Como neighbors bristle at plan to turn church into 39-bedroom building

The Como Congregational Church in Minneapolis' Como neighborhood hasn't had parishioners in years, but the neighborhood doesn't want to see it torn down.

The Como Congregational Church in Minneapolis' Como neighborhood hasn't had parishioners in years, but the neighborhood doesn't want to see it torn down. Concerned Como Neighbors

The Como Congregational Church has sat in the middle of the block in Minneapolis’ Como neighborhood (about a mile north of Dinkytown) for about a century. 

The building hasn't seen parishioners in five or six. It’s got an interesting, blocky designall rectangular planes and tapered triangles jutting into the skythough not interesting enough to be deemed “historic” and eligible for preservation.

That wasn’t a problem until this year, when Northland Real Estate Group (the current property owner) proposed turning the site into two stories of rental housing. It’s considering a plan that would include 39 bedrooms, 10 parking spaces, and bike storage facilities, according to the Minnesota Daily. Rent would likely be between $600 and $800 a month.

According to nearby resident Larry Crawford, there was a “tremendous groan” in the audience when Northland presented the plan to the Southeast Como Improvement Association in mid-February. This wasn’t the future they'd envisioned for the building.

“It would be an absolutely terrific performance space,” Association Board President Karl Smith says. For a while, the neighborhood association has been trying to tempt a community theater group to repurpose the space. Although “charming,” Smith admits the building is “not in great shape,” and most small theater companies can’t afford the overhead.

What neighbors like Smith and Crawford don’t want is a 39-bedroom, nine-unit renters’ building. A new group called Concerned Como Neighbors started a petition asking Minneapolis officials to deny permission for the project. It had about 120 signatures on Monday, when it was presented to city officials.

“Our neighborhood is being destroyed by multi-dwelling housing,” one signatory said.

“Find somewhere else,” another added.

Anyone following development projects in the Twin Cities might be getting a little déjà vu at this point.

The demand for new housing in the city has led to a lot of frustration from developers over neighborhoods rejecting projects like these. The Minneapolis 2040 plan, which effectively upzoned the entire city to encourage denser housing developments, was supposed to help mitigate the problem.

The Concerned Como Neighbors insist they aren’t like the typical NIMBY naysayers.

“This neighborhood welcomes all neighbors,” Crawford says. That includes a large population of immigrants from Somalia and other parts of the world. But they'd rather the denser development stay around traffic corridor areaslike East Hennepinand not clutter up the middle of a residential block.

“I believe I and my neighbors would be fine with [a triplex,]” Smith says. “But it’s a 39-bedroom boardinghouse, and we’ve got all kinds of them in this neighborhood.”

According to Minnesota Compass, almost three-quarters of the neighborhood's homes are renter-occupied, and nearly 40 percent of its population is in the 18-to-24 age demographic. 

Crawford says housing like this would inevitably attract students rather than more permanent residentsand that’s fine. He came to the neighborhood as a student himself, and he ended up staying and establishing himself in the community. But at $600 to $800 a room, he considers this model “exploitative.” A number of the petition signatories, he says, are young people themselves.

Northland didn’t respond to interview requests, but in a statement to KSTP, said it plans on meeting with the neighborhood in the future to discuss its issues with the project. In the meantime, the real estate group expects to submit its land-use application to the city soon.

If all goes well for the developer, demolition may begin in months with construction starting this fall.