A residential review board is not the right solution for Excelsior

There is a big debate going on right now in Excelsior.  New subjective regulations are being proposed including a new Residential Review Board panel to further restrict and control development in our town.  These rules are called the Good Neighbor Guidelines and are modeled after the rules and process used in 1/4th of Stillwater, MN, to preserve the area in their town that has similar era homes.  
Please click on the link below to see how this process is used in Stillwater, MN:
https://stillwater.govoffice.com/vertical/Sites/%7B5BFEF821-C140-4887-AEB5-99440411EEFD%7D/uploads/Stillwater_Conservation_District_Design_Guidelines02_20_06(1).pdf

The first thing you see after clicking this link are pictures of the beautiful 35 foot high, 2 to 3 story Victorian style homes built in Stillwater in the late 1800’s that they are trying to preserve there.  Their rules are set up to preserve and build homes that look exactly like those pictures in that limited section of their town.


Review boards are used in approximately 2% of cities and towns in the USA.  They usually are used to enforce strict conformance to specific objective standards as they are in Stillwater for height, width and setbacks.
What is being proposed here in Excelsior is a Residential Review Board which would operate as a zoning Czar completely independent of the Planning Commission and the Heritage Preservation Commission.  This zoning Czar would approve or reject projects based upon subjective not objective rules for our town which has no clusters of similar houses like you see in Stillwater.  In fact, in Stillwater, their guidelines are not implemented by a new review board – they are used by their existing historic preservation commission.  Also, even in Stillwater, their existing objective zoning rules which allow houses up to 35 ft, override the Good Neighbor Guidelines.  Regarding housing, there is not much in common between Stillwater and Excelsior except that we both have some older homes in our cities.


Our town has varying heights, widths, styles and era of homes.  One might consider that a subjective review board with this much power may not be the correct way to address mass and scale in Excelsior.  Maybe we only need to modify our existing objective zoning standards as the other approximately 98% of USA cities and towns do.    Our goal isn’t to make everything look the same.  People that live here like the variety of homes in town.


Recent Excelsior zoning panel expert, Thomas Bena, at his web site onebighome.com, shows the existing objective zoning standards used to provide reasonable zoning for homes in 12 cities throughout the USA.  Proposed changes to our zoning laws are more restrictive than those cities.

Simply stated, the rules and process used in Stillwater do not apply to Excelsior.   We don’t need to create an entirely new, intimidating process with concentrated power in an additional review board based upon subjective rules and personal opinions about how everyone should build their homes.  In Excelsior, we just need to change our zoning laws to the mass and scale we want for our city, it is that simple. 

Unite Excelsior is proposing zoning changes that do just that and no more.
For more information, please send your emails to:
info@uniteexcelsior.org

Unite Excelsior

We are pleased to introduce Unite Excelsior, a growing community group. Our mission is to:
 Bring people together to maintain a positive and welcoming community
 Preserve the historical and eclectic character of Excelsior
 Protect property owner rights and property values
 Promote practical building ordinances that encourage investment in our community
 Participate in local government to encourage fiscal responsibility and make Excelsior an
even better place to live, work and visit
Excelsior has experienced strong demand from families wishing to move into our wonderful
town. As a result, very significant real estate development has occurred. We would ask that you
consider the following residential zoning changes that will help existing and new homeowners:

  • The Good Neighbor Guidelines would be incorporated into the zoning code and used by
    the Zoning Administrator and the Planning Commission when reviewing residential
    development projects. Rationale: The subjective rules in the Good Neighbor Guidelines
    would supplement and not conflict with objective zoning rules and be used to help
    resolve mass and scale issues.
    After talking with many residents and consulting with several real estate experts, we are very
    concerned about the demand and valuation destruction that has already occurred and that would
    be greatly exacerbated by more drastic zoning changes that are currently being considered. We
    are concerned that more drastic zoning changes will, unfortunately, have the most negative
    impact on families living in small homes today and discourage families from moving to our
    town. Given the above objective rules and incorporation of the Good Neighbor Guidelines into
    the Planning Commission review process, there would be no need at this time to create a
    duplicative, onerous and costly Residential Review Board to address mass and scale issues. We
    understand that changing the zoning regulations is a constantly evolving process. We would
    recommend these reasonable and very significant changes to address concerns and stabilize our
    current zoning regulations for the benefit of all Excelsior residents.
    Thank you for your service to our community and for your consideration of our suggestions.
    Sincerely,
    Unite Excelsior Community Group
  1. Create a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) volume constraint at .5 for all lot sizes which excludes
    garages and open porches. Rationale: the .5 FAR is a reasonable starting point (same as
    Minneapolis) to address mass and scale correlated to lot size in Excelsior. The .5 FAR
    allows houses to be built that meet the needs of families desiring to live in our town but
    also represents a 29% decrease in the volume allowed compared to current zoning
    regulations. This 29% reduction in volume is in addition to zoning changes implemented
    in the past three years for height and building coverage that have resulted in
    approximately 30% in mass and scale decreases.
  2. Allow an additional .1 FAR for garages and open porches. Rationale: This allows a
    reasonable garage for all lot sizes and encourages open porches on structures. This is
    also a successful approach used in Minneapolis.
  3. If any adjacent structure is closer than 14 feet (standard setbacks 9 feet and 5 feet) then
    the FAR is reduced from .5 to .45. Rationale: This 10% reduction in FAR respects the
    rights of smaller existing structures by reducing mass and scale for homes that are close
    together. The .45 FAR represents a 36% decrease in the volume allowed compared to
    current zoning regulations. This feature would be unique to Excelsior and to Minnesota
    adjusting building projects based upon the proximity of neighboring structures. This
    feature also provides incentives for homeowners to build structures that are at least 14
    feet away from neighboring structures thereby increasing green space.
  4. If any adjacent structure is closer than 14 feet and the new structure is proposed to be 12
    feet higher than the close structure, the project will be reviewed by the Planning
    Commission. Rationale: Currently the Planning Commission only reviews projects that
    require variances. This requirement ensures that projects which do not require a variance
    and that are significantly taller than close neighboring structures are reviewed and
    considerations are made for mass and scale impact to close structures. This is a

reasonable “trigger” to invoke the Good Neighbor Guidelines. If projects are greater than
14 feet from neighboring structures they should qualify for the same uniform zoning
regulations applied to all properties. This feature would also be unique to Excelsior and
to Minnesota adjusting building projects based upon the height of neighboring
properties.