Triplexes, max heights and parking: what to expect from a revised Minneapolis 2040 plan

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
City planners are lowering the maximum height for buildings near some public transit routes from six to four stories so streetscapes don’t change dramatically from what they’re now.

Minneapolis planners are dialing back some proposals in their long-range plan for development that would have further diversified zoning options for housing and allowed for taller buildings in more parts of the city.

The changes are an answer to critics who said the policy document, a new comprehensive plan called Minneapolis 2040 and currently in draft form, went too far in its proposals to allow for different types of construction in more areas of Minneapolis. Architects of the plan are set to release an updated version sometime next week, after reading some 10,000 comments from the public.

Meanwhile, city officials have established a process for getting information out about the changes, which includes working with an outside consulting firm to “reframe the narrative” around Minneapolis 2040 before next week’s release.

Triplexes not fourplexes are the new thing
Since city planners released the draft document in March, a proposal to allow multifamily housing of up to four units (fourplexes) in all parts of the city — even those now for just single-family homes — has been the most controversial aspect.

Opponents of the change said the idea was a misguided approach to development that would overrun Minneapolis with buildings that were out of character for many neighborhoods or give developers too much power. Supporters, meanwhile, said it would diversify the city’s housing market for the better especially as the area grapples with a shortage of affordable living options and steady influx of newcomers.

This graphic includes 12 future land use categories.

Minneapolis 2040
This graphic includes 12 future land use categories.

The plan’s chief authors — the city’s long-range planning director, Heather Worthington, and a principal city planner in Minneapolis’ Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED), Paul Mogush — say they’re changing the proposal based on lot size and building-code requirements. For lots that are around 40-feet wide or less (the typical size of a lot in Minneapolis), the new plan would now allow property owners to build complexes of up to three units (triplexes). Larger lots could still have fourplexes.

Worthington says the change makes more sense given the rules in the Americans With Disabilities Act that housing of four units or more requires at least one home that’s accessible to people with disabilities meaning those larger complexes must include a ramp for wheelchairs, while smaller ones do not. “When we did our analysis, we looked at how you would site a four-unit building on a 40-foot lot and it resulted in a pretty awkward structure,” with units around 700-square-feet divided by two floors and lots of stairs, she said. “We just felt that a three-unit building would be more attractive and easier to site.”

The maximum height (in some places) is being lowered
Another change that came after much public criticism: City planners are lowering the maximum height for buildings near some public transit routes from six to four stories so streetscapes don’t change dramatically from what they’re now, Mogush said. The affected neighborhoods include all north of Lowry Avenue and south of East 38th Street, where he said most properties are just one or two stories.

“The magnitude of the potential change that could happen between the existing condition and a six-story building is kind of big, and that makes some folks uncomfortable,” Mogush said. For the same reason, city planners are proposing smaller complexes of up to 2.5 stories, not three, on busy streets where alleys separate two rows of buildings.

Also, the new plan will direct the city to establish better design standards for new buildings so that they better match those around them, Worthington said. The plan will also offer more context for city planners’ rationale. “This process really helped us as staff understand where we need to clarify ideas,” he said.

Not every controversial idea was addressed
The draft plan’s ideas on vehicle parking specifically a proposal to completely eliminate off-street parking requirements for developers remain unchanged for now. Among the more than 10,000 public comments, a strong number of people voiced concerns over that suggestion, while many others affirmed it as the right choice, Mogush said.

When CPED posts the new version of the plan online (Minneapolis2040.com) next week, people will be able to navigate between the draft and edited proposals to make comparisons, he said. He and Worthington also emphasized they’re using every last minute to make tweaks. “It’s a big digression. We want to get it darn near perfect,” she said.

Few people have seen the revised plan and that’s how city planners want it
Besides a handful of people within CPED, few city officials not even City Council members have access to the edited policy document. Sitting in a conference room on the second floor of the Crown Roller Mill building (CPED’s headquarters), Worthington and Mogush explained the biggest changes last week along with three media-relations specialists. One of them was from Goff Public the consulting firm that Minneapolis hired to help “control the narrative” around the plan, according to an outline of the firm’s job. That goal includes identifying “third-party validators”; creating “marketing materials” for how council members talk about the plan via social media and e-mailed newsletters; and waiting until “as close to the release date as possible” to talk to those elected leaders about the new ideas.

Leaders of the plan are taking these new steps around messaging after word of the draft’s fourplex proposal leaked to media and the public before the official presentation of the plan earlier this year.

Those briefings with council members are happening now. As of Monday afternoon, Council President Lisa Bender said she’s met with CPED staff, while other council members, such as Council Member Alondra Cano, will be doing so over the next several days. Mayor Jacob Frey emphasized in an emailed statement that the plan is evolving, and he’s “confident that we can arrive at a workable set of recommendations that earns the support of the City Council.”

Neither pro- nor anti-density folks are happy with the changes
Among the most vocal opponents is Carol Becker, who founded the group called Minneapolis for Everyone. She said city planners’ process for writing the plan has been bad since day one, and the fact that Minneapolis has hired a consulting firm to help control the messaging going forward makes things look even worse. “It’s all a semantics game,” she said.

On the other side of the advocacy spectrum is Neighbors for More Neighbors, a group that is pushing for greater density. In an email, a volunteer for the group, Matt Lewis, said in an email that the updates seem to be going in the wrong direction, though they haven’t heard the plan’s authors’ full rationale and they look forward to reading the completed document.

“The much-discussed fourplex proposal was a small step toward ending exclusionary zoning, but even then was a compromise that only went part way toward ending the historical inequities enshrined in the zoning code,” Lewis wrote. And “if Minneapolis is serious about achieving its climate goals, then enabling more people to live along transit corridors, near daily destinations, in places where living without a car is a realistic choice, is an obvious first step.”

Minneapolis 2040 is the backbone to other initiatives at City Hall
The 204o plan is not the only initiative on the council’s schedule before the end of the year. There’s also Frey’s $1.55 billion budget, which dedicates a record-high of $40 million to a variety of programs to make housing accessible for more people. Minneapolis 2040 is a guiding force behind that plan.

Alongside the comprehensive plan, Council President Lisa Bender is also pushing an inclusionary zoning ordinance, which would include requirements for developers to build a certain number of affordable housing units in all their projects. The full City Council will take up an interim version of the idea in November and consider a more permanent ordinance next year, according to the council president. She’s also working with Council Member Jeremiah Ellison to create a renters’ bill-of-rights, aimed at better protecting the city’s renters.

The plan could change some more
After the latest version of the plan is released next week, the Minneapolis Planning Commission will host a public hearing on Oct. 29, after which the commission will forward its recommendations to the City Council. A second meeting for the public to testify will be in mid-November. The council is on track to finalize the plan with a vote before the end of the year.

Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Betsy Larey on 09/18/2018 - 11:52 am.

    And if you don’t think people with the financial ability will move when a triplex goes up next door you’ve got another think coming. This is what happens when one party rules for decades. And for the record, I’m a Democrat. The rural areas are predominantly red and the cities are blue. Whatever happened to the middle? That’s where the majority of the country is.

  2. Submitted by Matt Eckholm on 09/18/2018 - 01:26 pm.

    MinnPost, can you please find someone other than Carol Becker to interview whenever you need “both sides” on density issues? Her recent actions against WedgeLive should disqualify her as an informed source on this subject.

  3. Submitted by Benjamin Osa on 09/18/2018 - 01:53 pm.

    Minneapolis is a city that is growing with finite amount of land. The only place to build is up. The city leaders know that this will allow for the population growth that will help pay for the aging infrastructure in the future. The only other option is to see everybody take a hit in the pocketbook with increased taxes and rents raised on existing properties due to demand overpowering availability of housing units and the passing onto the renter of increased property taxes.

    This modified proposal does not go far enough to allow for lower cost growth. These modifications to the 2040 plan will only increase the cost of new units since development cost per unit will increase due to reduction in units on the 4-plex’s by 25%.

    I’m frustrated as a resident and home owner of ward 13 that my Counsel Woman has caved to some of her 10%’er constituents’ battle cry of “Don’t Bulldoze my $700K English Tudor,” as if that was ever in the best interest of the City and the fact that eminent domain hasn’t been used for close to 20 years in Minneapolis.

    Dirty pool by a small majority has diluted a plan that made sense into one that won’t be widely implemented due to the financials don’t add up for new construction.

  4. Submitted by Ken Bearman on 09/18/2018 - 01:56 pm.

    Will the revised plan have more about transit than the single sentence that’s in the original?

  5. Submitted by Adam Miller on 09/18/2018 - 02:34 pm.

    None of the changes outlined here sounds like improvements, but they may not be giving up much either.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/18/2018 - 07:00 pm.

    I’ve not investigated this, but it’s a fairly simple question: Are master plans “enforceable” in Minnesota? That is, does a city’s master plan have the force of law, and can developers (and residents) be coerced by that force of law to accede to the plan’s requirements?

    If not, we have a sizable amount of energy and emotion being expended on what is essentially smoke and mirrors. Developers with enough money to contribute to campaigns or pet causes will be able to persuade the City Council to grant variances to requirements found to be inconvenient hindrances. NIMBY and other, similar, groups with enough political and/or economic clout will be able to thwart perfectly sensible, even laudable, proposals that somehow inconvenience them or threaten the ever-spiraling-upward value of their property. Those with economic and/or social interests on one side or the other of a particular part of the plan will find plenty to agree with or be horrified by, but in the end, it may not matter very much.

    If a plan is not enforceable, it’s not a plan. It’s a wish list.

    • Submitted by Adam Miller on 09/19/2018 - 12:06 pm.

      The next step is to encode the ideas of the plan into to the zoning code, which is enforceable except when there are variances and whatnot 😉

    • Submitted by Ethan Parsons on 09/19/2018 - 01:25 pm.

      My understanding is that creating a plan, and revizing it periodically, is what gives the city authority to create, and update, enforceable zoning laws. Without a plan, the city has no right to say, “this kind of building is allowed over here, that kind of building is allowed over there.”

      Zoning certainly is enforceable, but more as a restriction than anything else. No one will be forced to build a certain kind of building on their land, but the zoning that will result from the 2040 plan will almost certainly be more permissive that current zoning. It is worth recognizing that current zoning prevents anyone from building anything that isn’t a single-family house in most of the city, even in neighborhoods that historically have had 2-4 unit buildings.

  7. Submitted by Zack Smith on 09/18/2018 - 07:19 pm.

    Beware… could it be the changes to the plan Mpls are indeed what they wanted from the get go?
    I am leaving my home in Minneapolis after 60 years …. this city appears to be bought and paid for by the Agenda. The amount of money changingg hands is disgusting. Wishing that there is karma in the world.
    Wake up! Mils are being used as tools.
    Going to live a peaceful life out of theis oligarch town I was born to love.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/19/2018 - 10:38 am.

      The “agenda”here address the housing shortage and the corresponding lack of affordable housing. To do that, the City needs to build more housing and to change restrictions on adding the housing.

    • Submitted by Morgan Bird on 09/19/2018 - 11:36 am.

      Does “the amount of money changing hands” refer to the massive profit you’re going to make selling your house when you move?

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 09/19/2018 - 12:47 pm.

      Lucky for you, the housing shortage you defend means there are plenty of people who will bid up the price of your home thanks to the artificial scarcity of housing imposed by our existing zoning code. Good luck with the move!

    • Submitted by ian wade on 09/19/2018 - 02:42 pm.

      I gotta stop missing so many meetings. I would have liked to have seen the Power Point on the “Agenda.”

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/19/2018 - 09:31 am.

    The idea that “planners” who are supposed to be serving the community are controlling the narrative rather than participating in it fundamentally violates the entire notion of democracy. This calculated attempt to obscure public planning is the antithesis of the transparency good policy demands. Regardless of ones position on “density” one way or the other, the entire approach to this “plan” should raise alarms loud enough to be heard in neighboring states.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/20/2018 - 10:16 am.

    Once again we see in comments here the reference to supply and demand economics and the fantasy that building more will magically lower prices. These “new” triplexes or even fourplexes that would be built won’t be cheap housing for low income residents, that’s just NOT what developers want to build. And dumping that housing into existing neighborhoods tends to raise property values, not decrease them. This is why property values keep increasing despite adding tens of thousands of units in the last 5-10 years.

    You can say whatever you want, but the idea “density” will produce more “affordable” housing is a fantasy way past it’s expiration date. And I;m still waiting for someone to explain why increasing MPLS population is a necessary objective in the first place? How do we know that MPLS isn’t sitting with an ideal population number right now? What IS the ideal population for MPLS and how is that calculated?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/20/2018 - 12:57 pm.

      There is no magic or fantasy necessary. Just very basic economics. When demand exceeds supply, prices will rise. Adding to the supply will reduce prices.

      The units added in recent years have not met the backlog in demand from years of not building enough housing. When enough housing is added – as has occurred in other cities – prices will stop increasing and eventually drop. Adding housing – which requires density in a city with a lack of open space – is the only way to meaningfully address the affordable housing issue.

      The question isn’t how many people the city should have. That is determined by the number of people who want to live there, and right now there is high demand. The question is whether Minneapolis should be affordable for the people who want to live there. The mayor and the people behind this think it should be.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/20/2018 - 04:35 pm.

        If repeating a false claim made it true, you wouldn’t be relying magic economics, but alas that’s all we get. The problem with “basic” economics is they don’t explain or predict complex systems, they just pretend to.

        Density advocates aren’t merely saying: “Let’s see how many people move into MPLS”. And yes, anyone who want’s to discuss density intelligently needs to be able to discuss population rationales. Sure, there’s some demand, but it’s not concentrated in MPLS and I don’t know why anyone would assume that it will be.

        • Submitted by Joan Halgren on 09/23/2018 - 12:30 pm.

          Hmm: “there’s some demand,”you write. Have you done a survey on ‘demand’ in MPLS and how it compares to other cities of similar size, scope? I don’t know but it seems MPLS is getting more popular with folks moving here from around our country to obtain good jobs so I just question your idea of demand “not concentrated” in MPLS.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/24/2018 - 09:08 am.

            As general rule Mr. Halgren I don’t post a lot of links, the information you’re requesting is readily available for anyone who wants to find it. If YOU choose to look for it you will find that housing demand in MN is NOT limited to the city of MPLS. The building boom we’re experiencing is metro-wide, as are the property value increases and whatever “demand” you will find. There have been several articles right here on Minnpost discussing these trends. They’ve quadrupled the amount of housing available in downtown Hopkins for instance, and it fills almost before construction if finished.

      • Submitted by Daniel Pinkerton on 09/23/2018 - 07:02 pm.

        I would like proponents of 2040 to name one city where increased supply has led to more affordable housing. Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York are examples of cities where more and more units are being built, and less and less of it is affordable. In NYC, something like 30% of a building’s units have to be affordable, yet developers manage to weasel out of the requirement.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/24/2018 - 09:46 am.

          Here’s what happens when you request “examples”; supply and demand “experts” will find a market somewhere where prices have gone down and say: “There!” Of course the problem is that real estate values fluctuate for a variety of reasons and converting correlation into causation is always a tricky affair. Suffice to say that finding someplace where a housing bubble has burst is not the same as finding a place where supply-demand market fantasies have finally produced affordable housing.

          It is really really important for people to simply realize that there is no LAW of supply and demand in economics. Supply and demand is simply one of many possible influences that can effect prices in some scenarios. Supply and demand is NOT a universal mechanism that applies in any and all scenarios. It’s always amusing when people relying on absurdly simplistic principles pretend to be the “economists” in the room with declarations regarding “basic economics”. In most cases in the last few decades these declarations regarding “basic economics” emerge from neoliberal magical thinking. Whenever wages fail to rise no matter how low the unemployment rate, or housing prices drop no matter how much we build… the response is always to double down on the magic… it’ll work- we just haven’t built enough or gone low enough.

          At some point rational minds have to recognize the fact that the problem isn’t going to solve itself by virtue of some magic market principle.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/24/2018 - 11:10 am.

            Sorry, meant to say: “… how much housing prices rise no matter how much we build…” We can’t edit our comments anymore.

  10. Submitted by Daniel Pinkerton on 09/23/2018 - 07:12 pm.

    Tens of thousands of Minneapolis residents live in fairly inexpensive single family homes. They hate it when a large building goes up next to them, exacerbating traffic and parking problems. I guess I don’t understand why they’re being vilified. I don’t think it’s about money for these people. And their homes aren’t worth $750K, either. Those homes will be protected by 2040 — wait and see.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/24/2018 - 09:28 am.

    I’ll give away my age here with a musical reference: Meet the new boss…

    Those of us who’ve been around long enough have seen mayors like Frey come and go. These guys decide that they’re some kind development bosses instead of mayors, and off they go. I’ve never seen one of these mayors produce the results they promise, and I’ve never heard of one producing the results in any other city in America.

    St. Paul was the best example of developer-mayors for decades. Remember Latimer and Coleman and their grand designs to revive downtown St. Paul? I guess it’s MPLS’s turn now.

    I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any planning or forward looking leadership, but when a government hires branding consultants to control narrative you know you’ve gone off the rails.

    A mayors job first and foremost is to serve existing constituents, i.e. the poor bastards that elect them. When you see a mayor focusing on satisfying imaginary residents of the future instead of improving services and infrastructure for those already live in the city, you know you’re looking at another frustrated developer that managed to get elected as a Mayor.

    The funny thing is, I’ve never seen one of these developer-mayors who actually has a background or any relevant experience as successful developers of any kind, not that it would make a difference.

    All you have to do is look the ongoing fiasco associated with the Hiawatha homeless camp and you can see that neither this mayor, nor any other in the past several decades has made any attempt whatsoever to work the problem of affordable housing or homelessness in MPLS. The response to his relatively small camp is almost comical, yet this mayor and his narrative managers claim to be working the affordable housing crises problem? With a plan to build triplexes and apartments with no parking spaces? Whatever.

    All I can say is: “Good luck”.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/24/2018 - 11:19 am.

    Just to finish my thought regarding developer-mayors… Rybak ended up deciding that HIS job was to build sports venues and dump as much MPLS taxpayer money as possible into arena’s and stadiums for privately owned sports franchises. That wasn’t the big salvation it was supposed to be. And then there was that great idea to make bank on the Loppet by turning over park services to the Loppet Foundation… did they pay off that debt they were facing a couple weeks ago?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love MPLS and I spend a lot of time there, and it doesn’t look like a bad place to live, I’m just saying: “beware of shiny new plans devised by hipster mayors.”

  13. Submitted by Joe Musich on 09/24/2018 - 02:23 pm.

    Another bright eyed plan promising much that will deliver less. I refuse to be cast as a nimby for fighting for better property and neighborhood. This sideways uniformed accusations have got to stop. The city as always altered zoning at it’s convience. They just did so by allowing a built expansion that will shadow a friend’s solar panels. Better property and neighborhoods depend on transportation,schools and affordable neighborhood shopping. These need to come first. Then the housing will organically arise to demand. The city planners need to spend more time working with other governmental structures to get these in place. As development has scurried hither and yon in this city from the river to uptown to downtown to back to the river leaving their wreckage behind with pie in the sky money making density schemes maybe something will stick. Nothing has yet. I would like to know where the supply demandersvwere for the near north side and Phillips neighborhoods ? The only act of courage that will change anything in the formula are caps on both rent and purchase costs for homes. I dare the city.

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