Excelsior City Council votes to require case-by-case approval for new or expanding homes

People who want to build a house in Excelsior or expand a current home there will first have to get the city’s OK on the design, the City Council decided Monday night in approving what may be the strictest ordinance of its kind in Minnesota.

Under the new ordinance taking effect Oct. 1, the city’s Planning Commission will review each design individually with input from an architect and neighbors who own property within 350 feet of the project.

The 3-2 council vote follows years of local debate over the need for strict zoning rules to preserve the look and feel of older residential areas in Excelsior, a Lake Minnetonka city of 2,400 that measures only one square mile.

The neighborhoods include some houses more than a century old, considered by many a key element of the city’s charm and character.

Residents have complained that some newly-built homes and additions don’t fit in with surrounding houses or loom over neighboring properties.

Proponents of the ordinance said standardized requirements don’t work because the city’s properties vary widely by age, size and other characteristics. Opponents argued that case-by-case reviews are too subjective and raise the possibility or perception of bias, potentially triggering lawsuits.

Opponents said the ordinance will also dampen the city’s rapidly growing property values. They maintain smaller homes will not increase in value as fast as existing large homes, since buyers may fear the city will reject their plans to enlarge a house.

“These changes will make it impossible for anyone to know what they can do when thinking about buying or building a home here,” said Council Member Dale Kurschner, who voted against the ordinance. “They are ambiguity infinite.”



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