I am basically supportive of my colleague Betsy Hodges' effort to better regulate teardowns and 'McMansions,' or new large-scale homes being built especially in Southwest Minneapolis. See the Star Tribune article here. This is a good idea not only for neighborhood character but for sustainability: larger houses use significantly more energy, especially to heat and cool, and construction waste accounts for 40% of total landfill volume.
Here's a cliff's notes version of the proposed changes:
1) Habitable space within a new home can equal no more than 50% of the total lot area. So if you have a standard 5,000 square foot City lot, you can have no more than 2,500 square feet of habitable indoor space. The reason for this is that a new house can be built to the letter of every existing ordinance (front, side and rear setbacks, height restrictions, etc), and still be mammoth, dwarfing its neighbors and substantially altering neighborhood character.
2) Single family homes will be limited to a height of 30 feet, down from 35 feet in the existing code.
3) Property owners will only be allowed to cover 65% of a lot with impervious surface, down from the 75% in existing code. This is important for storm water management, as well as preserving greenspace in the City.
I understand that these changes have been inspired by McMansions in Southwest. There is a bit of concern about this in Seward, mostly preventative ("how can we keep teardowns and McMansions from happening here?"). But the most significant effect of the proposed changes in Ward 2 will be in Southeast, specifically in Southeast Como.
In Como, we have seen absentee landlords purchase existing single family homes, rent them to students for several years while doing little to no maintenance, then tear them down and replace them with the largest "single family" home they can, with as many bedrooms as will legally fit. In other words, where Southwest Minneapolis has 'McMansions,' Southeast Minneapolis has 'McDorms.' The Floor Area Ratio proposed by CM Hodges will help us address this by limiting the amount of habitable square footage.
I am looking at possibly proposing some changes to the Hodges proposal to make this an even better tool for Southeast. I've noted that it makes specific exemptions for habitable basements and attics. This makes sense in Southwest, where basements tend to be rec rooms or dens. In Southeast, however, basements and attics are very quickly carved up into bedrooms. I'm looking at making the basement/attic exemptions contingent on these spaces not being used as sleeping rooms, as defined in the Housing Maintenance code.