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2040 Plan overlooks our environment

In a rush to generate tax revenue for the city based on a misguided focus on higher density housing throughout Minneapolis, city leaders and planners have overlooked our environment. The second draft of the Minneapolis 2040 Plan would obliterate current zoning protections in favor of allowing development of virtually every available inch of land within the city limits. Increased density can benefit the environment as an alternative to increased sprawl, but without a necessary balance between development and needs for parks, green spaces and natural habitats, not only will wildlife suffer, but people will lose our places for socialization, renewal and natural recreation and water and air quality will suffer.

When wildlife habitat is lost, people suffer because crops and gardens are compromised for lack of pollinators, garbage and carrion linger for loss of scavengers, and overall environmental health declines in large part because of the loss of birds. Economically, bird tourism and other nature-based recreational activities are undermined. Increasing housing density without corresponding due attention to green space, parklands and the needs of wildlife and plants creates an unhealthy environment for people and all living things.

Minneapolis is known around the world for its parks and lakes, and serves a special role in support of migratory species. We believe the 2040 Plan should capitalize on our city’s vitality by prioritizing green space. The Plan should emphasize green building, including green roofs, wildlife and pollinator habitat, and setbacks for green boulevards. Instead, the current plan enables the destruction of green space and reduced water quality by increasing pavement and other impervious surfaces, and pushing buildings to the edge of lot lines. Preserving and expanding green space and creating connected natural areas and wildlife corridor networks not only protects birds, pollinators and other wildlife, but helps minimize the adverse environmental stressors on the public health caused by pollution and hard landscape surfaces.

Minneapolis occupies a crucial place in the Mississippi Flyway/Corridor used by literally millions of birds and dozens of insect and other species. If we protect and provide green space to ensure that migrants have sustenance for their migrations, not only do people in Minneapolis benefit directly from the presence of remarkable species, but countless environments and communities north and south of us benefit from our care and attention to the needs of these migrants. We owe our residents and our neighbors near and far a plan that honors and promotes the health of all our environmental needs.

Any effort to facilitate development of new housing and commercial spaces needs to be balanced with an equally crucial commitment to sustaining green space, parkland and all opportunities to protect and promote the vitality of all living beings.

Keith Olstad and Ann Laughlin, Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis; Constance Pepin, Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary; and Wendy Haan, Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 10/31/2018 - 06:02 pm.

    “Instead, the current plan enables the destruction of green space and reduced water quality by increasing pavement and other impervious surfaces, and pushing buildings to the edge of lot lines.”

    A bird does not know where the city border begins and ends. The amount of impervious surface and habitat destruction will be massively greater if development is pushed to greenfield sites on the edge of the metro, which is where it will go if we do not build more housing in the urban core.

    IMO this letter gets the relationship between urbanism and environmentalism precisely backwards.

    • Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 11/01/2018 - 11:51 am.

      From the 2040 Plan (page 200):

      The City will seek to accomplish the following action steps to improve the ecological functions of the natural environment in the urban context through planning, regulation, and cooperation.

      a. Discourage use of pesticides and herbicides and encourage organic practices to improve and maintain soil health and healthy habitat and ecosystems.
      b. Eliminate use of neonicotinoids, pesticides that are harmful to pollinator populations.
      c. Manage soil health and grow plants for healthy pollinator communities on public lands and promote such planting on private lands.
      d. Look at natural resource goals across disciplines and integrate them with planned recreation improvements, infrastructure improvements and development to reduce costs and maximize public benefit.
      e. Collaborate with watershed management organizations and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on land and water resource planning.
      f. Design and manage public lands for their highest environmental and ecosystem performance.
      g. Strive for interconnected environmental corridors and riparian areas as habitat corridors and for flood protection and recreation, and create additional “steppingstone” areas for habitat.
      h. Manage natural areas in and around surface waters, as well as stormwater ponds and other stormwater treatment facilities, as areas supportive of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, habitat, and wildlife and as flood storage areas.
      i. Encourage and require use of bird-safe glass and other building materials and features that are not detrimental to natural ecologies where appropriate.
      j. Leverage partnerships with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, watershed management organizations, and other partner agencies to implement the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area Plan (See appendix) and to integrate and coordinate efforts to improve public and ecological functions in the river corridor

      As a birder, I feel like the letter writers give all birders a bad name.

      • Submitted by Mary Harlow on 11/02/2018 - 09:05 pm.

        All environmental protections are important. Unfortunately, one of the greatest environmental and livability protections, the Shoreland Overlay District (SOD) Ordinance, is eliminated by the 2040 Comp Plan, which disregards this ordinance that has protected the land along our waterways in Minneapolis for 30 years from buildings over 35′ or tree-top level. This has been a tremendous benefit to the millions of people who enjoy recreation and a respite from density, traffic, and noise in a natural setting right in town. In 2016, 5,600,000 people visited the Chain of Lakes alone (MPRB). This unique and treasured area has remained bucolic because of the protection of the SOD, in line with the intention of Theodore Worth and the stated mission of our Park Board.

        Building 33 story skyscrapers and a cement city with no onsite parking at the north end of Lake Maka Ska as proposed by the 2040 “planners” with no egress except Lake Street for thousands more cars will create a nightmare of density and destroy the character of that entire area. This is URBAN SPRAWL and a violation of the SOD. Downtown is dense with no height restrictions as is Hennepin Avenue south of Lake Street and most of the City. Let’s keep dense areas dense for the “planners” and fans of density and greenspace green and restful for the millions who visit the Chain of Lakes because it is not dense — to stroll, sail, bike and play without a gasmask. Uphold all environmental regulations, add more by all means, and uphold the SOD that has served the beauty, livability and people of Minneapolis so well.

  2. Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/31/2018 - 09:21 pm.

    This is unbelievably dishonest. Its a straw-man description of the 2040 plan. Shame on Minnpost for publishing this.

    The irony is that increaing urban density is one of the most important things we can do to protect the environment.

  3. Submitted by Alex Schieferdecker on 11/01/2018 - 04:10 pm.

    In the first paragraph, the letter writers acknowledge: “Increased density can benefit the environment as an alternative to increased sprawl…”

    This would appear, on its face, to be a fatal rebuttal to the premise of the headline and opening sentence, and so I was interested as to how the letter writers would argue their way around it. It turns out that their approach was to simply ignore it entirely, which is novel but not entirely sound.

    What is the most environmentally friendly way to house a given number of people? The self-evident answers is: in as compact an area as possible. Build up and inside instead of out.

    The Twin Cities must urgently answer this question. The metro area is growing, far faster than its regional peers. Its economy is strong, its quality of life is high, and it is well positioned for future climate disruptions that may pose existential threats to rival cities. To handle this current and future growth, cities like Minneapolis can decide to make more room within its borders for the newcomers, or it can decide to throw up roadblocks and push people outward. If one is solely concerned keeping”green” land in that state, the choice can only be added density. If one is solely concerned with minimizing the necessity to burn fossil fuels for transportation, the choice can only be added density. If one is solely concerned with minimizing the carbon impacts of heating and cooling homes, the choice can only be added density.

    The letter writers appear to believe that the preservation of property setbacks (which in and of themselves are still basically maintained in the plan) is of fundamental importance to the environment, but preserving rural and wild land, reducing transportation emissions, and reducing home energy emissions are not. This is confounding view. The letter writers also heavily imply that the 2040 plan threatens to reduce the land set-aside in Minneapolis for public parkland, which it does not.

    Even a charitable reader would find it hard to believe that the letter writers are either sincere or well-informed in the environmental argument they make here.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Basting on 11/01/2018 - 04:54 pm.

    The letter writers’ call for balancing increased housing and commercial development with environmental concerns is just what Minneapolis needs. I’m surprised, but I guess I shouldn’t be in this current political climate, by the vitriolic responses from commenters who also purport to espouse environmentalism.

    Vitriol aside, the commenters’ assumptions that increasing urban density only benefits the environment demonstrate why Minneapolis must perform a full environmental review before going further with the 2040 plan. Because Minneapolis has failed to fully evaluate the environmental impact of the densification proposed under its 2040 plan, there is simply no factual basis for assuming that any environmental benefits of increasing urban density in Minneapolis to the extent proposed in the 2040 plan are not outweighed by attending environmental harm.

    The City has not quantified or evaluated the increase in hard surface and runoff in upzoned areas. The City has not quantified or evaluated the increased traffic in Minneapolis from upzoning. The City has not quantified or evaluated the embedded carbon cost of tear downs and new construction. Nor has the City quantified or evaluated the effect on migratory birds of decreasing tree cover or increasing building height in areas currently protected by the Shoreland Overlay zone.

    The City of Minneapolis owes its residents the duty of carefully considering all effects, whether social or environmental, of its ambitious 2040 plan. So far, the City has failed to prepare an environmental impact statement for its 2040 plan.The letter writers appear to call for just such environmental review and balancing. Kudos to them.

  5. Submitted by Mary Harlow on 11/02/2018 - 09:12 pm.

    Of course we need an environmental impact study! Is this something that environmental advocates dispute?

  6. Submitted by Ann Laughlin on 11/06/2018 - 03:54 pm.

    As a careful reading of our letter will reveal, we recognize that providing affordable housing is an important strategy for reducing urban sprawl. Yet protecting green space outside the city makes little sense for migratory birds that fly along the Mississippi Flyway if coming through the city will result in lethal collisions with buildings that are brightly lit and reflecting sky and trees. Sensible development allows safe avenues for the birds to pass through, with opportunities to feed and roost along the way. The challenge we identify is balancing development with natural spaces, not choosing one imperative over the other.

    As another comment noted, the 2040 Plan fails to identify or assess any potential effects of the proposed policies and actions on the natural environment. The lack of any supporting evidence that the 2040 Plan will actually address climate change and other environmental challenges used to justify the policies and actions is another serious omission.

    Increasing urban density can be one of the most important things we can do to protect the environment—but only if we actively protect the environment while increasing density. The grim forecast in the recent UN report predicting massive displacement of people heightens the need to take swift and strong actions to ensure that our urban environment is a healthy one in which to welcome more residents. Yet many action steps in the 2040 Plan don’t align with the urgency of the situation. Actions such as “discourage,” “encourage,” “identify,” “look at” and “strive for” lack the strength and momentum needed to meet the goal to “improve the ecological functions of the natural environment” and other environment-related goals in the Plan. In contrast, the development verbs are more directive and specific, such as “require,” “prohibit,” “eliminate” and “implement”—again showing the imbalance in the 2040 Plan where development is facilitated without an equally crucial commitment to protecting the environment for all animals, including humans.

    Keith Olstad and Ann Laughlin, Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis; Constance Pepin, Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary; and Wendy Haan, Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds

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