KELO Offers Content-Free Report on Mayor Huether’s Zoning “Learning Experience”

Whatever puts KELO-TV at the top of the local news ratings, it’s not consistent, informative journalism. Consider last night’s filler about Mayor Mike Huether’s meeting with homeowners in McKennan Park.

Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether is listening to the concerns of a homeowner in one of the city’s historic neighborhoods.

Huether met with Pierce and Barbara McDowell Thursday afternoon about a large two-story home that is being built just feet from their property line in the historic McKennan Park neighborhood of Sioux Falls [Ben Dunsmoor, “Huether Holds Meeting over Large Home in Historic District,”, 2015.04.02].

Concerns about a home being built close to neighbors’ property line? Well, those concerns should be easy to address. What are the setback rules? What does the permit say? What covenants exist?

Nearly a year ago the Board of Historic Preservation, appointed by the mayor, signed off on a plan to demolish a home at 1323 South 2nd Avenue right across the street from the park and next door to the McDowells. The same board signed off on plans to build a new two-story home on the same site [Dunsmoor, 2015.04.02].

O.K., Dunsmoor doesn’t want to tell us the actual rules. But apparently a city board saw the plans and signed off on whatever is taking place on the property. So what are the concerns?

Maybe Mayor Huether can shed some light on the specific nature of the concerns:

“Tell me about the process, what happened, and did he have any recommendations on how to make things better for the future,” Huether told KELOLAND News Thursday about his conversation with the McDowells.

Huether says he wanted to hear the concerns about the project’s size and positioning first hand.

“I think it was just helping me learn so that I can be a better mayor,” Huether said [Dunsmoor, 2015.04.02].

We are getting farther from an answer, not closer.

Other city officials, including Planning Director Mike Cooper and City Attorney David Pfeifle, also attended Thursday’s meeting. Huether says city leaders are simply using the issue as a learning experience at this point [Dunsmoor, 2015.04.02].

What?! City leaders don’t need a learning experience; they need a tape measure and the city code book. If the house is being built too close or too high, you can find that out pretty quickly. Don’t send over city officials who apparently don’t know their own basic zoning rules. Send Zoning Enforcement Manager Shawna Goldammer to the property, have her measure, and tell the cameras, “Sorry, guys, no story here, everything’s up to code.”

But Dunsmoor doesn’t deliver those simple facts. We just get more of Mayor Huether rambling about engaging people in a process that apparently even he doesn’t understand.

“I wanted to engage them to try to not only learn from them but also maybe make the process better for the next home that’s going to be built,” Huether said.

So that the city and other homeowners are never put in a tight position again [Dunsmoor, 2015.04.02].

Dunsmoor continues to avoid the basic question: is the new house really being built too close to the existing house? Extra demerit: that last line is a fragment, not a complete sentence.

Signaling his bid for Congress in 2016, Mayor Huether shows he’s been taking classes at the Kristi Noem School of Fancy-Talkin’ for Snow Queens:

“We’re proud people; don’t tell us what to do, property rights, all at the same time we have to be a good neighbor without any specific definitions on how to do that. So, that’s the challenge,” Huether said [Dunsmoor, 2015.04.02].

Whatever Mayor Huether learned, Dunsmoor apparently isn’t going to tell us. Maybe he can at least get the homeowners to discuss their concerns.

The McDowells have not agreed to any interview requests from KELOLAND News this week. The owner of the new home under construction did not respond to a request for comment Thursday [Dunsmoor, 2015.04.02].

Oh, for crying out loud! Dunsmoor gives no clear zoning information. Mayor Huether learns something but doesn’t say what. The neighbors don’t think it’s a big enough deal to talk to the press about it. The only information we get from this story is that somebody’s building a big house in Sioux Falls, and that’s not news.

That KSFY and KDLT can’t beat filler like this in the ratings should cause great heartburn at KELO’s competitors. Evidently KELO could just have Dunsmoor and Don Jorgensen clean walleye for thirty minutes and draw the same ratings.

Update 08:47 CDT: Read Jill Callison’s far more informative March 25 report on the new nearly 5000-square-foot house at Second Avenue, complete with comment from the McDowells, the builders Joseph “Josh” Sapienza and Sarah Jones Sapienza, and the actual setback rules. The McDowells’ house sits two feet from the southern lot line, based in the rules in force back in 1924. Current code requires new construction be set back five feet.

23 Responses to KELO Offers Content-Free Report on Mayor Huether’s Zoning “Learning Experience”

  1. I watched that same story last night and it was a complete waste with absolutely no information. None! Does anyone remember the next story? Was it another story being basically an advertisement for Sioux Falls ignoring the rest of the state? Otherwise we know the other regular stories correction….advertisements that run nightly.

    I’m sure Pierce and Barbara McDowell feel comforted with Mayor Huether visiting them. My sympathy goes out to them and the other property owners in this historic neighborhood.

    McMansions are so disruptive to older neighborhoods.

  2. It’s fairly well known that Mayor Mike Huether will most likely run for Governor but I don’t care how desperate the Democratic Party is here in South Dakota for a win there is no way I’d support this guy. I feel he would be a liability if elected and with his style of governing would just fuel the classic negative stereotypes of Democrats in power or of any political party for that matter.

    I know he has the financial resources, is well connected, he’s smart, dynamic and will be very competitive in a race for higher office but if he wins I fear he will become a serious liability for the broader Democratic effort here in SD.

  3. There’s something else, Lynn: we don’t know if the McDowells felt any comfort. We don’t hear from them. We don’t know if their concerns were assuaged. We don’t know if they’re suffering McMansion allergies or what. There’s no story here without the setback numbers.

  4. South Dakota media: In a forest of context, they will give you a toothpick to chew on.

  5. The 50s-era split level house that was torn down was a poor fit for the historic neighborhood of older houses facing right on McKennan Park. It was just out of place, and not in the greatest shape either. But the behemoth being shoehorned into the lot is a worse fit – regardless of the cost of it.

    A couple years ago some folks tore down an old house just a block away on the corner of 22nd street, also facing the park. The house they built was large, but was purposefully designed to fit into the neighborhood. And it does.

    This house going in next to the McDowell place must comply with zoning rules, but you have to question the judgment of the people building it. What were they thinking!?!

  6. Don Coyote

    Dumbsmoore lowers the bar when it comes to journalism and everyone who watches him is dumber for having listened to him. The Argus actually had a fairly good article on it complete with a series of pictures. It even has the setbacks for you Cory.

    The pictures really don’t do it justice. One really needs to drive by this monstrosity to really appreciate how big it is. It keeps being called a two story but it really is 2 1/2 and I can’t imagine the rest of the adjoining neighbors are any too pleased with it. The Board of Historic Preservation really screwed the pooch with this call.

    And I’m not sure why a 50’s era split level is not in keeping with other houses surrounding McKennan, after all it was only 30 years older than the McDowell’s house built in 1924. The north side on 21st with the iconic boulevards has an unassuming mix of smaller homes including what I would call Cape Cod cottages and single level Ranch homes. Not every house facing McKennan is a mansion or “historic”. In fact they just bulldozed a house on the corner of 26th and 4th that reminded me of a house built by a crazed handyman with numerous tacky add-ons. What a mess that house was.

  7. Further proof that ‘Shape Places’ is chucked full of issues. Before the ordinance went into effect, the neighbors could have spoke at a CUP hearing and could have negotiated with their neighbor with what they would like to see and had some kind of compromise. They don’t have to anymore. This is what happens when you ramrod a 400 page ordinance change through one vote, in one night. Gigantic POS.

  8. The torn down house appeared to be a good fit for any of the 50’s era neighborhoods of Sioux Falls. A tad bit run down, but serviceable. Anywhere else in town and a young couple would have bought it, slapped some paint on it and called it home. The style of it was out of place for the block it was on, but the scale of it was appropriate. The people building the new house obviously haven’t taken a Dale Carnegie course, because they have managed to p/o all of their neighbors before ever meeting them.

  9. Curious: if I want to live in McKennan Park, what obligation do I have to build my new house within a few narrow architectural parameters dictated by my neighbors?

  10. Francis Schaffer

    Is this ‘learning experience’ also a thought experience? If I judge by the quotes from the mayor, I think not.

  11. Deb Geelsdottir

    The issue of tearing down a neighborhood house and replacing it with a much bigger one is a pretty hot one. It’s gotten considerable media attention here. Neighbors complain that the new houses block the sun, affecting their homes and gardens. The new houses are often built on artificially raised ground level causing real drainage problems and flooding. They don’t fit the lot. Neighbors don’t want the lots to be like some of those nearer downtown where you can reach out your window and touch the neighbor’s house. There’s more, but I don’t remember all the details.

    The stink got big enough that cities ordered moratoriums and then code changes were made. The uproar has subsided now.

  12. I know there’s plenty of code on the books! My church recently sold our church building because it was just too big and needed too much work for our small congregation to afford so we sold. Our plan was to find a rental space for now but we’ve had two promising locations fall through because they didn’t make city codes. One was just over the number of parking spots! On the best Sun. we wouldn’t have a dozen cars in the lot! Got to wonder if these codes are selectively enforced!!

  13. At what point did Huether, Darrin Smith and the city planning department NOT KNOW they were building a tall two-story home hardly six feet along the south wall of the McDowell home? Just follow the steps to build a home. You draft plans, hire a qualified contractor, get the financing and hand in your plans to the city building office to review the plans and request a building permit. After these trained professionals review the plans for your tall, two-story home sited hardly six feet along the wall of a one-story home, these city employees know what it will look like and whether it is in violation of city ordinances and zoning criteria. Then they issue the permit and the contractor starts building.

    All of this happens before any work starts on the site.

    Huether is just lying when he shows up months later to express shock and declare it a “learning experience.” Why doesn’t the mighty Sanford Leader editorial board crack down on this big fat lie and expose it? They didn’t beam that house in and, whoop, there it is!

  14. The previous house was pretty ugly and in relatively poor shape. I should know since it was our home. LOL! I am not surprised that they chose to tear it down, given the number of structural limitations that existed. I am surprised that there was so little oversight in terms of what was built. I guess when you are “proud people” who abhor any governmental intrusion, this is what happens.

  15. Peter Melley

    An inspection of an older photo on Zillow shows no perceivable difference in the location (i.e. spacing between homes) of the original house and the new construction. I have provided the link, below. The new dwelling is higher by one story which makes it look bigger then the single story to the north.

    If location of the house has not changed doesn’t that mean the McDowell family is being a bad neighbor because they are complaining and using public opinion to hurt their neighbors.

  16. Peter, I get the impression that one extra story is the big deal. Whatever sunlight the northerly neighbors received, they get none now. Are there provisions in city ordinance for sunlight exposure?

  17. Peter Melley

    caheidelberger, the city approved the plans. This park area is a very prestigious area and very expensive I do not see the city planners making a oversight in this case. I believe they (City Planners) would have implemented the rules fairly for all.
    Also, just like any city looking to rejuvenate an area where the housing is old and substandard by today’s building standards new construction must be allowed. It seems like the neighbors have an axe to grind and are pursuing a campaign of hate and accusation against everyone including their new neighbors and the city officials.

  18. Peter and previous owner Cathy (!!!) get me thinking about the market. I see lots of fine old houses with character. Those houses don’t sell, because most up-and-comers want the newest and best. They don’t want to be cramped in what 100 years ago would have felt like a palace any more than they want to use a 100-year-old outhouse.

    I agree with 96Tears’s sense that the mayor is just playing this for publicity. There is no role for the mayor in this situation, unless there has been a complete breakdown of protocols in the planning and zoning department.

  19. Cory: “Are there provisions in city ordinance for sunlight exposure?”

    None that apply in this case, because the new home being built isn’t over 35 feet high (which is the limit). Truth is, they aren’t violating any codes here. The height, setback requirements, and total footprint in relation to lot size are all within guidelines and there are zero code violations here.

    I’ll admit I don’t like the home because if dwarfs those around it and in its current state appears to be a very large box. However once the exterior siding, trim, and other details go on I’m sure it will look much better. It still will dwarf the homes around it, but there is nothing against code or the law that says you can’t build a huge home next to smaller homes.

    If I lived next to them I’d hate the house and I would hate losing the sunlight, the views from the southern windows, and the fact that it will most certainly have a negative impact upon my property value in the future. However – when we buy property it is our duty to understand the zoning and codes and we should always be aware of what might happen in the future.

    I’m sympathetic, but there really isn’t much that can be done here. The Mayor’s visit was more for appearances than anything because he knows as well as anyone that there is nothing anyone can do here. If the city would have rejected the plans for the new structure they would need justification for doing so, and since it abides by all codes and regulations they would have a hard time explaining why it isn’t ok. It would also have opened them up for a lawsuit which they most certain would have lost.

    It is unfortunate that the Sapienzas haven’t even moved in yet and they already have alienated their neighbors and almost anyone who has a passing interest in architecture and the beauty of the McKennan Park area. Of course they are in good company – they just have to look across the park at the Northeast corner to find another homeowner who modified a historic home to fit their modern desires without any consideration for their neighbors or the historic charm of the neighborhood.

    Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. The ironic thing about it is Josh Sapienga’s twitter profile includes the descriptor of “consciously considering impact”. If the end result of his consideration of impact is the house that is being built I’d argue he needs to spend a bit more time on the conscious part of it.

    In case you’re curious what the old place looked like:

    BTW, I’m sure the Sapienzas didn’t build their home with the idea that they would cause harm to their neighbors or that it would be controversial. I’m sure they are good people who just wanted to build their dream home in a beautiful part of our city. The real issue here is a lack of city codes that enforce sizing of homes in relationship to their neighbors when a home is being built on an existing lot where a prior structure previously existed.

    The city also should require more modern setbacks if a property is being razed – because the new modern codes should apply to new construction. Had they kept the original foundation then I could see grandfathering in the setbacks, but with all new construction they should have had to adapt the plan to modern setbacks which I believe in this case would be 7 feet at the nearest point.

  20. Peter Melley


    I have another image for you from ( seen below. It is possible to zoom in and rotate around to get a sense of the spacing between the 2 houses prior to the demolition. The scale is 50 foot. I’m measuring a space of about 7.5 foot between houses. I would argue there is little to no change. See for yourself.

    I agree it does seem people are prejudging before the finished product has been completed.

    Each lot in that row of houses is a different size. Those houses were obviously built as a one of one well over 50 years ago. Buy a lot build a house when the influx of people supported that style of buying and building.

    The Sapienzas house is being constructed right next to a 2 story house to the South. There are other 2 story houses in that block and on the other side of the park. The house to the North is on a very very small piece of land. Looks to me about 50 foot wide. There are also houses around the park with similar spacing between homes.

    I don’t believe venting one’s personnel anger over change in the Argus and on Kelo to gain pubic condemnation makes for a good neighbor. I found you response sensible and well worded. I suggest welcoming the Sapienza family and the neighborhood should show people just how nice and welcoming they can be.

  21. Peter I’d agree with you that the spacing between hasn’t changed. The scaffolding which is currently setup for the construction clearly allows us to calculate scale and they are no closer to the property line than the prior home was. The main difference here is the newer home is probably 34′ tall whereas the old roof line on the split foyer home was probably in the 20′ range closest to the property line (due to the hip roof design) which would have allowed the neighbors much more southern light and exposure.

    So I do understand the McDowell’s disappointment in the situation because if I was in their shoes I’d be upset as well. From their perspective the new neighbor is taking something away from them that they have had for over 20 years (the view and the sunlight) – and they know they will never be able to get it back… so perhaps some of their responses are based in frustration. I can’t say if the McDowell’s reached out to the Argus or KELO to vent or if they reached out to them, but it does sound as if the McDowell’s tried to speak with the city on several occasions but got nowhere.

    It is sad to see neighbors arguing before they are even neighbors, but property disputes are very personal things and I’m guessing there will be a grudge which will likely only go away when one of the homes is sold to the next generation of buyers.

    Such is life, but there are lessons to be learned here. First, the city should strengthen codes when it comes to historic neighborhoods, and if structures are planned to be closer to property lines than current code allows, then adjoining neighbors should need to grant approval. They may also consider restricting new structures to a specific percentage larger or higher than any structures which were demolished.

    In this case I’m sure some communication up front may have resulted in minor changes to the plan which would result in both families being satisfied with the end result. I’m not suggesting the Sapienza’s had to do such a thing or that they broke any rules… but talking things out before the first shovel of dirt was moved would have been the ‘neighborly’ thing to do even if the neighbors are reluctant to listen.

  22. I am trying very hard to tell myself not to get tied to any piece of property. The land will never stay the way we want it. We’ll never win the argument, because far too often it will come down to, “I want things my way!” and not some good legal or moral principle.

    Dream home, said Craig: indeed, who are we to deny our neighbors’ their dream homes, on their legally acquired land, within the legally prescribed zoning parameters?

  23. Deb Geelsdottir

    St. Paul has a neighborhood known as Summit Hill. It’s a neighborhood of 100+ year old houses that are privately owned and beautifully maintained. The people who live in them hold an annual tour of the houses. I think the cost of the tour is $25, and it’s very popular. The tour covers usual annual expenses for the association.

    It wasn’t always so. Creating the association and becoming an historic district required a great deal of work. Now the Summit Hill district is on the list of tourist must-sees and the city supports it due to the economic benefits.

    For more information on how Summit Hill managed that transition, here is their website:

    If a neighborhood in SF wants to do something similar, talk to them. It can pay off. Good luck.