Rezoning the Greenway

A major rezoning study will make official the vision of Minneapolis laid out in the Uptown and Lyn-Lake small-area plans. It’s also stirring plenty of emotions.

A massive rezoning study is giving Minneapolis residents west to east something on which to relate: the queasiness of change.

The city could be within a couple of months of finishing the groundwork it needs to pursue its vision for the area around the Midtown Greenway, the transit way that stretches from city border to city border. Planning staff has marked about 1,500 parcels for zoning changes, ranging from the relatively minute to the fairly major.

Staff used previously approved plans — including the Uptown and Lyn-Lake small-area plans — to determine the changes, plans that in some cases took years to develop. But it’s the first time residents are able to see literally where their own properties fall within the plans. And that has created plenty of unease.

Wedge resident Sue Bode said she pictures a future surrounded by renters. East Calhoun resident Gary Farland balked at the thought of high-density housing along Lake Calhoun’s northwest corner. And Whittier resident Kris Martinson said any changes around her home would be the last straw — she’s ready to move.

City representatives said worries aren’t unexpected when dealing with so much change at once. But they also said residents shouldn’t feel too caught off-guard.

“It’s the implementation of a lot of plans that took years and years,” planner Amanda Arnold said. “It may seem fast, but it’s really a technical implementation measure. We’ve been planning along the Midtown Greenway almost nonstop for five years. We don’t feel this is a new concept for folks.”

Setting preferences

When a parcel gets a new zoning designation, it doesn’t come with a timeline for change. It could happen immediately; it might never. What a rezoning does do is define what the city wants for a parcel while mostly closing the door to development proposals that veer from those preferences.

When the city has wants for a swath of parcels — say, the entirety of a ward — a large study is performed to identify the small changes to achieve the macro vision. Recent examples include the 46th Street Station Area Rezoning Study (which proposed changes to 49 parcels), the 38th Street Rezoning Study East (33 parcels), and the Nicollet Franklin Rezoning Study (28 parcels).  The biggest recent rezoning occurred in the late 1990s, when zoning codes were updated citywide.

The Midtown Greenway Rezoning Study, as planning staff is calling the latest study, basically lays out preferences for the area around the entire Greenway. Arnold said the study, which took about a year to put together, has three goals: to prohibit development that doesn’t fit the future land-use plans, to encourage development that does fit those plans and to meet a legal requirement for the city’s zoning to match adopted plans.

Rezoning residential

Most of the Southwest parcels examined in the Midtown Greenway Rezoning Study currently are zoned residential. If all goes according to the planning staff’s plan, that’s not expected to change. The type of residential zoning, however — that’s a different story.

For example, much of the southern portion of Hennepin Avenue marked up in the study — from about 32nd to 36th streets — currently is zoned R2B, for single- and two-family dwellings. Proposed is a step up, to the medium-density R3, a multiple-family zoning where buildings’ heights are limited to two-and-a-half stories.

That’s a relatively small change, especially when compared to a portion of Harriet Avenue just south of the Greenway. There, homes also currently zoned R2B are marked for an upzoning to R5, a high-density, multiple-family district that allows building up to four stories tall.

It’s there where resident concerns have seeped in.

Martinson, who said she’s ready to pack up and move to the countryside if the rezoning goes through, has lived on that portion of Harriet Avenue for many years. She’s done many renovations to her Victorian-era home, and she doesn’t really want to leave. She wants to do more renovation work — but not if she’d know that the future could bring a four-story apartment building next door.

Not that she’s shocked by the study. Its proposals adhere closely to the ideas in the Lyn-Lake Small Area Plan, approved earlier this year. But Martinson wasn’t happy then, and she isn’t happy now.

Farland, of East Calhoun, said he is concerned about the aforementioned Hennepin Avenue changes. That’s not so much because R3 represents a major change from R2B, he said. Rather, he said he sees it as an example of the flaws in calling the zoning study a direct translation of the small-area plans.

The Uptown Small-Area Plan calls the future of that stretch of Hennepin a “community corridor.” But, Farland asked, would that be best achieved through the current single- to two-family housing designation or through a multiple-family housing designation? That’s debatable, he said — which is exactly his concern. He wants more time to hash that out. (The public got its first peek at the study in August. The council is expected to consider the rezonings in November.)

Apples, oranges

Farland’s worries don’t stop at Hennepin Avenue. He also is wondering why the city wants the rezoning study to adhere so closely to the small-area plan while the City Council used the plan more as guidance, he said, when considering a recent development proposal.

That development is the five-story mixed-use building recently approved for the intersection of Lake Street and Knox Avenue, a project that created disdain among Southwest neighborhood groups who said it broke from the Uptown Small Area Plan. The council rejected a citizens’ appeal to block the project after finding that a height noted in the small-area plan was a “preferred height” — not an actual limit.

Council Member Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) said Farland’s argument is flawed. Putting the rezoning study and the Lake and Knox projects side by side is like comparing apples to oranges, he said. The study creates a structure for the city to be able to guide and control the direction of future development proposals, Lilligren said. In other words, the study creates the groundwork for dealing with any future Lake and Knox-type projects.

Enough input?

Down the Greenway, on the east side of Interstate 35W, exists a different type of concern. There, representatives of the Central neighborhood are wondering whether they’ve been left out. That’s because the land-use plan used to create the rezoning suggestions in their region — 2007’s Midtown Greenway Land Use and Development Plan — didn’t involve a representative from their neighborhood. (Several Southwest neighborhoods, however, were represented.)

Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, whose 8th Ward includes Central, said she is looking into how the neighborhood could get more input.

“I’m in a big question-asking mode right now,” Glidden said.

Lilligren, who also represents parts of the Greenway outside of Southwest, said he hasn’t heard much in the way of complaints from his constituents. (The association representing Lilligen’s only Southwest neighborhood, Whittier, last month voted to go case by case through the rezonings before passing judgment on the entire study.) He added that he wouldn’t oppose delaying approval of the study if that’s found to be necessary.

Before the council could implement any delays, though, the rezonings first have to go through the city Planning Commission. It will consider the portion of the rezoning study east of I-35W at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 13 and the portion west of I-35W at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 26. Both meetings will be held in council chambers of City Hall, 350 S. 5th St., and will include public hearings for residents to voice their worries.

“I don’t necessarily see all of this concern as being a bad thing,” Lilligren said. “I see it as people getting engaged. I’m encouraged by it, actually.”

Reach Cristof Traudes at 436-5088, [email protected] or