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In Excelsior, neighbors now can have a say on whether you can expand your house

The city passed a new ordinance in hopes of preserving its character, which requires all single-family new builds and remodels to be approved by the city.
Excelsior, Minnesota - Port of Excelsior

If someone wants to build or add onto their home in Excelsior, they'll now face a far more rigorous process to get it approved.

A new ordinance the Excelsior City Council passed on a 3-2 vote Monday – which goes into effect Oct. 1 – gives Excelsior some of the strictest zoning regulations in the state. 

Residents in Excelsior, a city with fewer than 3,000 people established in the 1850s on Lake Minnetonka, have been embroiled in a years-long debate over preserving the city's charm or allowing people to build their dream homes.

Neighborhoods in the small city include some homes that date back to the 1800s, and then on the same street are newly-built or remodeled homes that some argue just don't fit in with the area.

The Excelsior City Council determined that traditional zoning regulations haven't sufficiently preserved Excelsior's character and have failed to ensure that new homes are compatible with the neighborhood in which they're built, city documents state

This led to the creation via the ordinance passed Monday of a Residential Review Process and Good Neighbor Guidelines, which require new builds, additions and remodels of single-family homes to be reviewed by the city's Planning Commission, architect and zoning administrator, as well as give residents who own property within 350 feet the opportunity to weigh in on the project prior to the city issuing a residential review permit. 

Some small-scale projects that don't require a building permit are not subject to this process as they don't require a residential review permit, the ordinance notes.

Proponents of the ordinance, including the group Excelsior Forever, say it will ensure new houses fit in with their surroundings, preserving Excelsior's character and scale, which is why people chose to live there in the first place.

However, opponents, which include the group Unite Excelsior, have argued the guidelines are subjective and would negatively impact families, lower property values and discourage people from moving to the city. 

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The ordinance is not designed to regulate the architectural design of new construction and remodeling unless it affects mass, scale, bulk and/or orientation, documents say. 

The residential review process ordinance wasn't the only zoning-related ordinance to pass on Monday. The City Council voted 5-0 to amend its ordinance related to landmark buildings within the city, allowing non-property owners to nominate single-family homes for landmark status so long as two people, including one resident, are part of the nomination. 

If a landmark nomination is approved, the property owner has to get a special permit in order to do any major work to the exterior, the city's website says

The change to the landmark ordinance came after a nomination was made by a renter, not a property owner, so it was rejected, the Sun Sailor reported.

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