In 2020, Minneapolis rolled out major changes to building standards to guide the city's growth under its 2040 Comprehensive Plan. But one year after its final adoption by the City Council, that controversial plan hasn't led to many visible changes in the cityscape.
That doesn't surprise city planners, who expected developers would take some time to analyze the new regulations before changing their business plans. Last year's upheavals also played a role, they said.
"I think 2020 has had so many things going on with civil unrest and the pandemic," said Jason Wittenberg, manager of code development for the city of Minneapolis. "I think people are still wrapping their minds around what that is going to mean for people's preferences related to what kinds of environments they want to live in."
While the plan's biggest champion — City Council President Lisa Bender — is set to leave office in early 2022, she expects that will have little impact on the plan's rollout. "This has always been a team effort," she said in a recent public meeting.
Much of the day-to-day work is being led by a steering committee that includes city staff as well as Council Members Jeremy Schroeder, Kevin Reich and Cam Gordon.
The 2040 plan aims to create a more densely populated, transit-friendly Minneapolis by loosening restrictions on multiunit buildings across the city, among other changes. The city is pushing forward with implementing the plan even as it awaits a decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court, which heard arguments late last year on an environmental challenge.
Jack Perry, an attorney representing the groups that have sued the city, said they hope they will get to fully argue their case, which was dismissed by lower courts, and ultimately seek to block the plan and new ordinances from being enforced.
"We're confident that if we have a hearing on the merits, the city's plan will be ruled invalid," Perry said.
In a statement, city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said the city "remains confident that there is no legal basis to block full implementation of Minneapolis 2040."
"The Comprehensive Plan will manage the city's growth with a focus on undoing significant racial disparities created by a history of policies that have prevented equitable access to housing, jobs and investments," she said.
Here's what's happening with the 2040 plan:
Duplexes and triplexes
2020 ushered in one of the most contentious elements: the end of single-family zoning.
City staff are still compiling statistics on the number of permits for new duplex and triplex construction in Minneapolis but don't expect to see a dramatic increase just yet.
"I think those have been fairly slow to ramp up," Wittenberg said.
Council members have asked city staff to continue monitoring the statistics and provide an update in March 2022 so they can figure out if they need to make adjustments.
After tiny homes gained popularity on home design shows, some in the city began eyeing them as a way they might provide shelter for homeless people.
New ordinance changes took effect early in 2020 that allow for "intentional community cluster" developments. Those projects allow people to live in clusters of tiny houses with shared common areas.
Wittenberg said, "We haven't seen one of those come across the permit counter yet," but they still expect that some of those projects are on the horizon.
In the interim, the city signed off on a similar project called an "indoor village," where tiny shelters are placed inside a warehouse. Local officials hope that will allow them to provide housing while also giving people a way to keep some distance from others amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
New transportation guidelines
Late last year, city leaders signed off on a 10-year Transportation Action Plan that's intended to change how people get around in Minneapolis.
It offers new guidelines to increase the speed and reliability of public transit, connect bikeways across the region and make the city safer for walking. The overarching goal, city leaders said, is to ensure that more people have access to affordable transportation and reduce carbon emissions.
"Our streets make up nearly a quarter of all land in Minneapolis and present an incredible opportunity to make good on commitments to race equity and climate change," Bender said in a statement after city leaders approved the plan.
Early in the new year, the city also expects to look at what parking and transportation requirements will be in place for new development. Those requirements could include developers subsidizing transit passes for residents or providing more parking for electric vehicles and bicycles.
A push for affordable housing
Some developers threatened to stop doing business in Minneapolis when the city required them to include affordable housing units in new, large apartment buildings.
City staff hope to have data in the coming weeks that will show how many new affordable housing units were constructed in 2020, but Wittenberg said they "expect that those numbers are going to look fairly similar to the previous year."
New building guidelines
In their last meeting of the year, City Council members approved new guidelines that outline how buildings should be designed in various parts of the city.
The "built form" policies regulate such things as the height of buildings and where they should be situated on lots.
"The point that we've been making is that, in many cases, we will be allowing more development and our regulations, in some cases, will be more permissive," Wittenberg said. But, he added, "we're going to apply those rules more rigidly than we have in the past to create those predictable outcomes."
Wittenberg said city staff are working on handouts that will help residents understand how the new rules apply to them.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994