Duggan Plaza site, Edina

The Edina Housing Foundation wants to build two affordable single-family homes on this empty city-owned lot near Highway 100 and 70th street in Edina, but a deed restriction on the property appears to stand in the way. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig) 

An obscure land agreement looks poised to scuttle plans for a rare kind of affordable housing in Edina – the owner-occupied single-family home.

While the city has been able to propagate affordable housing at various income thresholds in new apartment developments in recent years, opportunities to create affordable single-family homes have been hard to come by. The Edina Housing Foundation is seeking to buck this trend by acquiring an empty 13,600-square-foot city-owned lot off Highway 100 near 70th Street, where it wants to build two new homes.

But when a local realtor studied the history of the property, which is located at Duggan Plaza and Abercrombie Drive, he learned it was subject to a deed restriction preventing development.

The Edina City Council was set to vote July 21 on the transfer of the property, which the housing foundation would have acquired for $1. In light of the revelation regarding the deed restriction, the council agreed to table the matter until its Aug. 18 meeting.

“We have come up with new information that we need to evaluate that really goes to the heart of whether this proposal is feasible or advisable,” Mayor Jim Hovland said.

He noted residents’ attachment to the space by explaining it had been used as an unofficial “pocket park” for about 70 years, dating back to the neighborhood’s initial development.

“The neighborhood is kind of up in arms about it,” Wade Thommen, the one who discovered the deed restriction, told the Sun Current in mid-July.

The lot once served as a decorative entrance to the neighborhood, when Duggan Plaza connected to Highway 100/Normandale Road, but the gateway was moved to 70th Street some 50 years ago when the highway became a freeway, Thommen explained.

Hovland was apologetic for an oversight that got affordable-housing advocates’ hopes up while rankling neighborhood residents. “We totally missed the deed restriction,” he said, blaming a faulty geographic information system.

The land is the only space in Edina that is appropriate for the development of single-family housing, according to a staff report addressing the matter. Other parcels that might otherwise appear appropriate for that purpose are in flood zones, have easements running through them, are on unbuildable terrain or contain a water main or other critical infrastructure, the report explains.

The homes that were planned for the lot in question would have been meant for households with incomes at or below 120% of the area median income – that is, households making roughly $120,000 per year or less. A 2020 study by Maxfield Research determined there is demand for up to 60 affordable entry-level homes in Edina.

The average price for a previously occupied home in Edina is $799,000, the staff report mentions. According to the same report, the average new home in Edina goes for about $1.2 million, while the homes torn down for that new construction have a $421,000 average price tag.

‘Stepped in a hornets’ nest’

Neighbors also felt aggrieved by the steps that led up to the would-be land transfer. “I think we could have done a better job about due process in terms of notifying folks in the broader neighborhood about this manner,” Hovland said.

He cited city regulations dictating that homes within 500-feet of the property be notified of the sale, which amounted to four homes in the case of the Duggan Plaza property. Neighbors were “totally blindsided,” Hovland said.

Because of the property’s role as a “pocket park,” the entire subdivision should have been notified, he opined. “I feel like, in this situation, due process was really a problem,” Hovland said.

Councilmember Kevin Staunton defended the council against any accusations of secret machinations regarding the property. “There’s a lot of jumping to conclusions that there’s an effort to do something untoward, and having a little grace that people aren’t going to get it exactly right every time is helpful on both ends of this,” Staunton said.

Councilmember Mike Fischer deflected accusations of a lack of transparency. “I actually think it’s just the opposite problem,” Fischer said, explaining that complications such as the deed restriction surface for all to see. “And sometimes that looks really awkward, and this time it’s extremely awkward,” he said.

The result, he noted, was that the city “stepped in a hornets’ nest.”

Looking to move forward on Edina’s efforts to cultivate more affordable housing, Staunton said he hoped the land-use complications don’t “chill the creativity of our staff.”

– Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

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