Keith, Diane Redfern Ross, Emily Moore and Laura (l to r) share their thoughts on the city’s plan for growth at a “comment party” hosted by Our Streets at Moon Palace Books.

Keith, Diane Redfern Ross, Emily Moore and Laura (l to r) share their thoughts on the city’s plan for growth at a “comment party” hosted by Our Streets at Moon Palace Books.

Thousands weigh in on city plan for growth

Updated: August 15, 2018 - 4:03 pm

As the sun set on a July 22 deadline for community input, residents worked up until midnight to flood the city with feedback on its draft long-range plan. City staff estimate that since late March they received 10,000 comments.

Set to be revised and adopted by the City Council this year, the draft plan would allow more housing units and commercial space throughout the city and would design streets with pedestrians as first priority.

Critics and supporters alike often express support for the city’s overall goals, such as reduced racial disparities, affordable housing and a clean environment. But how the city meets those goals is contentious. Much of the pushback relates to the potential scale of new buildings. The council may allow single-family homes to split into multiplexes, new buildings between two and six stories along transit corridors like Nicollet Avenue, and eight- to 30-story development in busier spots like Lake & Excelsior or Central & 1st avenues northeast.

A petition to rework the plan has generated more than 2,800 signatures and more than 1,000 comments. The advocacy group Minneapolis For Everyone reports distributing at least 800 lawn signs, featuring slogans like “Don’t bulldoze our neighborhoods.”

Submitted photo
Submitted photo

“This is a dream plan for speculators and developers. It is a free-for-all that leaves every resident who has invested in their neighborhood’s current character at threat of waking up to a vastly different reality in their small corner of the city,” states the petition, drafted by a group of people who said they want to remain anonymous to keep the focus on frustrated residents. “… We know that density for the sake of density will not relieve social ills and likely will exacerbate many of them.”

A comment party

At Moon Palace Books on July 22, Our Streets hosted a “comment party,” where former 7th Ward council candidate Janne Flisrand passed out tablets and showed people how to submit draft plan feedback. Each attendee viewed the plan a bit differently.

Sam Jones, Jim Brennan, Lisa Nemec and Ryan Johnson (l to r) discuss the city’s plan for growth at Moon Palace Books.
Sam Jones, Jim Brennan, Lisa Nemec and Ryan Johnson (l to r) discuss the city’s plan for growth at Moon Palace Books.

At one table sat Laura and Keith, who were interested in affordable housing, and Emily Moore, who worried the city would give too much power to developers, and Diane Redfern Ross, who wanted legal measures to stop evictions and require builders to include low-income housing.

San Francisco Bay Area transplants Jam and Elena said the Bay Area is rapidly building housing to keep up with population growth.

“Basically we don’t want that to happen here. It’s not fun, it’s not affordable and it’s definitely not equitable,” Jam said.

Elena (l) and Jam participate in a “comment party” at Moon Palace Books to submit feedback on the city’s plan for growth.
Elena (l) and Jam participate in a “comment party” at Moon Palace Books to submit feedback on the city’s plan for growth.

They said Minneapolis now has a chance to build mid-level density across the city, something the Bay Area should have done years ago. They said the city’s comprehensive plan, and particularly its focus on racial inequity and proactive work to stop gentrification, makes them feel glad to be moving here.

“It makes me feel seen. Especially as a black person, that’s important,” Jam said.

Flisrand said more homes won’t necessarily create affordability, but if there aren’t enough homes, people will get pushed out.

“Let’s make those ‘Everyone is welcome here’ signs a reality, by making space for everybody,” she said.

She pointed to the Mapping Prejudice project, which is mapping locations where racial covenants explicitly restricted people of color from buying properties.

“Racial segregation in our city is not just a naturally-occurring thing, it’s something that was shaped by policy 100 years ago, and that we’ve forgotten about. It’s not that there’s malice in people’s hearts, I’m not suggesting that, I’m suggesting that policies have a long shadow, even if we don’t notice the policies themselves,” Flisrand said.

Debate over density

Peter Mason said people who “won the lottery” in decades past shouldn’t prevent others from enjoying homeownership. From his home in East Isles, he currently sees a duplex, a triplex and a nearby four-story apartment building.

“People don’t realize it, because it’s been there,” he said. “…As a city we should focus on housing people, and not worry so much about how that can affect small little things. Where are our priorities?”

Should we focus on shadows that a single-family house could also generate, he said, or focus on allowing more neighbors to also enjoy the city?

As a person working to end homelessness, CARAG resident Matt Lewis said he sees the impact of scarce housing firsthand.

“A healthy vacancy rate gives power to people who want homes, rather than landlords,” he said in an email.

Lewis said he feels lucky to have found a home in a fourplex as an alternative to an expensive single-family home.

“Many of the types of homes that would be allowed under Mpls 2040 already exist in those neighborhoods, and the [comprehensive] plan would just make them legal to build again,” he said.

Some critics of the plan said the density under consideration takes the city a step too far.

Carol Becker, a co-founder of Minneapolis For Everyone, said growth should be concentrated downtown, near the University of Minnesota and near high-frequency transit. The city has more than enough land to continue to do that, she said, pointing to opportunities for development near East Lake Street.

“We do not need to radically upzone the whole city,” she said. “…We know the city will grow. We don’t need giant towers to accommodate this growth. We just need to add 10 percent more.”

Fulton resident Colleen Kepler said the city isn’t proposing the infrastructure to handle the upzoning under consideration.

East Calhoun resident Lara Norkus-Crampton published a piece in Southside Pride that said housing choices in new developments tend to be unaffordable, and said she worries that upzoning would lead to demolition of existing affordable housing.

City officials are currently exploring “inclusionary zoning” policies that would require a portion of new units to be affordable.

Becker said she thinks a substantial portion of new units — perhaps 20 percent — would need to be affordable, otherwise the city would only exacerbate affordable housing problems with new construction.

A packed July meeting at the Uptown VFW became heated and emotional, with residents raising concerns about developers buying properties to build new fourplexes. They pressed for answers about how similar proposals have worked in other cities. The ward’s former Council Member, Meg Tuthill, said the city hands out building variances to developers like “candy.”

Lisa McDonald, a resident of East Harriet and a former council member representing the Wedge and Whittier, said she worries neighborhood voices wouldn’t be heard to influence new development proposals. Under the draft plan, city officials could grant height above four stories if proposals meet the city’s overarching goals.

One developer reached for comment said the plan might need revision.

“It appears the plan was crafted with good intentions, but likely needs a reboot or at least a slow down,” developer Curt Gunsbury, owner of Solhem Companies, said in an email. “Developers would likely profit from development, which is obvious. But targeting developers as winners seems to be a political statement that avoids other facts.”

Developer Dan Oberpriller of North Bay Companies said he thinks the plan is thoughtful. Minneapolis has a shallow base of developers and contractors, he said, so changes would take place over many years.

“If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not going to happen. You’re not going to put a four-story building in the middle of a neighborhood,” he said, explaining that the plan directs density to higher-traffic streets.

Debate over driving

One policy idea would require new buildings to include retail in areas with the most residents, pedestrians and transit.

Oberpriller said it’s expensive to build commercial space, but he said people want to live near dry cleaners and coffeehouses.

Julia Curran, a car-free resident near the Hennepin corridor, said she’s interested in the plan’s proposal for “complete neighborhoods.” She said she’d appreciate more commercial space, allowing people to gain extra income by doing hair out of a living room, for example.

More dense, walkable neighborhoods could reduce transportation emissions, said Katie Jones. She said she’s happy to see policy ideas that would transition away from fossil fuel-derived natural gas for heating.

“Our electricity from Xcel is getting cleaner, because more of the grid is coming from renewables,” said Jones, who works in the energy industry. “A larger portion of our emissions is coming from natural gas. And we don’t have an easy, quick way to reduce that yet. … The transition from natural gas is going to be much more difficult.”

(She’s experimenting with one idea. She recently installed an expensive cold climate air-source heat pump at her triplex in the Wedge. The technology can draw heat from the air to heat a home, she said, even on cold days.)

Driving is last priority for street design in the city’s policy goals, which first focuses on walking, biking and transit.

That’s a concern for Becker, who said families who rely on driving might be hurt by the plan. She pointed to Metropolitan Council stats that show households with children take nearly 14 trips per day, while working adult households who are not in school take six trips per day.

She added that new housing tends to have fewer bedrooms, which also hurts prospects for families.

Debate within neighborhood associations

Given the complexity of the plan, some neighborhood groups didn’t submit a formal response. CARAG devoted committee meetings to the plan, but didn’t reach a consensus about how to respond.

Shawn Smith, chair of the Kenwood Isles Area Association, said Kenwood residents worry that with “guardrails” off, they could see an Uptown-style building landing next to historic Kenwood homes. The association opposes any “Corridor 4” designation (1-4 stories), citing harm to the neighborhood’s historic nature, Kenwood School, the Shoreland Overlay District and a prior agreement related to Southwest LRT that the Kenwilworth Corridor remain parkland.

At a June forum hosted by Cedar-Isles-Dean, East Isles, Kenwood and Lowry Hill, residents asked city staff how more density would affect quality of life in the city. Residents asked about the impact on traffic, air quality, noise, crime, the lakes and green space.

“I think where a lot of the concern comes from is fear of the unknown,” Smith said. “The worst-case scenario of what could happen might be very different from what will actually happen.”

But the neighborhood voiced support for rental that blends in, like the renovated garages and multiplexes built inside historic structures that Kenwood holds today.

[View full written responses from the Kenwood Isles Area AssociationKingfield Neighborhood AssociationLinden Hills Neighborhood CouncilFulton Neighborhood Association, Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association and the Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association.]

The Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association distributed a survey, and a majority of the 290 respondents said they oppose the plan’s zoning proposals.

The neighborhood group submitted a letter to the city that said the draft plan has become a divisive force in the community.

“Minneapolitans are part of a nation in which critically important decisions have become endlessly divisive, with compromise and consensus replaced by winner-take-all votes,” states the letter. “In Lynnhurst, the draft plan thus far has become the local manifestation of this disheartening national political climate. … Will the vote the City Council takes on it feel like consensus democracy, or be yet another example of a pre-ordained win for Faction A over Faction B, creating yet another set of resentments troubling the future of Minneapolis for decades?”

For more information about the draft plan, visit minneapolis2040.com.

— Nate Gotlieb contributed to this story