Flavored tobacco products and parking requirements got the boot Friday from the Minneapolis City Council, which also approved measures supporting new hotels and protected bike lanes.
The measure that drew the most supporters to City Hall was a proposed ban on flavored tobacco products at convenience stores, which received the council’s unanimous support.
Starting in January, cigars sold in flavors like grape, strawberry and chocolate will only be approved for sale in fewer than two dozen adult-only tobacco shops. That’s down from the more than 300 locations where they can currently be sold. The measure passed on Friday also set minimum prices for both flavored and unflavored cigars at $2.60.
The vote followed several weeks of debate between anti-tobacco advocates who argued that flavored products were designed to attract young smokers and shop owners who fear a significant hit to their businesses.
Several council members said their votes were prompted in part by activism by young people, including a crowd that packed the council chambers Friday in matching green T-shirts that read: “The tobacco industry targets youth.”
The federal government banned flavored cigarettes in 2009, but other tobacco products are still sold with fruit and candy flavors. City officials say that makes them more appealing to underage teens, who are getting them despite existing age restrictions — according to a study of local youths.
Council Member Elizabeth Glidden called the ban a “major policy change” that will have a significant effect on young people in the city. She said it is up to cities to fill in the gaps left from federal action aimed at curbing youth smoking.
“It seems like a challenge that we as local communities need to take action to address,” she told the crowd at Friday’s meeting. “You have come to us with proposals on how to make that happen.”
Council President Barb Johnson reflected on a loss caused by smoking in her own life: her father, who died at 39 of lung cancer, leaving seven children behind. She said the disease remains deadly, and she’s hopeful that more changes will continue to prompt a drop in smoking rates.
“I have watched how — because of the efforts of young people, because of education — we have changed the percentage of people who smoke,” she said.
The Minnesota Retailers Association said in a statement that they share the goal of eliminating youth access to tobacco. “Our major concern is that this ordinance won’t actually address youth access issues and unfairly shifts sales to just a few select retailers,” they said.
Relaxed parking requirements
Meanwhile, buildings with few or no parking spaces can now be built outside downtown Minneapolis as part of a proposal the council passed.
The measure tackles the city’s typical one-spot per-unit parking requirement for new developments by allowing significant reductions near high-frequency transit. The final version was scaled back to allow only a 50 percent reduction for larger buildings, rather than freeing them from the requirement altogether.
But the final language allows buildings with 50 or fewer units to be built without parking outside of downtown — where there are already no parking minimums — if they are a quarter-mile away from transit that stops at least once every 15 minutes.
Supporters of the measure expect it will help reduce the cost of housing by eliminating the need for developers to build expensive underground parking garages. Most developers will likely continue building them, however, as banks still require ample parking before financing a project.
The ordinance sponsor, Council Member Lisa Bender, said it will accommodate more small-scale development, since large parking garages can dictate both the footprint and economics of building new apartment buildings.
“This change will allow developers to stop designing their projects around parking. Too often we see a whole building designed around a concrete structure to store cars, instead of the people who are living in the building, or walking by it, or living nearby,” Bender said. “It will allow more flexibility in design and I think people will be a lot more excited about the projects they see coming into their neighborhoods.”
The final measure was a compromise with Johnson, who had concerns about poor quality projects rising in north Minneapolis. To address that possibility, Bender announced her intent to tighten design guidelines in the city’s zoning code. Another component of the compromise, introduced by Council Member Lisa Goodman, would limit the allowed size of surface parking lots.
That proposal measure anticipates that developers — free from higher parking requirements — might ditch an underground garage for a surface lot.
Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said the parking change is already having an effect on her ward, where developers have proposed a part-affordable housing project on 36th and Nicollet that would not have been possible without the relaxed requirements.
Hotels, bike lanes
Also Friday, the council approved several changes regarding the size and location of hotels in the city. Most of the city’s hotels are currently located downtown, but under the new rules, large and small hotels will be allowed in new zoning areas. Bed-and-breakfasts will also be allowed to expand in size, from a maximum of three rooms to five rooms.
The city will also permit the development of small, boutique-style hotels, which had previously not been allowed.
Council members also approved a plan to add another 30 miles of protected bike lanes to Minneapolis streets by 2020. The update to the city’s long-term bike plan suggests the locations for the upgrades, some of which have already been funded in the city budget. Others will require additional funding.
The proposed bike lanes would be separated by vehicle traffic by buffers of planters, curbs, parked cars or plastic posts.