause homes to feel too close together, Potts said. The subcommittee recommends possible solutions as increasing the yard setback dimensions and eliminating egress windows in side yards.

The height of houses was also addressed because tall houses next to smaller houses can be seen as a disruption, Potts said. There’s also confusion about the height requirements, he said. They want to reduce the height without impacting the number of stories in a house.

Houses are required to have two-car garages and front-facing garages being the dominant feature on a house is becoming a problem. The subcommittee is recommending the single-car garages be allowed because they’re easier to be built on a smaller lot, he said. Overall, they’re recommending a maximum of how much of the front of the house can be the garage.

Platteter also noted that many houses in northeast Edina have tuck-under garages, which typically don’t have garage doors.

Scherer said she doesn’t see Edina residents going from two-car to one-car garages.

“I feel that in our community, we still have larger numbers of people who have multiple cars, or multiple toys, and the one thing I feel about garage doors is they provide places to put those things so the rest of us aren’t looking at them all the time,” she said.

Commission member Floyd Grabiel disagreed, saying he’s OK with a one-car garage. The issue isn’t that it’s a front-loading garage, it’s that the garages are taking up two-thirds of the front of a house, he said.

Residents’ perception is that Edina is lax or has no enforcement when it comes to construction, Platteter said.

“Really, the overall theme of this is, residents didn’t think the city did anything about construction on homes. In other words, it was the Wild, Wild West,” he said.

The subcommittee is recommending Edina’s Construction Management Plan be enhanced. The plan was implemented in November. They are also recommending the city create a hotline for residents to call with concerns. The city also needs to log residents’ complaints and the city’s responses to them.

Sherer said she would like to hear the council’s reaction to that recommendation because changes for city staff won’t happen without the council’s support.

For builders, the recommendation is to create fines if they violate the city’s ordinances. Staunton pointed out that some builders want enforcement because they follow the rules and want other builders who don’t to do so.

The subcommittee believed the issue of new houses changing a neighborhood’s character is hard to regulate. Subcommittee member Arlene Forrest questioned who would review the designs of all new houses. It would be complex to set up a citywide design approval process, she added. Platteter also noted that it would be difficult to create a set of design guidelines in Edina because it has a variety of houses.

 

Contact Lisa Kaczke at lisa.kaczke@ecm-inc.com

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