More housing, less driving in Minneapolis 2040’s first draft

Linden Hills Festival-goers write feedback on the city's proposed long-range plan.
Linden Hills Festival-goers write feedback on the city's proposed long-range plan.

The City of Minneapolis is trying to figure out where to house more people. The current population of 416,000 is projected to grow to 465,000 by 2040.

“We can put our head in the sand and say we don’t want change, but it will happen anyway,” Planning Manager Jack Byers told residents last May at the Black Forest Inn.

Minneapolis 2040 is the city’s plan that will guide land use and policy ideas for the next 10 years, with an eye toward the year 2040. For the first time, solving racial inequity is a major issue guiding land use. The draft plan is based on the idea that as the city grows, everyone must benefit.

The city’s population was larger in 1950 — 520,000 people — but at that time, between seven and nine people often lived in the city’s three-bedroom homes, Byers said. Today, it’s often one or two in a home.

In the past 10 years, developers have typically built “mini-mansions” near the lakes or six-story apartment buildings along the Midtown Greenway, Byers said. Now the city is looking at new zoning districts to encourage more types of housing throughout the city. Allowing single-family houses to split into several units within the same building footprint is one example.

Built Form Map

The draft proposal guides the scale of development for every parcel of land in the city

Southwest map

Interior 1
INTERIOR 1 – Up to four units on a traditional residential lot, rising 1-2.5 stories.
Interior 2 Up to four units on a traditional residential lot, rising 1-2.5 stories. Lots could combine to create multifamily buildings.
INTERIOR 2 – Up to four units on a traditional residential lot, rising 1-2.5 stories. Lots could combine to create multifamily buildings.
Interior 3
INTERIOR 3 – 1-3 stories
Corridor 4
CORRIDOR 4 – 1-4 stories
Corridor 6
CORRIDOR 6 – 2-6 stories
Transit 10 2-10 stories
TRANSIT 10 – 2-10 stories
Transit 15
TRANSIT 15 – 4-15 stories
Transit 20
TRANSIT 20 – 6-20 stories
Transit 30
TRANSIT 30 – 8-30 stories
Production
PRODUCTION – 1-10 stories on land typically used for transportation and jobs.

Apart from adding housing, city officials are currently investigating new policies that would address affordability and gentrification.

The proposed density in the long-range “comprehensive plan” isn’t finalized — public input continues through July 22, the council would adopt the plan in December, and an update of the zoning code would take about three years to complete, according to staff. But the first draft suggests bold changes.

On streets like Nicollet Avenue in Southwest Minneapolis and Central Avenue in Northeast, reworked zoning districts would allow 2-6 stories or more. Key spots like the Kmart site at Nicollet & Lake could hold 4-15 stories, and areas near Hennepin & Central could see 8-30 stories. Portions of land northwest of Bde Maka Ska between the Greenway and Excelsior Boulevard could be zoned for 8-30 stories. The heart of Uptown at Hennepin & Lake could be zoned for 2-10 stories. Part of the North Loop might open to 30-story buildings.

“The density that we’re calling for is substantial in terms of other cities,” said Heather Worthington, the city’s director of long-range planning. “…I don’t know other cities that are calling for that level of change. Again, it’s a draft at this point. But I think other cities aren’t experiencing the level of challenges that we are, either, and the level of development pressure.”

Minneapolis has the widest nationwide unemployment disparity between African American and white residents, according to the Economic Policy Institute. And while median income for white residents has improved since the recession, for African Americans, median income has dropped.

“We have a community that’s not working for everyone. We have haves and have-nots, and we need to get ahead of that and fix that, or we’re not going to be sustainable in the future,” Worthington said.

Think of the city’s “comprehensive plan” like Jenga, she said, where the pieces interlock as part of a very complex city.

“Minneapolis is not just a collection of neighborhoods, and it’s not just your block,” she said. “… I’ve asked people in Southwest if they’ve been to North Minneapolis lately, and not a hand goes up. … It’s hard to think outside of your immediate reality, and I think that’s what we’re asking people to do, and I think that’s hard stuff.”

Policy ideas aiming to fix racial disparities include a focus on pre-K, support for small businesses, better job opportunities for people with less education and more affordable housing near transit.

The environment is another theme in the plan. A goal to dramatically reduce car trips would aim to address climate change, but also help people who can’t afford a car or are driving less as they age.

“Even if we were able to decrease our car trips by one or two a week, we would start to see significant impact,” Worthington said. “…We are a very car-centered world.”

To get there, the city would add retail closer to homes, use street designs that prioritize walking over cars, and incentivize transit use and zero emissions technology.

“Nothing is finalized,” Worthington said. “I want people to know that we’re taking their comments very seriously and that they will shape the final draft.”

A sample of the 97 policy ideas proposed in the city’s draft comprehensive plan

 Create housing for residents of all income levels

Create housing for residents of all income levels

Minneapolis added more than 12,000 units between 2010-2016, but lost nearly 15,000 rental units since 2000 that are considered affordable to people making half the area median income (affordable to a single person making $31,650 or a family of four making $45,200 in 2017). The issue is compounded by rising rents and decreasing wages for renters. The city currently spends $10 million annually to produce and preserve affordable housing.

— Find ways to retain naturally-occurring affordable housing.

— Find ways to build housing types that few are developing today, including space for large families.

— Remove barriers for creative housing options, such as co-ops and bungalow courts.

Design for pedestrians

Design for pedestrians

Cars would be the city’s last priority in the design of buildings and streets. The city would first prioritize walking, followed by cycling and transit, and lastly cars.

The city would frown on new surface parking lots, drive-throughs and gas stations. It would encourage street-level activity and windows.

— Design narrow streets with wide sidewalks, and minimize vehicle curb cuts.

— Continue to build a bikeway network.

Add retail close to homes

Add retail close to homes

This proposal would provide more flexibility to add commercial space, such as a bookshop operating out of a house on a busy street. People take more trips running errands than going to work, so adding commercial space dovetails with the goal of reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

— Allow more commercial space in areas with frequent transit.

Reduce the numbers of people driving alone

Reduce the numbers of people driving alone

In Minneapolis, 9 out of 10 trips are taken in personal automobiles. To meet the city goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the number of car trips would need to decline by 37 percent.

— Give people the chance to meet their daily needs closer to home.

— Enforce the city’s idling ordinance, which limits idling to no more than three minutes.

— Encourage car-sharing and bike-sharing.

Tenant protections

Photo by Steel Brooks
Photo by Steel Brooks

More than half of Minneapolis residents are renters.

— Expand landlord participation in Section 8 vouchers that subsidize rents.

— Ensure tenants and landlords are aware of their rights.

— Reduce evictions, support tenants’ rights organizations.

Expand homeownership

Expand homeownership - Graph courtesy City of Minneapolis

— Support groups that counsel homebuyers, especially those with low incomes and people of color.

Minimize displacement

Minimize displacement - Image courtesy City of Minneapolis

— Watch for early changes in neighborhood rents.

— Prioritize affordable housing in new development.

Expand production and processing jobs

Expand production and processing jobs

The city wants more employers like the Peace Coffee roastery, Kemps on West Broadway  and Coloplast, the medical equipment supplier on West River Road. For people without college degrees, these jobs offer much higher wages than other sectors like retail and food service.

— Open historically industrial land for production and processing.

Ensure all Minneapolitans live within a 10-minute walk of a park

Ensure all Minneapolitans live within a 10-minute walk of a park

Ninety-seven percent of residents live within 10 minutes of a park, with the exception of small pockets of the city.

— Build new parks where needed.

— Make parks welcoming to all, regardless of age and cultural background.

— Create open spaces and public plazas as part of new development.

Eliminate off-street parking minimums in new construction

Eliminate off-street parking minimums in new construction throughout the city

— The marketplace, rather than city regulation, should determine the right amount of off-street parking, according to city staff.

Improve the land surrounding present and future METRO stations

Improve the land surrounding present and future METRO stations - Image courtesy Metropolitan Council
Image courtesy Metropolitan Council

— Develop affordable housing near stations.

— Break up large blocks into small, walkable blocks.

— Hide parking and prohibit park-and-ride lots.

— Add plazas and open spaces.

How to handle skyways

How to handle skyways

— Encourage new retail to open at street-level.

— Keep skyways transparent, help walkers navigate them, and limit them to the downtown core.

Eliminate serious injury and death caused by crashes

Eliminate serious injury and death caused by crashes

— Protect pedestrians through speed limits and design decisions.

— Create a task force to investigate the issue.

Boost creative jobs

Boost creative jobs

Creative jobs in Minneapolis have grown 10.4 percent since 2006, although people of color are under-represented in the sector. The city reports that creative sales generated $4.5 billion for the local economy in 2015, nearly eight times the revenue from sports.

— Encourage affordable spaces for creative work.

— Encourage public art projects.

Increase the tree canopy

Increase the tree canopy

Trees provide energy savings, absorb carbon and improve air quality.

— Keep or add trees to new development.

— Add to the tree canopy, carefully place boulevard trees.

Eliminate homelessness

Eliminate homelessness

Stable and safe housing is at the core of these efforts.

— Prevent evictions, and provide timely emergency rental assistance.

— The emergency shelter system should help make homelessness as brief as possible.

— Deepen partnerships related to job training.

Address health hazards in housing

Address health hazards in housing

Hazards include lead, mold, pests and radon. Indoor air quality is more important as people increasingly spend time inside — the EPA says people spend 93 percent of their time indoors.

Improve air quality

Improve air quality

— Install technology at gas stations to reduce benzene emissions.

— Boost enforcement of laws related to noise, after-hours work and excessive dust.

Expand access to healthy food

Expand access to healthy food

Eleven census tracts in low-income areas are located more than a mile from a full-service grocery store.

— Expand areas where grocery stores are allowed.

— Take steps to attract new grocers to low-income areas.

— Explore regulations that discourage unhealthy food outlets.

— Consider changing regulations to allow more urban agriculture and greenhouses.

— Support soil testing for gardens, and consider selling land for market gardens.

Support new transportation technology

Support new transportation technology

— Advocate for new tech to be tested and deployed on city streets, such as automated vehicles or drones used for shipping freight.

— Support the infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Strengthen downtown

Strengthen downtown

— Promote the growth and retention of downtown businesses.

— Continue to support the growing downtown population.

Boost the frequency, speed and reliability of public transit

Boost the frequency, speed and reliability of public transit

About 18 percent of Minneapolis households don’t have a car.

— Encourage priority transit lanes.

Encourage renewable and carbon-free energy

Encourage renewable and carbon-free energy

Xcel Energy’s projected 2021 fuel mix for the Upper Midwest includes 30 percent wind and 10 percent other renewable sources.

— Develop a city-owned renewable energy concept.

— Study CenterPoint Energy’s renewable natural gas programs.

Meet zero-waste goals

Meet zero-waste goals

— Recycle or compost half of the waste stream by 2020.

— Expand organics recycling for apartments, and incentivize businesses to compost.

— Expand recycling in public spaces.

Learn more at minneapolis2040.com

 

Frequently asked questions

Q: If you rezone my area, will I lose my house?

A: “Absolutely not,” said Heather Worthington, the city’s director of long-range planning. Though the U.S. Supreme Court made it possible for cities to take property under eminent domain for the purpose of economic development, the state of Minnesota heavily restricts that power, she said. The Legislature says eminent domain can only be used for a public purpose, and growing the tax base does not by itself constitute a public purpose.

Q: What will happen to the Shoreland Overlay District (which requires meeting certain conditions to build above 2.5 stories near the shoreline)?

A: “Of course we’re going to protect the lakes,” said Worthington, who added that agencies like the Dept. of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency require the city to do so.

In the future, the city may work to simplify its zoning code and fold the overlay districts into the overarching zoning. The main intent of the state statute that led to the Shoreland Overlay relates to stormwater management and water quality, according to the city.

“We’re aware of [the overlay], and we won’t violate it, and we’re looking at how we can make it more understandable and usable,” Worthington said.

Q: What about neighborhood-led “small area plans” previously adopted by the city?

A: These plans are dealt with one by one. City staff wove each small area plan in to the larger draft plan. Where there are differences, they are explained, Worthington said.

Brian Schaffer, a Minneapolis principal project coordinator, said small area plans are based on outdated city policies. Now the city has 14 goals based on community input that are driving city policy.

To check a particular plan and provide feedback, visit the Small Area Plans tab at minneapolis2040.com.

Q: Will this plan lead to gentrification and displacement?

A: Housing policies in development seek to address this issue. Worthington said no city in the country has solved this problem, however.

“I believe that we can find a way to do investment and not have it result in gentrification,” she said.

The city is exploring options to incentivize and require affordable housing in new market-rate development. Other ideas would prioritize keeping affordable housing in places where displacement is happening, and expand programs that support low-income homeowners.

Q: These policy ideas seem vague.

A: That’s intentional, Worthington said. Details will come out of actions like the subsequent update to the zoning code, and an update to the city’s 10-year transportation plan.

Q: Does the city population need to increase? Can a city be full?

A: Population growth will happen with or without a plan, according to city staff. The city is required by state law to conduct land use planning, and the city has gone beyond those requirements in order to implement goals adopted by the City Council, staff said.

How to weigh in

The initial comment period ends July 22. Visit minneapolis2040.com, where each policy ends with a green box for comment.

People can also submit comments tied directly to a city map.

General emails can go to 2040@minneapolismn.gov.

A Ward 10 meeting to discuss the comprehensive plan is Wednesday, July 11, 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. at James Ballentine VFW Post 246, located at 2916 Lyndale Ave. S.

Minneapolis 2040 2

 

  • Sans Comedy

    This is an incredibly sensitive and thoughtful plan for growth. It’s absolutely ridiculous how quickly the debate around this plan has become fact free and reactionary.

    I would advise those who disagree with the plan to cut out the hyperbole. Conjuring up images of bulldozers and Soviet Bloc housing sounds good in an echo chamber, but when you come out and say these things in public you sound as ridiculous as Sarah Palin did screeching about death panels.

    As it stands, no neighborhoods are in danger of ‘extinction.’ Multifamily housing already exists in most neighborhoods in Minneapolis, and this plan requires any new multiunit developments in residential corridors to have the same built form requirements and setbacks as the homes around them. The only distinction between a fourplex and a SFH will be the number of mailboxes. This is not an end-times level crisis like the yard signs and reactionaries online claim it to be!

    Engage the plan based on the facts if you disagree with higher density zoning in your area.

  • Jed Weisser

    Clearly you have not been to a Mpls Planning Commission meeting in the recent past. The city, citing this plan, is approving variances for all major developers without regard of the effect to the immediate community. I know this because they just approved a site plan for a market rate studio apartment building on my block, with variances for setback, height, parking, FAR and (believe it or not) the number of plants on site. Over the last several months of attending these meetings, I have seen developers all being granted the same for very similar site plans. The commonality being pack as many units as possible onto very small parcels of land, with most units averaging less than 550 sq. ft. Please tell me how these studio and one bedroom complexes going up all over the city are addressing affordable housing for families, gentrification, or inequality? Everyone understands the need for more housing, but rubberstamping developers in order to throw up cheap buildings as quickly as possible is not good city planning. These things should be done with careful consideration over time.

  • Sans Comedy

    These variances are being granted because these buildings already exist throughout the city. We fit denser properties with smaller square footages in Minneapolis in the past, and not just downtown.

    We downzoned large areas of Minneapolis in the 1970s and made many multifamily properties illegal in the process. Duplexes that existed citywide in the decades that followed lost their grandfathered status and became giant single family homes. You’re wondering what happened to affordable housing for families? We made it illegal.

    It’s not possible to both have a city where property is both affordable and preserves the status quo exactly as it is today. It’s not. The land alone prices otherwise affordable properties out of the hands of many, and once it reaches a certain price point, it’s more attractive to tear down and rebuild a McMansion, at which point neighborhood character is lost anyway.

    If it’s legal to tear down a house Minneapolis and build a 6500sq ft monstrosity as long as just one family lives there, it should be just as legal to build a house that conforms to setbacks and neighborhood height that happens to house four units.

  • Harrison

    While discussion often centers to the fourplexes, actually much bigger change faces neighbors who live near the transit routes, shown on the map in the article above as the darker lines snaking through southwest. If you think a fourplex would change the character of your block then an apartment building of 4-6 stories where you have single family and duplexes today Will be a real shock. To the point below about variances, the city is liberal today granting CUPs and variances over neighborhood objections- and the 2040 plan codifies that – for example corridor 4 (eg Sheridan Ave s) would be zoned for “ four stories or higher” if the building included affordable housing. So does that mean 6 stories? 8? 10? It’s crazy the plan doesn’t even pretend to put a cap on it, and the starting limit is more appropriate for uptown than far away from downtown.

  • Jed Weisser

    Yah, We’re not talking about duplexes here, or even fourplexes, which I have no real issue with. The city isn’t approving new duplexes or fourplexes, they are approving the demolition of existing duplexes (which were affordable for families) in order to make way for large scale apartment buildings (filled with studio apartments) that physically dwarf the neighboring properties.
    These new buildings focus on transient, corporate singles with disposable income and no real ties to the neighborhood, not on affordable housing for families or lower income folks. Here is a link to the agenda for the next planning commission meeting: http://www.minneapolismn.gov/meetings/planning/WCMSP-212391 Please take a look and see how many requests there are for an allowance to build a du, tri, or fourplex. Then, compare that to the number of requests for zoning changes and variance allowances for 100-300 unit complexes.

  • MyNickel

    Actually I saw very little as far as actionable plans in this grandious “plan”. Lovely thoughts, what about the how? Upzoning the whole city really does absolutely nothing to accomplish the real goals, only increases density, likely where there is nowhere near enough transit to justify it. Cart before the horse in that issue, improve transit first and the denser housing comes, as we already have seen. And all the little shops? You still need to get to Target or Walmart for affordable sundries and affordable grocery stores then get them all home.

  • Michael Dietrich Madej

    edit: oops.

    You’re quite literally arguing for the status quo right now… cities
    require corporate transients and disposable income to function. This
    plan even includes the map for the intended area for this plan. Looks
    great by the way

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