Friday, May 17, 2013

The City of Minneapolis vs. The Wirth House

Contributed photo.

3431 Colfax Avenue North, or "The Wirth House" is yet another property that Minneapolis is needlessly moving forward with plans to demolish.  This cute little spot almost looks like a north woods cabin that's been plopped down into a residential neighborhood.  The garage bears metal lettering of "R. Wirth," although the previous family ownership is not related to the locally famous Theo Wirth.  There are times when I almost--not quite, but almost--feel guilty for jumping in at the last moment to keep a home from a date with the landfill.  If the city goes through due diligence in public notifications, only to have neighborhood activists swoop in at the last moment, I can see how that would be frustrating for those tasked with implementing a process.

Thankfully for my conscience, this is not one of those times.  The McKinley neighborhood gave the city of Minneapolis a list of properties that the organization wanted to see some kind of action or development on.  The list was decidedly NOT a list of proposed demolitions, but that is apparently how our local government decided to interpret it.  Because back in February...

...the city put the house on a planning application document for demolition--a rare move for a structure on privately-held property.  Neighborhood and housing activists immediately contacted city officials and asked that the house be removed from the demo rolls.  But the community work didn't stop there.

We talked to the neighbors on each side of the property, neither of whom want a piece of vacant land next door.  They believe the house is worth saving, and they don't want a swath of a yard where garbage collects, cars illegally park, and other people use as a shortcut to the alley.

We found the original, or at lest previous, owners.  Unsurprisingly, they don't want a piece of their family history to be torn down either.

We talked to the neighborhood organization, who also supports preservation, even if it takes longer to sort things out with the bank that foreclosed.  We also contacted the bank, but they do not appear to be in any kind of a hurry to market the property--even with a pending demolition assessment.

We reached out to a private developer (the photo kind of gives away who that is) who wants to acquire and restore the property.  That developer is approved by the Twin Cities Community Land Bank.  And we reached out to the land bank to see if they would pick up the property from Hennepin County if tax forfeiture were accelerated.  On vacant buildings in impacted areas, tax forfeiture can happen more rapidly than in other circumstances, and the County and land bank have an agreement wherein the land bank can acquire these prior to tax auctions.

So let's recap:  The neighborhood didn't want demolition in the first place.  The city was contacted as soon as the proposed demolition became public knowledge, and well before the demolition was contracted.  The immediate neighbors don't want it torn down, the previous family owners don't want it torn down, the neighborhood organizational position is against demolition, and there is an established path for preservation that includes a developer who has been vetted already.

So OF COURSE the city just ignored all of that and has contracted the property for demolition.  And now, even though the house still stands, we are told it is "too late" to save it because there is now a demo contract in place.

This is one reason why, when city staffers come to neighborhood meetings, a fair amount of residents don't trust what the intentions or end results might be.  It's why, when department heads get in front of television cameras to say they don't demolish houses unnecessarily, we don't believe them.  And it's why people who want to invest money IN our city often feel they are working AGAINST our city.

It's also why the demolition contract should be rescinded immediately, and the cost for that should be borne by the city departments responsible for the series of blunders.


  1. What planet are these "City employees" from? How can anyone really trust the City when there is not even a twinkle of sincerity in their willingness to communicate with local communities?

    Who at the City is responsible?

  2. What a shame to sweep true responsibility under the rug. Now, children, just close your eyes and the growling, salivating dog won't see you. This city sucks and Rybak needs to exit sooner and realize he will not win any other kind of election as he has already proved.
    He has let this unnecessary demolition process continue because tearing them down is the easy route and he could care less about uniqueness or history in our area. Any guy who uses initials at his age is an asshole.

  3. If you look at the structure and then go to Wirth Park and check out the pavilion you will see the architectural similarities. There is a connection and further proof that Minneapolis does not care about history. Is this comment worthy now? I see you employ convenient censorship like your buddy does.

  4. So you know that CPED has stopped publishing the planning applications report?

    It hasn't been going out weekly for awhile.
    Which given the 10 day limit for wrecking permit appeals made the tardy publication of the report unfortunate.

    This report does provide notification of wrecking permits. Is the report the ONLY?
    source of information for those...or do
    Neighborhood Associations get a letter?

  5. I'd also say after all the publicity this week with the demolition of 1925 Park and considering what Gary Schiff just said at the City Council this morning 5/24...this house can be saved with one call to the media...and if it isn't get them to video the demolition.

  6. so, is this house demoed or will it be rehabbed?

    1. I wish I knew. We've got the city hesitant to tear down at least some houses in north for the time being, although that's not going to last long. I've been focusing on a few key properties like 1522 Hillside and the Sheltering Arms House, but those two are close to winding up in good hands and then hopefully this one will share a similar fate.


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