There was little fanfare when the Roseville City Council voted last year to allow denser housing on some city lots, the most dramatic zoning change in recent memory.
But now that the first redevelopment is in the pipeline — with plans to turn two single-family homes in the city's northwestern corner into seven units — some neighbors are furious and accusing city leaders of changing the rules while no one was looking.
"It was done under the cover of darkness during the pandemic when people weren't really engaged in these things," said resident Doug Burckhardt, whose backyard will border the proposed twin home development.
Residents are asking city leaders to rethink allowing twin homes on single-family lots, or to at least add additional guardrails to prevent what they fear could significantly change established neighborhoods in the largely built-out suburb of 36,000.
"If this is the bellwether project, this will open the door to institutional investors across the city," resident Mike Cassel said. "You need to be able to protect the essential character of our neighborhoods."
City leaders are defending the change, saying it aligns with the region's emerging values and will help create more housing over time at a variety of price points. And while a minimum single-family home lot is 9,350 square feet, developers will need 11,000 square feet — about a quarter-acre — to build a twin home.
"It's an incremental change, not a radical change," said Mayor Dan Roe. "There are benefits in terms of the bigger picture in maintaining a certain level of density, especially closer in. It reduces commutes and helps with environmental sustainability."
City planners estimate the zoning change will add 170 housing units during the next two decades, creating housing in the "missing middle" between apartments and single-family homes.
"The addition of these housing types is important toward addressing the region's deficit in housing production, providing housing options and encouraging affordable homes in suburban environments and across the region," said Metropolitan Council Community Development Director Lisa Barajas.
The developer seeking to build the controversial twin homes on Old Hwy. 8 is Roseville resident Tom Brama, who with his wife and six children lived in a four-bedroom home on nearly an acre of land there.
Brama's son bought the starter home next door — a one-bedroom built in 1936 on a half-acre lot — and Brama bought him out in 2018.
"We are sitting on nearly an acre and a half of property," Brama said. "I'd been kicking around the idea of splitting it up for a few years."
After the zoning changes happened last fall, Brama asked the city for permission to tear down the one-bedroom house and subdivide the two existing lots into three twin-home lots. The larger single-family home would remain, for a total of seven units on 1.36 acres.
Because two of the three twin home lots would sit in what's currently the properties' backyards, Brama said he would build a private driveway to access them. Meanwhile, Brama has moved into another home his son owns on nearby Troseth Road, the backyard of which would border the twin homes.
Brama said he and his family will remain in the neighborhood, and he believes the development will blend in.
"We are trying to be a bit more progressive in Roseville," he said. "Roseville is aware there is a shortage of houses. I know a twin home will not be out of place in a single-family neighborhood."
Many of the homes in the neighborhood date back to the the mid-1900s and were built on sprawling 1-acre lots. During the 1970s and 1980s, about 18 lots were split and more single-family homes were built, said Roger Pastwa, who grew up in the neighborhood and still lives there today.
Pastwa said he strongly opposes the twin home plan.
"They are going to kill this area," he said. "Roseville's plan is to divide the land and cram in as much as possible."
The council approved Brama's preliminary plat for the twin homes this summer on a 4-1 vote. Council Member Bob Willmus was the lone "no" vote.
"When you are making a change of that magnitude, I think it warrants a broader conversation," Willmus said, noting the council debated and approved the zoning changes over Zoom meetings during the pandemic. "There was really no public input on this."
Brama said eroding market conditions — including rising interest rates — mean he probably won't be building anytime soon, though he still wants to move forward with platting.
And he said the lots could still be used for single-family homes if a future market demands it.
"I am trying to be respectful to the neighbors and their concerns," Brama said, "but also put out a product that will fit this area."