Draft comprehensive plan goes live online

Minneapolis2040.com offers an interactive view of the city's next comprehensive plan

Lake & Hennepin in Uptown. File Photo

A draft of Minneapolis 2040, an update to the city’s comprehensive plan that continues to focus density along transportation corridors and opens all neighborhoods to fourplex construction, was released March 22 in the form of an interactive website.

Like past comprehensive plans, the document is meant to shape the future growth of Minneapolis, touching on land use, economic development and the natural environment. But this comprehensive plan — a draft that could change as the public offers feedback over the coming months — differs from those that came before, said Heather Worthington, the city’s director of long-range planning, because its guidelines are focused on two key city priorities: achieving racial equity and responding to climate change.

“It’s not just about infrastructure,” added Public Works Director Robin Hutcheson, who said the draft comprehensive plan places land-use and development planning “in a supporting role” to 14 goals identified last year by the City Council, such as increasing civic participation, improving the health and safety of Minneapolis residents and attracting new residents and jobs.

To address the creeping unaffordability of Minneapolis housing, the plan encourages new multifamily housing development in all parts of the city, including those currently zoned for single-family housing.

It also includes clearer, more specific guidance for new development, including a built form map that illustrates, parcel-by-parcel, the intended height and bulk of structures the city wants to see developed in the future. Vague area descriptions from past comprehensive plans, such as Activity Center and Community Corridor, have been replaced with 13 new built-form districts with titles like Interior 1 and Core 50.

“Hopefully, it will more clearly communicate what we want to see from development,” Joe Bernard, a principal city planner, said.

Taking an example from the current comprehensive plan, Bernard said that the definition of Activity Center described what type of use the city intended for the site but did not give specific guidance on the height of buildings. In some of those Activity Center districts, such as the core of Uptown around the Lake & Hennepin intersection, the height of new developments is a regular focus of community debate over new developments.

In Minneapolis 2040, even the lowest-intensity built-form district, Interior 1, allows for buildings of up to 2.5 stories with up to 4 units. Fourplexes are not currently allowed in many residential neighborhoods, and that aspect of the draft plan — leaked early and reported on by the Star Tribune — has already sparked debate.

But Minneapolis 2040 makes the case that change is necessary, noting that the city is growing faster today than it has since 1950. Since 2000, the city has lost an estimated 15,000 units considered affordable for those earning 50 percent of the area median income, and the number of households burdened by housing costs is growing. The city’s black, American Indian and Spanish-speaking residents are more likely than white and Asian residents to feel the pinch.

The new Corridor 6 district would allow buildings of two to six stories along high-frequency transit routes and near transit stations. Most of Nicollet Avenue south of downtown, as well as Hennepin and Lyndale avenues between downtown and Uptown, are proposed Corridor 6 districts. In Transit 10 districts, including the Uptown core, building heights of up to 10 stories would be allowed.

A separate land-use map shows the proposed guidelines for the types of uses allowed in different parts of the city, including varying intensities of mixed-use development depending on whether the area is intended to serve just the surrounding neighborhood (blocks adjacent to Hennepin Avenue south of Uptown), users of a transportation corridor (much of Nicollet Avenue south of downtown) or regional visitors drawn to a bustling destination (both Uptown and LynLake).

“Separating out the (land) use from the built form allows us to be more targeted and specific about the scale of development in these locations, so when a constituent wants to know what is allowed in what was formerly called an Activity Center near their property, they can get a much clearer answer,” Bernard said.

Suggested height guidelines were often addressed in small area plans, a patchwork of local planning documents for commercial nodes and corridors. The authors of Minneapolis 2040 say it was “informed” by the small area plans. But some of those plans will soon be in conflict with the new comprehensive plan.

For example, the Uptown Small Area Plan, adopted by the City Council in 2008, recommends heights of primarily three to five stories — but up to 84 feet in some cases — for the Activity Center in the area’s core. In the draft comprehensive plan, that core is one of the new Transit 10 districts, where building heights of up to 10 stories would be allowed and even taller buildings would get consideration if they meet other comprehensive plan goals.

“We would like to address the small area plan issue this time by retaining the things that are in the small area plans that help to guide those areas for development but think about in the future a process that would allow for more involvement on the part of the city directly in those planning processes,” Worthington said.

State law requires Minneapolis to update its comprehensive plan every 10 years, and the City Council is likely to vote on the adoption of Minneapolis 2040 in November. It must be sent to the Metropolitan Council for review by the end of 2018.

Once approved by the Met Council, “then it becomes a regulatory document,” Worthington explained.

“Then we can use this document to inform changes to regulations and policies like the zoning code,” she continued. “That’s the next step. So, in 2019 and ’20, we’ll be working on those regulatory and policy things that will flow from the (comprehensive plan).”

For any development proposals that come to the city in between adoption of a new comprehensive plan and the updating of the city zoning code, “we would sit down with them and try to talk through what’s coming so they can hopefully adjust that project to meet the new goals,” Worthington said.

She said the zoning code likely would be updated in late 2019.

Go to minneapolis2040.com to review the draft comprehensive plan and offer feedback. The deadline for comments is July 22.