Rental housing's place in Brainerd could be changing.
Responding to the high number of duplex and multi-family housing in the city - rentals make up anywhere from 40 percent to 50 percent of all housing, depending on who you ask - the Brainerd Planning Commission is considering reducing the number of R-2 medium density and R-3 high density residential zones in the city.
The R-2 and R-3 zones in the city will not be entirely eliminated from the zoning map, but several as-of-yet-unidentified areas are proposed to be changed from the medium and higher density zones to single-family residential zones.
And even though the zoning map may be changed to reduce the numbers of R-2 and R-3 zones, those duplexes and multi-family dwellings already operating will be allowed to continue to do so.
City Planner Mark Ostgarden said the Planning Commission heard that there was too much R-2 and R-2 zoning in the city and assessed all residential areas. While current duplexes and multi-housing units will be allowed to remain, it is hoped that changing certain areas to single-family residential will halt the creation of more multi-family dwellings.
“Of course, there’s nothing to prevent a homeowner that has a single-family dwelling from renting it out. The Planning Commission fully understands that,” Ostgarden said. “It’s just the conversion to duplexes, multi-family units, this is one way might help reduce that.”
Planning Commission member Carter Kuehn also pointed out that the holder of a license for a multi-family dwelling will still be able to sell the property for that use, but will lose the ability to do so should they lose the license.
“Even before I was on the commission there was major feedback, and of those who responded they said they wanted more single-family homes in Brainerd,” Kuehn said. “(The Planning Commission) took that to heart when they made the proposed changes to the zoning map. We thought that’s what Brainerd residents wanted.”
According to the 2000 census Brainerd consisted of 50.3 percent owner-occupied housing units and 49.7 percent renter-occupied housing units.
The proposed zoning change is not without its detractors.
David Pueringer, who owns several rental properties in the city, said despite the promise to be grandfathered in, the rezoning will make it more difficult and more expensive to stay in the rental business.
“We’ll lose all kinds of value and that’s a very legitimate concern,” Pueringer said. “Our biggest concern as owners of property is that we don’t get regulated out of business.”
Pueringer said it’s been his experience that the Brainerd City Council, which has the final say on the proposed change, will do as it pleases rather than listen to people’s concerns. If the zoning change goes through he said he hopes the city would accommodate property owners who lose the ability to rent multi-family properties.
Pueringer said he feared that reducing the number of rental properties in the city — which he estimated made up 52 percent of all housing in Brainerd — would make it more difficult for people who can’t afford to buy a house to find a place to live.
He also said he was worried the zoning change would lead to blight as rental owners find they can’t do anything with a property once they’ve lost their ability to use it for multi-family dwellings. Property owners need to be protected, Pueringer said.
Property manager Rick Fargo said while the goal of the proposed zoning change is to clean up the housing stock primarily in northeast and southeast Brainerd, the costs of refurbishing or even tearing down multi-family dwellings might be too much for some property owners looking to convert to single-family housing.
“We do have an old housing stock but you can only put so much money into making it look better,” Fargo said. “I think this could actually hinder redevelopment in northeast and southeast Brainerd.”
City Council member Anne Nelson Fisher said neighborhood organizations would be happy to see less duplex and multi-family housing. She said when a house is split into several units it creates a dense population on small lots in older parts of the city.
“I think there are pockets in all of those older neighborhoods where we could stand to go back to single family housing as the zone,” Fisher said. “Obviously we can’t change the current use, those uses are grandfathered in. But if the use changes it ought to match the size of the various lots and what those lots are going to accommodate. That’s what I see new zoning ordinance doing.”
The Planning Commission is receiving comments on its proposed changes to the zoning map and a public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 12. After that the commission will forward its recommendations to the city council for a final vote.
The proposed zoning maps can be viewed at the planner’s office at Brainerd City Hall, at the Brainerd Public Library and on the city’s website at www.ci.brainerd.mn.us.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.