Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Proposal for the Sheltering Arms House

The Sheltering Arms House is a massive, vacant, four-unit structure at 2648 Emerson Avenue North. It has a charming façade, with what appears to be original wood lap siding, double-decker front porches, and –while I have not been inside- I am told that the interior still holds much woodwork and other quality original features.

Per the MLS, the City of Minneapolis acquired this property on January 7, 2010 for a price of $17,500. The cumulative days on market prior to close are listed at 67. So, it was for sale for a little over two months before the City closed on it. However, the “off-market date” which we can use to speculate approximately when the purchase agreement was signed and delivered, is December 16, 2010.

(These dates are important because they refute any potential argument about the house being un-marketable to private buyers. The house was not languishing on the market for an unreasonable amount of time.)

The City acquired this property for the purpose of demolition and land-banking, according to staff of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council.

So the first question is: Why?

Why didn’t the City leave this house for a private investor to purchase and renovate? We have no indications that this house is or was un-salable, nor do we have any illustration of it being deteriorated beyond reasonable hope of repair.

Subsequent to the City’s initial moves to purchase, neighbors began to research a bit of the history, and learned of the house’s beginnings as the Sheltering Arms orphanage. While I will not personally make the argument here that such information qualifies it as historic, it is only because I do not deem that necessary.

What I mean to say is: random demolition of single structures around the city should be a last-resort – saved only for those cases where a home is NOT SALVAGEABLE. This is especially true in our older neighborhoods, where the removal of a home which fits the character of the street will cause an obvious hole; a discontinuity that damages the flow of the block.

The Sheltering Arms house is valuable to the block, and valuable to the community, because –as a structure- it contributes to the architectural and cultural fabric thereof. The fact that it has an interesting history is gravy.

(One need only look at the Phillips neighborhood[s] in order to understand the impact of piecemeal demolition on block character and integrity. The most stable residential blocks in those neighborhoods are, were, and will continue to be the blocks which have the most original structures, which, incidentally, are overwhelmingly occupied by their owners.)

But anyway, today I am less interested in elaborating the folly of these past demolitions than I am in helping determine where we go from here.

The Sheltering Arms house is a good place to begin. It still stands, and it does not have to come down.

But beyond that, what?

There are a few options, the more conventional of which involve the City giving/selling the place to developer, either non-profit or for-profit, for rehabilitation.

I am a fan of a less-conventional method, myself… an approach which I think will ultimately be better for the house, the block, and the neighborhood.

I propose that the City GIVE THE STRUCTURE AWAY.

As in, a lottery.

The neighborhood and other interested individuals could spread the word far and wide, and I am confident that many folks would throw their hats into the ring. Why? Because the house is free. And because it’s got potential to be a beautiful place. And an interesting history.

Of course there should be a few rules involved in entering this lottery, such as:

  1. Owner agrees to enter into a restoration agreement with the City, and post a bond of some amount which is returned after some amount of time.

  1. Owner agrees to occupy the house for some number of years. (There should be some monetary penalty if they cease to comply before the term is completed.)

  1. Owner can provide proof of qualification for a loan (or of cash funds) in some amount for the rehab. (But let’s not be unreasonable here – they should be permitted to do some things with sweat-equity, like painting, sanding their own floors, etcetera.)

It is very simple. The City gets rid of the house (and taxpayer dollars do not have to be spent to demolish it,) someone gets a new home, and the neighborhood gets to maintain an architectural asset AND gain an invested owner-occupant.

Or, you know, we could just go with another vacant lot. I'm not sure NoMi has quite enough of those yet...


Josh said...

An intriguing idea, Ranty-- definitely preferable to demolition and a vacant lot. Are you listening, City of Minneapolis?

Jayne said...

Absolutely excellent idea. What's the chance of your proposal actually becoming reality?

John said...

The idea of banking land in North is funny. How long until that lot is worth $47,000 ($17k + $30 demo). And the city will cry about their eroding tax base and lga reductions. They are causing their own lack of revenue with schemes like this. I agree the home should somehow be returned to the market or an owner occupant.

Ranty said...

Hmm, word is that CM Diane Hofstede has been through the property and that she believes it is not salvageable.

Dang, I must have missed when Diane became a licensed contractor capable of eyeballing such things...

Eric said...

As a northside resident and homeowner with an education in Economics, I had heretofore been a supporter of the concept behind "landbanking". I haven't heard anyone else rebut the argument with reference to neighborhood character and continuity, but your arguments about the disruption of the character of the Phillips neighborhood certainly has given me something to think about.

The basic idea behind landbanking is a supply and demand one. Supply exceeds demand, so reducing supply supports the value of those houses which remain occupied.

The more immediate impact of landbanking, however, is an patchwork of double size yards in random locations. My suggestion is the city sell or give the land to the owner of the adjacent properties. This would clearly improve the value of these houses and perhaps, eventually, all of those in the neighborhood.