Minneapolis leaders on Thursday released a 20-year blueprint for how the city should grow, envisioning a more densely populated city that seeks to reduce racial inequities and fight climate change.
The draft of the city’s comprehensive plan, three years in the making and still several months from completion, would rewrite zoning for large swaths of the city. Under the plan, buildings would rise higher without making room for more parking.
One component of the plan, allowing construction of multifamily buildings with up to four units in every neighborhood, became public earlier this month. It already faces opposition from some council members and neighborhood groups, while others are rallying behind the idea. Roughly two-thirds of the city is now zoned for only single-family homes or duplexes.
Fourplexes no taller than 2½ stories would be allowed on every residential lot in Minneapolis, and developers would be permitted to build larger — but not taller — apartment buildings on multiple lots in neighborhoods from Lowry Avenue in the north to 38th Street in the south.
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The plan will guide a 2019 update of the city’s zoning ordinance and would eliminate a patchwork of classifications across the city.
“This comprehensive plan seeks to be a clearer document for developers and community members,” said Heather Worthington, the city’s long-range planning director.
In addition to the fourplex proposal, the plan proposes to eliminate off-street parking minimums for all new development and prohibit new drive-through businesses or gas stations.
Hundreds of blocks throughout the city along bus routes — now often zoned for single-family homes — would be zoned to allow larger buildings on multiple lots up to four stories tall.
Properties along some high-traffic routes — such as Chicago Avenue, Nicollet Avenue, Central Avenue or West Broadway — would be zoned to allow six-story buildings. Buildings in the core of downtown Minneapolis would have to be a minimum of eight stories.
The city produced artistic renderings of what buildings in each of the “built-form districts” could look like.
Members of the Planning Commission on Thursday had mostly positive reactions to a presentation on the draft plan. They noted that the height of stories in buildings can vary, and welcomed specific guidelines about height and the reasons an exception could be granted.
“There’s part of me that really wants to hold the line on the building height and not give a conditional permit on, ‘Yeah, that seems reasonable,’ ” said Sam Rockwell, one of the commissioners. “I mean, there’s a lot of that on the Planning Commission right now because our comp plan and our zoning code don’t really mesh, but this is an opportunity to kind of reset that. And we’d like you to strengthen this language a little bit.”
City staff said they intentionally did not put height requirements in feet to allow the City Council to be as specific as it likes when it updates the zoning ordinance next year.
“It’s important to build in some level of flexibility as trends change and the market changes,” said Matt Brown, also a planning commissioner. “But my initial reaction is that some of what’s in our zoning code right now in terms of what’s allowed by right for height is really too low in many of the commercial districts and I think this, along many of the corridors where we’re seeing development, addresses that.”
The city went live with an interactive website on Thursday that includes about 100 policy statements connected to 14 goals developed over several months of public engagement. The city will accept public comment through July 22, and website users will be able to pull up the maps and comment on specific parcels or neighborhoods. Eventually, Minneapolis must produce a written document and, like all cities in the metro, submit it to the Metropolitan Council for approval at the end of the year.
City planners touted the draft plan as the first in Minneapolis to focus explicitly on promoting racial equity and include strategies for addressing climate change. The goal of increasing the supply and diversity of homes in the city is central to the plan, as Minneapolis prepares for further population growth with limited space for greenfield development.
Changing the city’s zoning maps to allow more density in more places, proponents argue, would give renters more options and put pressure on landlords to reduce prices. It would also correct what many view as the lingering effects of racist housing policies in the city’s zoning, which still ensure that huge swaths of the city are available to only those with the means to buy a single-family home.
The plan aims to promote job growth downtown and along transportation corridors, and it would create a new category of production and processing areas designated for industrial use.
The new maps also do away with “ill-defined” terms such as Activity Centers and Community Corridors, which city planners say did not give clear enough guidance on what could be built where.