Capping a nearly yearlong debate over how Minneapolis should grow, the City Council voted 12-1 Friday to approve the 2040 comprehensive plan, a far-reaching document that seeks a more densely populated, affordable and racially equitable city.
The 2040 plan has gained national attention for its citywide upzoning. It would allow the construction of multifamily housing, such as duplexes or triplexes, in neighborhoods that for decades have been reserved for single-family homes.
The nearly unanimous vote was a victory for City Council President Lisa Bender, whose advocacy for the plan overcame substantial opposition from residents who said it would lead to the bulldozing of neighborhoods.
Bender said the plan “sets a bold vision for our city to tackle racial exclusion in housing and climate change head on, but it does it in a way that is incremental and that is gentle.”
Also Friday, the council passed an interim inclusionary zoning ordinance introduced by Bender, which she has characterized as an essential companion to the comprehensive plan.
The change will require developers to include a certain number of affordable units with projects that need additional city approval.
Council Member Linea Palmisano, who represents the southwestern corner of the city, was the sole dissenting vote on the 2040 plan. She read a stern statement in which she expressed frustration with a public process that “has lacked transparency and accountability from the beginning.”
“I think we’ve done [residents] a disservice,” she said. “We’ve got the right goals. But we’ve got the wrong comp plan.”
Council Member Lisa Goodman, who until Friday’s meeting had remained silent on how she would vote, said the city didn’t do enough to quell people’s fears.
“This is a process that should’ve brought us together, not divided us,” she said.
Still, Goodman joined the majority to approve the plan, saying it had more positives than negatives.
Upzoning the city was not the only intent of the 2040 plan, though it was its most innovative and controversial. It also sought to eliminate racial disparities, fight climate change, increase transportation options and improve access to jobs.
The deliberations surrounding the plan were watched with curiosity around the country. Jeff Wood, a California-based urban planner who publishes a popular newsletter on the topic, said many were intrigued about Minneapolis’ bold goals for citywide upzoning and surprised at what seemed like a “consensus-driven process to change the way that development happens in a city.”
“It doesn’t seem like that’s ever been done in another city,” he said earlier this week. “So the fact that you got to a point where people could agree on even a little bit of change, even if it is a small increment, is a pretty big deal.”
Trust the process
Updating comprehensive plans are usually dry and unnoticed affairs, something required of all local governments in the metro area every 10 years. Minneapolis planners wanted to do something different.
They looked at ways the document could improve the lives of residents as tens of thousands more were expected to call Minneapolis their home. That meant addressing a housing shortage that disproportionately affects low-income and minority residents.
“As the city grows, everyone must benefit from that growth. Historically, not everyone has in Minneapolis,” Heather Worthington, the city’s director of long-range planning, said this week.
After years of work, the first draft of the plan was unveiled in March.
One of its most radical components was allowing the construction of multiunit buildings in every neighborhood.
Public comments began flowing in. Many residents of single-family neighborhoods organized in opposition to the proposed increase in density, arguing it would lead developers to raze “starter homes” and ratchet up prices for newly built units.
People on both sides of the debate organized. The pro-density Neighbors for More Neighbors and the anti-density Minneapolis for Everyone set up dueling lawn signs.
Defenders of single-family neighborhoods dominated the thousands of online comments submitted to the city. The plan changed: Instead of allowing fourplexes on single-family lots, planners scaled it back to triplexes and eased the density limits along transit corridors in areas furthest from downtown.
Public hearings held in the fall and a slew of amendments to specify language and upzoning maps carried the plan to its final version Friday. On Thursday, city attorneys fought off a last-minute lawsuit to block the vote.
Janne K. Flisrand, a volunteer for Neighbors for More Neighbors and former City Council candidate, said after the vote that she was thrilled.
“We as a city recognize that we have challenges that we have failed to address for decades,” Flisrand said. “We … are committed to doing the work that we need to do, even when it’s hard, even if we can’t always agree on how we need to do that work.”
Bruce Brunner, a Minneapolis resident who rehabs multifamily properties and is now building a triplex in the Lyndale neighborhood, said the plan would allow more people like him to build housing that doesn’t look so different from large single-family homes.
“This is not going to be some monumental change,” he said. “It’s a way for us to take what is already here and enhance it.”
With the City Council’s vote, the document now moves on to the Metropolitan Council ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline. Next year, the Met Council will review the plan and can come back to the city with recommended changes.
Development will not come immediately. City officials have said it could be up to a year before residents begin to see the changes outlined in the plan.
The council will begin to work on the topics highlighted by the plan next year. This includes updating the city’s zoning ordinance, developing a transportation action plan and moving forward on their affordable-housing goals.
“In many ways, we’re just getting started,” Bender said.
Yet the significance of Friday’s vote was not lost on the council.
Council Member Cam Gordon said he shared the hopes and dreams offered by the 2040 plan and would try to see that the city delivers on its goals.
“We want to make sure that as we move forward and change our city for the better, we’re also preserving what is best and treasured most about it,” he said. “I think the plan offers us guidelines and a pathway to do that.”