After 100 days of spirited meetings, e-mails, phone calls and yard sign slogans, Minneapolis City Council members say the plan for the future growth of the city needs significant changes.
Council members say the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan must strike a better balance of encouraging more dense development while avoiding the skyrocketing housing prices and displacement epidemics of cities like Seattle and San Francisco.
Even some backers of denser development expressed discomfort with the plan’s rezoning to allow fourplexes citywide and taller buildings along transit corridors.
The public comment period of the comprehensive plan ends Sunday, and council members must now consider the thousands of comments as they move toward a revised draft. So far, the discourse has been dominated by criticism from residents in neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes.
“Things are terrible,” said Council Member Linea Palmisano, whose south Minneapolis ward is lined with hundreds of lawn signs demanding: “Don’t bulldoze my neighborhood.”
“I have never heard from so many of these people. They are angry and freaked out.”
The draft is far from a final product. But several on the council say it will require significant changes to bring it to a version they will support, including a better plan to ensure housing will remain affordable.
Council Member Lisa Goodman said she’s been inundated with concerns from constituents who don’t feel the current plan justifies how more new multiunit housing will make housing cheaper. She’s heard from many who say they’re unsatisfied with the city’s “doublespeak” in trying to explain this piece of the policy.
“I have never seen this number of people as engaged out of fear as they are,” Goodman said. “And a lot of it has to do with this assertion that dramatically increasing density will automatically bring affordability.”
At a public meeting at the Uptown VFW in mid-July, hosted by Council President Lisa Bender, one woman cried as she expressed her support for the plan as a pathway to allowing more diversity in Minnesota’s largest city. Others booed, spoke out of turn and hurled insults at Bender and city staff.
Heather Worthington, the city’s director of long-range planning, acknowledged she did not have all the answers — and the work is far from over if the city will find a path to growth without succumbing to the unaffordability of other American cities.
“This is the beginning, not the end,” Worthington told the crowd, emphasizing the role of public engagement as the process moves forward. “I know Seattle didn’t get it right. Portland didn’t get it right. San Francisco didn’t get it right. I can’t point to a city that’s gotten it right yet.”
The crowd broke out into shouting and boos.
At the Minneapolis North Workforce Center last week, Fifth Ward Council Member Jeremiah Ellison hosted about 70 people, many of whom lamented the lack of economic development and investment in north Minneapolis.
“We don’t see anything in this plan that is going to actually make our living, our day-to-day lives — the litter, the crime, the graffiti, the drugs, the people driving like insane — there’s nothing being done now,” one resident said. “Why shall we trust this?”
Another resident, Bruce Center, said the plan would allow developers to build homes that current North Side residents won’t be able to afford.
“Your plan is absolutely guaranteed to drive down homeownership, and when you do this, you are also going to decimate neighborhood stability and you are going to concentrate poverty even further,” Center said.
“Now, if this is what you are trying to do,” he added, looking at Worthington, “you are doing a really good job. Maybe we kind of need a different plan.”
His remark brought a burst of applause from the crowd.
Ellison, who stood nearby, interjected as Worthington struggled to respond.
“Your comments have certainly stuck with me,” Ellison told Center. “Tonight is about being able to hear you and your frustration about the draft and being able to consider that as we are figuring out how to write another draft.”
Growing organically
Over the next two months, Worthington and city staff will work to synthesize the public feedback and present it to council members. They will come out with a second draft of the comprehensive plan in late September. A month later, the Minneapolis Planning Commission will hold a public hearing. The City Council will vote on the final draft in December.
City Council Member Jeremy Schroeder, whose 11th Ward includes nine neighborhoods in south Minneapolis, is among those not supporting the first draft’s zoning proposals.
Schroeder, whose resume includes decades of work on affordable housing, said he believes in creating room for more density, but worries the current plan would allow for “inorganic growth.” He said he doesn’t want to see a six-story apartment building erected next to a single-family home.
Schroeder has also heard the concerns that the plan will attract private developers who will take advantage of the new zoning codes without deference to the character or wishes of the neighborhood.
“I think that is a real concern, to make sure we’re holding developers accountable to the city’s goals,” he said. “And frankly the plan doesn’t have that yet.”
Council Member Andrew Johnson, who also represents a large swath of south Minneapolis, including housing around the Blue Line light rail, said he also has concerns that the draft plan allows for large structures in the wrong places. He doesn’t think it goes far enough in making room for more commercial spaces in his ward. But Johnson said it’s too early to take a position on an unfinished product designed to generate feedback.
“My gut tells me there’s going to be something in between what’s allowed today and what’s allowed in this first draft, and that’s where we’ll land,” he said.
Making housing affordable
Much of the debate comes down to how — and whether — the plan will actually translate to more affordable housing, and not just give developers license to build expensive apartments.
Bender said she would only support the final plan if it’s accompanied by an inclusionary zoning ordinance — a rule that would require large-scale developers to include affordable units in otherwise market-rate projects. Schroeder also said he believes some type of mechanism to encourage below-market-rate housing will be a necessary companion for the plan to succeed.