Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs): A tool for preservation

Example of an ADU found in a NE Portland neighborhood.

Minneapolis is growing. For the first time since the 1970s, the population has reached more than 400,000 people, and folks are struggling to find places to live. There’s a lot of economic pressure to demolish old homes and develop apartment buildings and condominiums to make space for these new residents. This influx of people threatens to harm the unique neighborhoods that attracted them in the first place. But there’s another way forward.

The City Council is considering allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in Minneapolis. They’re also known as granny flats, mother-in-law apartments, and carriage houses, but ADUs are essentially self-contained living units on the lot of a single-family home. An ADU could be detached from the main structure, attached, or internal (like an attic apartment). ADUs have been cropping up in cities like Seattle, Portland, and Denver in recent years.


Making preservation economically viable

People demolish old buildings not because of any animosity toward preservation, but as the result of an economic calculation. Allowing ADUs would change that calculation in favor of existing buildings. Historic homes in urban neighborhoods would become more useful. Seniors could house an on-site caregiver. A family could offer a separate living space to relatives. Homeowners could earn extra rental income. With these additional options, preserving the home would seem more attractive.

Earlier this summer, the Preservation Green Lab released a report, “Older, Smaller, Better” (PDF) about encouraging urban vitality in older neighborhoods. The report contained several objectives that would be accomplished by allowing ADUs:

“Encourage compatible new construction. Infill construction that contributes to the overall physical character of a district can add vitality to a block, while also offering financial opportunities for real estate developers and investors.”

The Portland Preservation blog complimented ADUs along these lines, saying that they “are an important tool for adding density in our older neighborhoods – one home at a time. The result is far less impact on the existing character that makes our older neighborhoods so attractive to begin with.”

“Develop pre-approved solutions for common building types and reuse scenarios.“

The City of Santa Cruz has developed a manual for ADUs with guides and prototypical designs for interested homeowners. Minneapolis could design something similar to make sure that everyone feels empowered.

“Support more intensive use of existing buildings.”

The average household size in Minneapolis has decreased from 3.08 in 1950 to 2.23 in 2010. Many of the large, old homes (often built by brewing barons and milling magnates) are occupied by smaller families of more modest means today. If we’re going to preserve these homes, we have to allow homeowners to use them efficiently.

It’s clear that ADUs are part of a plan to let Minneapolis grow toward the future while respecting the past. With responsible regulations and appropriate incentives, Minneapolis can make preservation practical and even profitable.


How to support ADUs in Minneapolis

The City of Minneapolis will be holding public meetings in August and September to gather public input. Please consider attending and letting your city council member know that you think a fully implemented ADU policy is essential to protecting our historic homes in our city. More information can also be found at:


Public meeting locations and times-


Saturday, August 23, 2014

10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Hosmer Community Library

347 E 36th Street



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Eastside Neighborhood Services

1700 2nd St NE



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

North Regional Library

1315 Lowry Ave N



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Kenwood Community Center

2101 W Franklin Ave


This post was graciouslly written for PAM by Max Musicant, Principal of the Musicant Group.

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