Minneapolis officials are scrambling to respond to a court order that blocked them from enforcing the city's 2040 Plan, which eliminated single-family zoning and ushered in other development changes.
The Minneapolis City Attorney's Office said Friday that it is beginning an appeal and hopes a court will block the order from taking effect while that process unfolds. Meanwhile, city staff will work "to prepare to minimize disruption" if the request is denied, spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said.
The Minneapolis City Council on Thursday postponed decisions on four rezoning projects, and it remained unclear Friday how many more might be delayed or halted.
The city's 2040 Comprehensive Plan drew national attention when it passed in 2018 and was quickly dubbed one of the most progressive housing policies in the nation. It eliminated single-family zoning, clearing the way for more duplexes and triplexes to be built. It allowed for the creation of "indoor villages" to increase the number of beds available for people experiencing homelessness. It also laid the foundation on which the city's transportation plan, zoning updates and a slew of other new ordinances were crafted.
Two years after it took effect, it's still too early to fully understand the plan's impacts. The Minneapolis Fed is tracking a variety of statistics on housing availability and affordability and expects it will take a full decade to perform a reliable analysis.
"If you look at just the year after implementation it really wouldn't be enough," said Alene Tchourumoff, senior vice president of community development and engagement for the Minneapolis Fed.
Among other statistics, the Fed and others will be closely monitoring the number of duplexes and triplexes built. So far, "there isn't yet evidence that there has been a mass increase," Tchourumoff said.
City statistics show that, as of the end of March, Minneapolis had issued 45 permits for duplexes or triplexes that wouldn't have been allowed before the 2040 Plan took effect.
Although the plan was just beginning to change the city skyline, Judge Joseph Klein acknowledged that his order "may no doubt create no small amount of short-term chaos." Klein's order stemmed from a lawsuit that has taken a circuitous, years-long journey through the judicial system.
A trio of environmental groups — Smart Growth Minneapolis, the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis and Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds — argued that the plan would likely pollute natural resources because of the increase in hard surfaces, soil erosion and increased runoff, among other adverse effects. They argued the city needed to conduct an environmental review.
The city countered that environmental reviews were meant for individual projects and not comprehensive plans guiding overall development. The case went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court before landing back with Judge Klein.
Council Member Lisa Goodman, who chairs the Business, Inspections, Housing & Zoning Committee, said she is working with city attorneys to schedule a public presentation on the ruling's impacts.
"My expectation is that the city's opinion and position would be transparent, and everyone would [have] a fulsome explanation of how previous actions should be handled and how actions going forward should be handled," Goodman said.
Lawyers for the groups that brought the lawsuit argue the city should have better planned for this scenario. Attorney Jack Perry said they, too, asked how many projects might be affected if the 2040 Plan is overturned.
"They didn't identify the number of projects. What they did instead is talked about the parade of horribles: 'Oh my gosh, we'd have to go back and change [the] ordinances,' " Perry said. "I have no idea what the impact is going to be but it's going to be massive."
"And it's the city's own fault," added attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, who also works with the groups.
Klein left open the possibility that the city could once again reinforce the 2040 Plan, if it "satisfies" requirements outlined in the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act or "prevails in establishing an affirmative defense." Or, as it said it intends to, the city could file an appeal.
People listed as contacts for the projects that were postponed either said they were still reviewing the judge's order or did not respond to requests for comment. Some other developers are evaluating their projects that are under city review and are proceeding with others that have already completed the approval process.
"The general consensus from the people I talked to is, this is something the city will prevail on," said Bruce Brenner, a developer of triplexes in Minneapolis. "Otherwise, literally any comprehensive plan is up for cancellation, so I don't think that's the direction they'll take."
Staff Writer Susan Du and Data Editor MaryJo Webster contributed to this report.