Tweaking Edina’s construction codes
Edina staff is turning to residents to find out not only what the problems are, but their solutions when it comes to residential construction.
About 45 people attended two public meetings held by the Planning Department in the first step to changing the city’s construction codes.
In addition to the meetings on Jan. 26 and Jan. 31, the city is collecting online comments at speakupedina.org.
Residents used the opportunity to tell Planning Director Cary Teague that the houses on their streets aren’t in compliance with code and peppered him with questions about specific codes.
Residents’ complaints ranged from egress windows to setbacks to bringing in dirt to increase a lot’s topography. The overarching feeling was that the new homes are so large that they’re pushing people who are in a lower income bracket out of the neighborhood.
“I worry about Edina and what it says about it if there’s no room for people who are low-income,” Nora Davis of Edina said.
Existing residents don’t believe their interests are being protected when there are construction projects, Ami Sharp of Edina told attending Planning Commission members at the Thursday meeting.
“I have very little trust that the rules are being followed,” she said, adding that enforcement of the city’s code will protect residents. “I don’t have that faith right now in Morningside.”
Several area builders who attended the meetings pointed out that the current code needs to be enforced, the majority of construction is remodeling rather than teardown and rebuild projects, and that a majority of residents in Edina don’t have problems with construction in their neighborhoods.
Scott Busyn, president of Great Neighborhood Homes in Edina, said after the meetings that the tone of the complaints is negative and like a “witch hunt.” He said he favors adjustments to the code without becoming so restrictive that people can’t complete construction projects.
The issues over residential construction increased in 2012, a year when Edina broke a record with 101 building permits issued. Only one was for building a new house on a vacant lot, according to Teague. This issue isn’t new. Edina also dealt with complaints in 2006-2008 regarding “McMansions” and the city’s code was tweaked at that time.
The Planning Commission is expected to hear on Feb. 13 a recommendation based on the comments the city received. The Planning Commission and Edina City Council will then hold a joint work session to discuss it. After that, it’s in the hands of the council members.
“We’re trying to do what’s best for the whole city. We don’t want to go too far and have unintended consequences,” Teague said.
City staff have already begun to make changes to help alleviate certain issues.
The construction management plan outlining appropriate builder actions for commercial construction was expanded to include residential construction in November. The plan is expected to be rolled out, applying to new construction as it’s approved.
The city has so many sites already under construction that it’s going to take some time for every construction project to have an attached construction management plan, Teague said.
The plan is meant to help with residents feeling a lack of respect from builders working in their neighborhoods, he said.
Davis told Teague she’s horrified by how builders are treating the existing neighborhood.
“I feel so terrible for people in the neighborhoods who have just been blasted by the larger homes,” she said.
The city has also hired a full-time person to visit and review each construction site weekly to ensure the plan requirements are being met.
Busyn said builders want to have inspections because they face liability pressure. They would rather have a problem be caught by an inspector than by a new homeowner, he said. They’re required to turn in an independent survey of the house dimensions before the homeowner moves in as well as submit to numerous inspections during construction.
Mike Pearson. owner of Morningside Homes, told Thursday attendees that it’s only a few builders who are actually causing the problems for neighbors. The city should be increasing its enforcement because some builders know the code but just don’t care about following it.
Busyn said after the meeting that there isn’t anything in the construction management plan that builders shouldn’t be doing already. It’s a good tool to help new builders understand what they need to be doing in Edina, he said.
Builders also said companies want to build homes that fit into the neighborhoods because they are sellable.
Busyn said his goal is to build houses that are timeless.
“Edina is a premiere city, and it’s important to provide housing stock that is a premiere design,” he said.
Lon Oberpriller, president of Replacement Housing Services, told the Thursday group that houses sell that look classic, but have modern features.
“Charm and character sells,” he said. He added that a house doesn’t need to be 4,000 square-feet to sell. However, a resident countered him, saying that people doing the teardowns are doing so because they want the house they envisioned instead of finding an existing house that will work for them.
Busyn said after the meeting that most of the complaints are driven by the activity taking place in a dense urban area. It puts pressure on the neighborhood, he said, adding that residents probably had issues too when Edina began expanding in the ‘40s.
The housing stock in Edina is obsolete. The turnover of houses is going on across the country and is part of a natural cycle, he said. It will also have a positive economic impact on Edina with additional permit fees, jobs and tax revenue.
“We’re in a golden age of rebuilding. We’re really rebooting the city for the next generation,” Busyn said after the meeting.
The issues and solutions discussed at the meetings included the following:
• Residents don’t feel the city is responsive when they call with questions or complaints about construction in their neighborhoods. One resident told Teague, “It’s up to the residents to keep calling and calling and calling, and that doesn’t make for a good situation.” The city should respond in writing so there’s a paper trail.
• Sideyard setbacks need to be greater on 50-foot lots because the current five-foot setback isn’t enough between the houses. One audience member summed it up, saying, “You can just about shake hands with your neighbor.” Setbacks should also be staggered to allow for more space around the house.
• Water runoff needs to stay in each person’s yard to get to the street. The larger homes have more impervious surface and larger roofs that are sending water into neighboring yards.
• Access to a backyard without walking in a neighboring yard needs to be required.
• Fines need to be set up so builders have consequences when they violate the city’s codes.
• Create different residential zoning for different areas of the city. The city currently only has one residential zone. The different neighborhoods’ character should be defined like it is in the Country Club District so the character of the neighborhoods aren’t changing when new homes are built. The zones should preserve the house size and income level of the neighborhood.
• A tree preservation ordinance should be enacted to protect the trees on the lot and on the adjacent lots. A resident pointed out that when a builder excavates on the property, they’ll sometimes damage the roots of the trees in the neighbor’s yard.
• An ordinance should be created for sheds that includes size, locations and setbacks.
Contact Lisa Kaczke at firstname.lastname@example.org
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