A pro-density ordinance allowing developers to fill buildings with smaller apartments passed the City Council Friday over the objections of several council members.

Three of the four council members who opposed the change are under siege from stiff challengers in their re-election campaigns. Another stopped running because her opponent blocked her from winning the DFL endorsement this spring.

The ordinance change eliminated a regulation that limited the number of units developers could fit into new buildings to the size of the lots they are built on. Nixing the ordinance, which did not apply downtown, is expected to encourage more dense residential growth in busy corridors throughout the city.

Why? Because under the old rules, developers were forced to create fewer units of a larger size. Some, but not all, would have extra bedrooms. Now they can accomodate market demand for smaller apartments – as long as their size the city’s minimum – potentially packing more people in each building.

Other rules continue to limit density in the neighborhoods (see graphic above). There are limitations on the height of a building (often between two and six stories outside downtown), its bulkiness and requirements to have a certain amount of parking per unit.

Sandy Colvin Roy, one of the council members who opposed the change, said she worries about the parking constraints that will come with more residents living along transit corridors. The bill sponsor, Gary Schiff, noted that the change will actually force developers to build more parking, since parking requirements are dictated by number of units rather than bedrooms.

“I have a great concern not just about the parking, but … if there are too many people, absolute failure of some of the intersections in the area,” Colvin Roy said.

Meg Tuthill, another opponent, expressed concerns about parking and new high-density buildings inside neighborhoods.

“We need to protect, in my estimation, the streetscape that we have on the interior of the neighborhoods,” Tuthill said. “Along the transit corridors, along the corridors…this is where the additional density needs to be permitted. But when you get into the interior of our neighborhoods it’s an entirely different ballgame.”

Parking was not the top concern of Robert Lilligren, who voted against the change. He worries about historic buildings that co-exist with high-density high rises. “Those buildings are at-risk to being lost,” Lilligren said.

Also voting against the change was Diane Hofstede, who did not speak in opposition. Hofstede recently pursued a development moratorium in Dinkytown to block dense housing projects that have been proposed.

The city planning commission requested the elimination of the so-called "minimum lot area" (MLA) requirements because about 20 percent of major projects have received variances in the last four years.

Less dense housing zones would also retain the MLA requirements, preventing the change from having an impact far from commercial nodes.