Beyond Apocalyptic Yard Signs

It’s a maddening time lately, with political actors denying obvious truths and using scare tactics to sidestep honest dialogue. In any debate about change, political winds favor the side with the simple message: NO. It’s easy to fearmonger, deceive, and put words on lawn signs that conjure impending annihilation.

I like to think Minneapolis is better than that. In Minneapolis we recognize real problems and act to solve them. We recognize that housing is in short supply and unacceptably expensive for too many of our neighbors. We recognize that climate change is real, and is driven by lifestyles made necessary by our region’s sprawling, auto-oriented development patterns. We recognize that nobody should have opportunity limited by the fact they can’t afford to live in the right neighborhood.

To foster an honest conversation about the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan, let’s focus on this widely recognized fact: Minneapolis doesn’t have enough homes. MPR reports that the fabled “starter home” is disappearing from the Twin Cities due to a combination of factors: “land, laws, labor, and lumber.” For the sake of conversation, here’s a few examples of things affecting the cost housing:

  • Energy efficiency standards substantially add to the cost of a new home
  • Land on which to build new homes is made more expensive because of growth boundaries
  • Restrictions in zoning codes all across the Twin Cities prevent building “twin homes” (or fourplexes, or apartments, or anything that’s not a single-family home) that share a wall and sell for much less than an equivalent single-family home 
  • Car parking requirements add to the cost of every unit of housing, especially when it’s a massive parking structure

If we can agree to the facts (that these things affect the cost of housing), then — and only then — we can move to what should come next: an actual conversation about what we value.

No doubt, there are trade-offs: someone who values action to fight climate change will probably support energy efficiency standards and growth boundaries–believing sustainability is worth the added housing cost. Sometimes an action can tick off multiple priorities at once: easing density restrictions and parking requirements will move us away from the expensive, auto-oriented, exclusively single-family neighborhoods that dominate most of the Twin Cities. It’s not unheard of — even for a person with a garage — to list abundant street parking as their number one value (because we’re having an honest conversation, please don’t be ashamed to say it out loud).

What are the values served by saying the most walkable and transit-accessible areas in the state of Minnesota must be dominated by low-density, auto-oriented uses? What are the values served by saying these areas must always and forever be reserved for ever-larger single-family homes?

We’ve inherited a system, a legacy of redlining, that’s left us with increasingly exclusive neighborhoods. It’s a system where not being able to afford the neighborhood you want means you can’t afford access to a good public school; or to be near grocery stores and other amenities; or to keep yourself and your family safe from dirty air, soil, and water. It’ll take a lot more to undo that legacy, but ending exclusionary zoning is a necessary step.

They are using the word “extinction” to defend legal requirements forcing (usually large) single family homes as the only land use in huge swaths of our city, which virtually requires people to drive cars nearly everywhere they go.

— Robin Garwood (@RobinGarwood) June 28, 2018

To put a finer point on it: they’re worried about the “extinction” of single family homes, but seemingly not worried at all about the ACTUAL extinction of real, climate-threatened species.

That’s a special sort of cognitive dissonance.

— Robin Garwood (@RobinGarwood) June 28, 2018

Only one of these is real.

I’ve previously written that the Minneapolis 2040 plan is bold. But it’s only bold when judged against the low expectations set by generations of misguided policies. We’ve been numbed into thinking what we’ve been doing for decades is our only choice.

Allowing up to four families to live in a house the size of a large single-family home isn’t bold. It’s not bold to legalize three-story apartment buildings in neighborhoods adjacent to downtown. It’s not bold to allow many more people to live along major transit corridors. These are all modest changes, and the very least we should be doing to give ourselves a fighting chance at a better future.

Instead of rejecting the idea of change and holding dearly to an unsustainable status quo, I hope you’ll seek out facts about the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Tell the city council what you value.

People of the Lakes React to Minneapolis 2040

Last night, a coalition of Lakes-area neighborhood organizations hosted a public meeting in beautiful lakeside Lowry Hill. City Council Member Lisa Goodman and Heather Worthington (Minneapolis director of Long Range Planning) in the same room for a Minneapolis 2040 showdown! Turns out there was no showdown aside from Worthington referring to Goodman as Lisa McDonald. But other things did happen. Last night’s tweets have been lightly edited into the article below. 

(comment on the Minneapolis 2040 plan)

Guy from Kenwood neighborhood org is running the meeting, announces that Heather Worthington is on her way: “Stuck in traffic.” And everyone thinks that’s hilarious. I guess she should have biked. (Worthington was on her way from a Ward 11 public meeting immediately preceding this one.)

Kenwood guy says Lisa Goodman is here in the back of the room, but this plan hasn’t been to the city council. He’s very careful to make sure nobody here blames Goodman for it.

Kenwood guy with introduction highlighting key parts of the plan including “eliminating single family zoning.”

Kenwood guy asks reporters to identify themselves and I’m not brave enough to do that in this room. Profile in courage. I’m more of a columnist. It’s fine. You may recall last time I came to Lowry Hill (for a board meeting) a lady turned her head and snapped “off the record” at me.

Heather Worthington arrives and asks who in this room grew up with a septic system. I hope she’s comparing a looming environmental disaster induced by human sewage to single family zoning.

Heather Worthington comparing the comprehensive plan to a hypothetical family making long-term plans: college education for children, vacations, other longer term concerns.

Starting with pre-submitted questions. (I had no idea that was an option.)

Can this draft be changed? Will our feedback be incorporated? Worthington: “Yes, yes, yes”

What’s the basis of the research behind these population projections? Worthington says data comes from the state and federal government. She says we’re ahead of projections right now. Lots of people coming from other places. (I wrote a thing touching on some of these themes earlier this week.)

Heather Worthington invites people concerned about Livability to check out the comp plan’s environmental section. She says we are not on track to hit city’s climate action goals for 2050, and that’s a big concern for air quality.

Can you name how community input was collected? Were neighborhood organizations engaged? Yes, a multi-year process with countless meetings.

Worthington says growing racial income disparities are not sustainable. Housing cost burden is up while incomes have gone down.

What is your basis for the idea that increased density increases affordability?
Worthington: we never said that. We said we should offer more options, and right now in the city there’s only one option: single family homes. Right now, smaller single-family is replaced with bigger single family.

Worthington doesn’t want to “get trapped in the fourplex discussion.”

Worthington asks the room to imagine getting older.

Question about the impact of increased housing density on single-family property values. Heather Worthington says she is not an economist. (Neither am I but I predict the people of the lakes neighborhoods are gonna be ok.)

“Will fourplexes be subject to setbacks and footprint limitations?” Yes. Worthington reads the description of fourplexes in the comprehensive plan: 2.5 story height limits, matching scale of existing buildings.

Worthington: “If you don’t see yourselves in this plan, you should tell us.” Lady: “We don’t see ourselves in this plan!”

Worthington: “density doesn’t make housing more affordable… We never said it. We never will say it, because it’s not true.”

Analysis: I’m gonna suggest that massive swaths of the city set aside for only single family homes doesn’t make housing affordable.

Worthington reassuring them: “we understand the value of single family homes.” Worthington notes that she lives in a single family home. (These people are so very fragile about their single family homes.)

Question about education: “Plan gives short shrift to education. Please do not say it’s the responsibility of the school board.” Worthington says… it’s the responsibility of the school board. Worthington:”It’s like saying the city is responsible for the state of Minnesota’s budget crisis.”

Worthington says school board has its own budget and people here voted for school board members, right?

More property value concerns: “Have economists reviewed the plan and its impact on property tax values?” Worthington says, “that’s not what this plan is about.”

“How will deliveries and guests get here from outside the neighborhood?” Street parking is amazingly cheap says Worthington. Says there are no parts of the city you can’t get to. Worthington points out a lot of people drove to this neighborhood meeting.

Worthington: “environmentalism is a really important part of this comp plan.”

We’re entering what Kenwood guy is calling the “live mic session” 🎙️

Kenwood guy announces: “this meeting is being livetweeted… Even though I did ask reporters to identify themselves.” 😱😱😱😱 (Somebody blew the whistle! You’re lucky if I don’t do protected tweets from now on!)

Good chunk of the meeting taken up by a guy who really wants to know how many rental units there are going to be in the future.

Worthington: “I think it would be great if everyone who wanted to own a home could own a home… I think we’re over relying on that as a wealth building activity. But a lot of people don’t have a choice” to own. She points out how hard it is to predict things like condo conversions.

Representative from Minneapolis 2040 opposition group takes the microphone to plug their website.

Guy predicts “a kid will get run over when there are four story buildings there.” Worthington expressing skepticism that a four story building will hit a kid.

Lady says Minneapolis is unique in having beautiful neighborhoods “7 minutes from downtown.” She’s making historic preservation argument.

Question about whether research supports the idea that “density will move people out of their cars.”
People here see traffic congestion “all day!” They shout “all day” in unison.

Lady said she only saw three open parking spots around the lake on her way to this meeting. Says Lakes can’t handle increased density. Concerns about lack of off street parking for new multifamily homes.

It occurs to me during this meeting that I want to invite Heather Worthington to the 2nd Annual Cats of the Wedge Walking Tour and turn it into a feedback session.

Worthington compares the microphone-wielding Michael Wilson of CIDNA to Phil Donahue.

Guy asks crowd if they were on the City Council would they vote for it? Crowd responds indicating they are not at all supportive of the plan. Worthington says it would be more beneficial to get constructive feedback of what people actually want in the plan, rather than outright rejection.

Worthington accidentally referred to Lisa Goodman as “Lisa McDonald.” Oops. She caught herself.

Real estate agent wants to know what he’s supposed to tell his clients about the potential for a multi-family home next door.

Did you know that 80% of Minneapolis residents live on a block with multifamily housing on it to-day and that it’s fine?#minneapolis2040 pic.twitter.com/WAx23khZAX

— Scott Shaffer (@scttdvd) June 7, 2018

There is concern from a lady that the closest engagement meeting was far away at MLK park. She had no idea this was going on until last November.

Worthington: There’s 87 neighborhoods. We couldn’t go to them all.

(As the meeting was still happening, a former Park Board candidate tapped me on the shoulder to chastise me about my tweets. I asked her if she’d read any of the tweets. She said no.)

I earned it tonight. Please support my courageous work deep in the heart of the Lakes-area neighborhoods.

A “Pro-Family” Comprehensive Plan

One of the common criticisms you hear about the Minneapolis 2040 draft comprehensive plan, if you go to enough public meetings, is that it’s anti-family. People say if you want to support families, you’ve got to restrict the vast majority of city land for single-family homes. This criticism doesn’t hold water unless the only kind of family you’re concerned about is a white family of significant means. It turns out a lot of current Minneapolis families live in something other than a single-family home.

Comparing pro-family credentials of two very different Minneapolis neighborhoods.

If our definition of “pro-family” extends beyond the kinds of families who aren’t exclusively white and financially comfortable, we should be legalizing cheaper housing types — small-scale multi-family homes.

There’s only so much real estate to go around. Did you know the Met Council projected Minneapolis would hit 423,000 people by 2020 and we exceeded that total in 2017? We can’t all afford to live in a single-family home, or a large luxury apartment building downtown. The Minneapolis 2040 plan can be pro-family by greatly expanding the definition of which families matter in our zoning code. It doesn’t mean eliminating or outlawing single-family homes; it just means legalizing the kinds of homes families are already living in: multi-unit houses and small apartment buildings.

There’s another group of critics who take the other side of the “family” argument; they say Minneapolis has too many families already. For these folks, a plan that envisions so many new people is an environmental disaster. A surprising number of people appear to have the mistaken impression that the city’s draft comprehensive plan calls for tens of thousands of new humans to be conceived between now and 2040. To be clear, there’s nothing in the plan that incentivizes baby-making. In other words, if you like your birth control, you can keep it.

(I suppose there are those who would say implementing Chinese-style population control policies is more practical than allowing more people to live closer together, with less parking, and many fewer people driving.)

What these nominal environmentalists don’t acknowledge is that the additional people we’re planning to house in 2040 have largely already been born. The critics ignore the reality that forcing the people of 2040 to live in some as yet undeveloped, far-flung green pasture is bad for the environment. Forcing people to live far away from transit, jobs, and daily destinations fosters the car-dependency that is actually driving climate change.

In 2040, the cost of housing a family in Minneapolis will be painfully high if we don’t actively plan for enough homes of all kinds, across all neighborhoods. Planning for the future means recognizing some basic realities:

  • family sizes are shrinking, single-person households are growing, and many existing neighborhoods lack the housing diversity to serve an aging population;
  • families do actually live in apartments and fourplexes;
  • family means different things to different people, and my family may not match your traditional conception of a family;
  • immigrant families and anyone else seeking opportunity needs our city to be a welcoming place;
  • and, most crucially, humanity will continue to reproduce (pending partly on our ability to adapt to a sustainable future where people drive less by living closer to daily destinations).

I know we all want a comprehensive plan that’s pro-family. A realistic conversation that anticipates and plans for population growth is the responsible thing to do for all of our families, present and future. I hope more people take that approach when they comment on the plan.

Plan Meets Skepticism with Older Crowd in SW Minneapolis

I made my way to Southwest High in Linden Hills yesterday for a “Palmisano Presents” community forum on the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan (👈 leave your feedback!). This is a lightly edited tweet transcript from last night’s live coverage. Don’t miss the Hitchcockian “Palmisano Presents” opening credits video.

Ward 13 Council Member Linea Palmisano begins by saying she has received “numerous calls, emails, and handwritten letters.”

Palmisano more than once referring to Heather Worthington, who is the City’s director of Long Range Planning, as the “owner” of this comprehensive plan. Palmisano says, “I don’t endorse this draft in its current form. This is not my work. I have a lot of concerns.” Palmisano says the plan has the “right goals.”

Palmisano saying her best way to implement changes to the draft is “through you.” She means public input.

More Palmisano:

  • “I’m concerned fourplexes in our Ward doesn’t mean affordable housing.”
  • “I’m concerned how new corridor designations affect single-family homes.”
  • “There’s a lot of input to be gleaned from all of you.”

Heather Worthington says she knows this question is on a lot of people’s minds: “Where is the PDF?” It’s coming by the end of May!

Worth repeating: the comp plan isn’t zoning. It’s guidance. Zoning is far more detailed and complicated, and comes after the comp plan.

They paid a mural artist to draw the commentary on the wall in cartoon form. Good luck making Ward 13 more cartoonish.

Worthington points out the raw data from public input on the comprehensive plan is published on the website. You can read all the comments collected at the end of each engagement “phase.” It’s at this link, bottom of the page.

First question is about “single-family homes replaced by high-rise condos.” Resident: “All those houses are going away.”

Analysis: Saying that a thing can happen in many different places, does not mean it will be forced to happen in all places. Neighborhoods change very slowly.

Worthington says nobody would be forced to sell their home. Oh my, these folks are really concerned about “eminent domain.”

Analysis: Eminent domain is not happening and if it were you would hear about it for real. It would be more than rumor spread at public meetings.

Palmisano says the eminent domain fear is a common concern she hears. She makes it clear that this is not a thing the city does. The city is not taking people’s homes.

Question: have setbacks been eliminated?

Worthington says setbacks are a zoning issue. That’s a detail to come later. The comp plan is not a zoning code.

Brian Schaffer asked to tackle the off-street parking question. Uh oh, we’re gonna lose the room!

Analysis: Not requiring the construction of parking is not the same as “parking will no longer be built.” Also, you will still be able to park your two boats in your driveway.

I took a walk through beautiful Linden Hills before the meeting, and here’s a look at the parking situation:

Linden Hills parking situation yesterday.

Question: Why are we doing any upzoning absent a guarantee the mayor’s affordability plan will become real?

Worthington talks about zoning’s historical role in restricting access to the most desirable parts of the city. This is the Single Family Zoning is Racist part of the presentation. She then points out another goal of the plan was to allow people to age in place, remain in their neighborhood in a smaller home, when their single-family home becomes too much.

Worthington says that if you don’t like this plan, let us know. But please offer an alternative that shows how we’re going to house all the people who want to live here.

Round of applause for the idea of more off-street parking requirements.

Worthington mentions the city council is currently working on an inclusionary zoning plan to either require or incentivize affordable units in new development. This is happening separately from the work on the comprehensive plan.

Palmisano says this comment period is “not one that we will endure” but that will actually shape the next draft. (Speak for yourself, I’m enduring it.)

Looks like Heather Worthington anticipated the question about inclusionary zoning. Already answered, but she answers again.

Worthington says this comprehensive plan is about addressing the issue of equity through a “systems lens.” Housing, jobs, transportation, are all related to closing racial and economic disparities.

Speaking of  transportation difficulties for people without lots of money, Worthington notes it costs $8000/yr to own a vehicle. (Can we have another round of applause for requiring more pricey off-street parking?)

Question: How do we keep the historic qualities of our neighborhoods?

Worthington says you can pursue historic designation, though one problem with historic guidelines is that homeowners often don’t like restrictions on fixing up their homes.

Question: What’s the rationale for this plan? Palmisano answers by mentioning projections for population growth.

Worthington says statute requires the city to update its comprehensive plan every ten years. In the past, the city has done a “check the box” update that has not meaningfully addressed problems. As a result we’ve fallen further behind.

SW Light Rail! Palmisano notes largest station will be in West Calhoun.

Question from resident skeptical about the utility of SW Light Rail. How many commuters will actually take the train to Eden Prairie? What do you do when you get there? Walk?

Palmisano is very adamant we need workforce housing along the SWLRT corridor, if it ever happens.

“Why must blocks adjacent to transit corridors be so excessively upzoned?” (Speaking specifically about Interior 3 and Corridor 4 designations)

Resident mentions the city’s goal of “15 percent of commuters riding bicycles” which gets a dismissive round of laughter from the crowd.

I think people cheered the idea of Palmisano driving around in her car, but the cheering was so loud I couldn’t hear it all.

Nobody uses the bike paths, says guy. Guy says Blaisdell has 200 cars for every bike.

I think the submitted written question format has created some pent-up energy. So the open mic session could be interesting.

Question: Why did no Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan information get mailed to us? This is biased against people without computers. Worthington says they’ve put resources into other forms of engagement. It was a good decision and she’ll defend it.

Former two-term Ward 10 council member Lisa McDonald is very concerned about fourplexes and variances. Gets first crack at open mic. Mentions development at 36th and Bryant. Gets some applause. She’s plugging a website and wants you to join her movement. Just like Carol Becker at the Longfellow meeting last night.

It’s heartening to come to these meetings to watch these voiceless, powerless current and former elected officials grab the microphone to fight back against a system that’s crushed them for too long.

Question: Lynnhurst is going to become Uptown.

Worthington begins to answer, is interrupted, then says, “I’ll finish my thought and then you can get the microphone.”

Resident says about the plan: “You’re totally destroying the character of those blocks…”

And continues: “I don’t wanna live on a block that has 3 or 4 apartment buildings that are 3 or 4 stories high.” He’s speaking of an area along 50th St. He loves single-family homes.

Guy predicting ruin for his block. “People are already leaving the neighborhood.” Analysis: Property values don’t bear this out.

Palmisano calling out the “cyberbullying” of people willing to stand up and speak into a microphone at these meetings.

There’s an East Harriet/Ward 10 contingent here to talk about the 41-unit building at 36th and Bryant. Worthington says that’s an issue of existing zoning. (And you may be thinking, did you do live coverage of a neighborhood meeting about 36th and Bryant? YES!)

Resident is skeptical about predictions of future population growth.

Palmisano says, “We could be building housing for 7 years straight on the existing zoning that we have.”

Analysis: would that not require the use of eminent domain?

Resident asks question about Heather Worthington’s resume and where we can see how her work has impacted other communities.

Heather Worthington just recited her quite lengthy resume and received a round of applause.

Resident is concerned that this comprehensive plan means older people from Minnetonka won’t be able to downsize into a smaller home here in Ward 13.

“This area, we can’t handle more density.” In other words, cars are a reality, there’s just too many cars.

Support tonight’s live coverage from the far, far, deep nether reaches of Southwest Minneapolis.

This Week: Minneapolis 2040 Open Houses

I’ve been to quite a few neighborhood association meetings recently. I can tell you a lot of them will be functioning as city-funded advocacy organizations defending exclusionary zoning. They’re mobilizing against the draft comprehensive plan right now.

That’s why it’s important for you to make your voice heard at one of these upcoming comprehensive plan open houses. Slap a few post-it notes up on a board. Jabber at a city planner. Write a long-winded note. Together we can defeat single-family zoning. And keep commenting on the minneapolis2040.com website.

Minneapolis 2040 Open Houses:

Monday, May 14, 5:30 – 8:00 PM
MLK Recreation Center, 4055 Nicollet Ave S., Minneapolis

Wednesday, May 16, 5:30 – 8:00 PM
North Commons Recreation Center, 1801 N. James Ave., Minneapolis

Thursday, May 17, 5:30 – 8:00 PM
Thu May 17 · Dayton YMCA at Gaviidae

Thursday, May 31, 5:30 – 8:00 PM
5:30 PM · Powderhorn Recreation Center, 3400 S. 15th Ave., Minneapolis

And DON’T FORGET the Wedge LIVE Arby’s Town Hall on May 22 at 5 PM (conveniently located steps from a different, far less delicious town hall, happening at 6:30 PM, co-hosted by Council Members Andrew Johnson and Cam Gordon).

Lisa Goodman, Leader of the Opposition

Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman is rallying opposition to the Minneapolis 2040 draft comprehensive plan (you can comment here!). Goodman wants to defend single-family neighborhoods from fourplexes. She wants to protect drivers from bike lanes. As the most prominent and outspoken critic of the plan, here’s a collection of her recent comments on the topic.

(Please note that I resorted to the very extreme measure of attending the annual meeting of the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association to get some of these quotes, so definitely send all your money to the Patreon.)


City Council Enterprise Committee (Coordinator’s Update, May 3, 2018) [VIDEO]

Goodman: “The comp plan has proven to be something that has drawn out very strong emotions from myself as one, but many many people, and I feel like we’re heading toward something that is not going to be universally accepted, and there are going to be huge winners and losers.”
—-

Goodman, referring to comp plan: “…a plan that could potentially be adopted on a very split vote with a lot of controversy in the community…”
—-

Heather Worthington (city’s director of Long Range Planning): “I’d like to believe that we are in a position where we can work through that and we can produce a document that has, if not unanimity, has strong support.”

Goodman: “Okay, I don’t believe that. I think that’s a very Pollyanna way to look at it. There’s huge divisions in where people are at and what’s been proposed in this comprehensive plan.”
—-

Goodman: “So if 13 other people, er… it won’t be… If 10 other people on the council say too bad, your constituents are going to get this shoved down your throat, then we’re just going to go with that? And then we’re going to plan the entire city’s strategic plan based on that, with all of that division?”
—-

Goodman: “[The comprehensive plan] has been confrontational pretty much since the minute it was announced.”

Heather Worthington: “The comp plan is drafted based on the 14 goals that the city council adopted in April, 2017, and the six value statements that it adopted a year previous to that. So the comp plan underpinnings, the foundation of that document are based on the values that you as a council adopted. And we have had a very broad and transparent community engagement process. […] I have to reject an assertion that this has not been a transparent process. And I feel that if you have specific concerns we should be discussing those.”

Goodman: “I was here for that process and nowhere in those points did we say put a fourplex on every block. Nowhere did we say take single-family homes and turn them into four-story buildings. And that seems to be what you’re suggesting: that that was in the 16 points. That people thought through that and said to us please increase density everywhere in the city no matter where it is, and let’s eliminate lanes of traffic and put in bike lanes everywhere. That’s not what we said in the points that we made with regard to the comp plan. No one told you to do that, that was you being bold, not the public telling us, telling you to be bold. Maybe there were some people who wanted to be bold, but there were plenty of people who wanted to see more incremental change.”
—-

Goodman: “Everywhere I go, every grocery store I go into, people are very upset about what potentially could happen to the neighborhood that they love and that they don’t like it.”
—-

Goodman: “I too would say I’m in favor of growth. And I am, and I represent downtown so we’ve seen our fair share of it. I’m sorry to pound away at the fourplex thing — it’s not my only objection to the comp plan, but it’s a good example of, well, if you’re opposed to having a fourplex on every block then all of a sudden you’re anti-growth.”
—-

Goodman: “So I’m afraid to even say I’m in favor of growth now because of what that might mean. And should I object to it, then I’m objectified as being against growth.”
—-

Z&P Committee Meeting, (Jackson St. NE, May 3, 2018) [VIDEO]

Goodman: “I totally respect that there are a lot of people who love to live in neighborhoods that have single family homes and fourplexes and duplexes and 4-story buildings — I’m not one of them. I chose to live where I live because of the single-family nature.”
—-

Goodman: “I understand that there’s an attempt, not by anyone on this dais, to get rid of all the small area plans and upzone the entire city, and this is probably fortuitous of things to come.”
—-

Addressing the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association annual meeting (May 9, 2018)

Goodman: “We had an election, the far left won, and now we should expect more bike lanes and a lot more density. That’s not what I heard when I was knocking on doors.”
—-

Goodman: “So the question is, there’s lots more density already in the neighborhood that is causing livability impacts in the neighborhood, when does it stop? And I guess what I would say is, when the public says enough is enough.”
—-

Goodman: “What Mary is saying is, having thousands more people living in the neighborhood potentially is adding to the traffic. She’s saying that’s definitely adding to the traffic, and I would say you’re right.”
—-

Goodman: “The people who want to see more density are definitely commenting. That’s how we get to this point in time. It’s important for folks to comment.”

Resident 1 (sincere): “When the light rail opens a lot of these problems will go away.” [crowd laughs, groans]

Goodman: “What he said was, when the light rail opens a lot of these problems will go away. What will happen is all of us complaining about them will go away because we won’t want to live here. So I guess that’s probably the better answer is we won’t tolerate it, other people probably will.

Resident 2: “Help me understand why we wouldn’t tolerate it. I’m new to the neighborhood.”

Goodman: “Well I think if you’re someone who wants to get on a train and live near a train, then you have to have a train where there’s a lot of density, and most of the corridor doesn’t really have a lot of density. I think you would even agree that the corridor is pretty much single-family homes from West Lake Street all the way into downtown. And even the projections for Penn Ave station project under 1,000 people will take that train when it’s been established 20 years from now. I really think, and I’ve said it for years, we really have to put trains where people ride them, and that means through West End, potentially through Uptown, down Hennepin, down Nicollet. And you know if this project had been planned now, that likely would have happened. I’m happy to ride the train, and I do, and I live in Bryn Mawr because I like the proximity to downtown, but I think you have to put trains where people ride them. And I also have a very strong concern about having more ethanol and more chemicals riding through the corridor. It’s interesting that one railroad that said we have to have a crash wall for protection from these trains that are carrying chemicals and there’s no going around that area and then you run them right past people’s houses and there is no crash wall and they’re filled with chemicals. So I think there’s been a lot of hypocrisy in this process. [clapping] I just call it as I see it, people voted the way they did, and it is what it is. I’m not going to back off of saying that transit should be where people will ride it.”

Live Coverage: Lowry Hill, the Comprehensive Plan, and Affordable Housing

Here’s a lightly edited tweet transcript from last night’s meeting of the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. Towards the end of the meeting the organization voted to send a letter of support for a 41-unit building at 1930 Hennepin Ave with a combination of supportive housing for young people leaving foster care, and affordable rental apartments.


Today I will be livetweeting perhaps the most shadowy and secretive organization in Minneapolis. Hardly anyone outside of a tight inner circle knows this meeting is happening. Maybe my most dangerous assignment yet.

I’m here. We have achieved quorum at the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. A guy made a joke about my name, and I told him I’m not that John Edwards.

They’re talking about a plan to “rezone Kenwood along Franklin Ave.” Deadline for feedback is July 22. Nobody said the words “comprehensive plan” but I believe that’s what they’re talking about. They are weirdly uninformed here.

  • “A four story condo could be put up…”
  • “4 story, not just a 4plex…”
  • Then someone throws out the term “R4” (so I think the city’s plan is to legalize the number 4)
  • Hilarious grumbles from Lowry Hill homeowners about lack of affordability. Predictions that any new units won’t be affordable.

Breezy conversation here about latest articles people have read: tax assessment appeals and the recent plan to cut taxes for landlords. A couple landlords on the board here.

Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association annual meeting is happening in two weeks, May 15, here at First Unitarian Church. Guest speaker will be Mayor Jacob Frey. They’re gonna ask him about the “rezoning” (which is not actually a rezoning), among other things.

Board member says, “I would be willing to be planted to ask a question about preservation of the historic character vs redevelopment.”

Talking about Frey and his housing priorities: “…making things affordable sounds great but it’s a fundamentally flawed concept to take a crown jewel in the city and mess with it.”

I may be murdered before this is over. People speaking freely. I’m so glad nobody cares who the strange man is sitting against the wall tapping on his phone. Lisa Goodman is on the agenda tonight, so that’s when things could really get weird for me.

Talking about the wads of cash that flow from the city to neighborhood organizations. Good explanation from a board member outlining the fact that Lowry Hill gets more money than Kenwood because they have more poverty/more renters due to all the apartment buildings along Hennepin Ave.

Somebody asked if there was a journalist in the room so I’ve been outed. Best Website 2018.

Board member talking about how lucky they are that a big chunk of NRP money was invested into affordable housing loan that was paid back to the neighborhood. All that money can now be used for whatever the neighborhood org wants. (I know who helped make that happen: Janne Flisrand.)

LHNA board is now bemoaning the perception this is a wealthy neighborhood. “We are 70% renter.”
Analysis: are there any in this room?

Basically, having a lot of renters along Hennepin should get you cash from the city and immunity from criticism. As you protect the true historic jewel that’s within.

Extended discussion of the bags of cash available for spending here at the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. Annual meeting is next week if some renters want to crash the party, get elected to the board and spend money foolishly.

Somebody said “Hobo jungle.” Discussion of “bleak” situation under an overpass in Kenwood.

Board member wants to get some plaques for neighborhood mansions and other landmarks. Teach people about some historic white dudes.

Anything from the historic committee? Gonna bring in a guy to talk about conservation districts (which is the little brother of historic districts.)

“If we’re looking to stop teardowns, conservation districts are not gonna do that.”

Fear that legalized 4plexes will lead to teardowns and the construction of expensive housing. (imagine: expensive housing in Lowry Hill)

Board member speaking of making a political “compromise with density advocates” by emphasizing ADUs and legalizing maid quarters and illegal basement apartments that currently exist in legal “grey zone.”

What they don’t want are “high priced condominiums.” Very neat how the homeowners of Lowry Hill have embraced the language of concern about gentrification.

Graves Foundation people are here to present update on their affordable housing for young people coming out of foster care. North of Franklin Ave, between Hennepin and Colfax.

Jim Graves: “we’re holding the density down” and they’ve kept curb cut off Colfax. This is in an attempt to satisfy the residents of this block on Colfax Ave. Graves continues, “The planners aren’t with us.” That’s why he wants neighborhood org support.

Board member: “Is there a chance in hell the city’s gonna let you come in off Hennepin?” Talking about curb cut.

Ground floor. Curb cut on Hennepin.

There’s no retail in this proposal. That’s a change from the previous proposal.

Concerns about parking. Proposal includes 13 parking stalls.

Jim Graves trying to smooth over parking concerns, “this demographic [young, low-income] doesn’t have the means to buy a car.”

Board member: “Worst case you’ve got 35 cars parked in the neighborhood.”

Board member worried about crowding on Colfax. They want to a plan that pushes pedestrians and car traffic to Hennepin Ave.

Graves Foundation representative: “All of the foster units will be single residents.” Affordable units could have couples. Graves Foundation has made an initial 10-year commitment to fund supportive services, which they say is an unusually generous length of time.

Board member: “It’s a lot of units for this spot.”
Analysis: 41 units on Hennepin!

Board seeming more favorable to this proposal than the one from last year. Grudging favorability.

Here are some tweets from last year:

“When you go on the nextdoor website we get lot of kids breaking into cars to sell things to buy a hit of drugs… Are these kids curfewed?”

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) September 6, 2017

“Convince us the kids are gonna be awesome.” Convince me you’re not an asshole!

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) September 6, 2017

Jim Graves says they’ve presented to the Met Council and they loved it. He had assumed there would be “pushback” against project’s lack of density.

Security cameras and 24/7 staffing (may allay concerns over “aggressive malingerers” which was a phrase used at the meeting held about this project last year.)

Graves people say there’s support from county, including commissioner Greene. They find out next week if they get those funds. Neighborhood org support would help because it’s a criteria used in awarding tax credits.

Best case, construction starts spring of 2019.

Board member wants to make neighborhood org support contingent on keeping curb cut on Hennepin.

Questions about when Graves needs support. Answer: tonight. I sense some of these Lowry Hill folks want to kick the can.

Graves people vacate the room. Board members deliberate:

  • “This is 100 times better than the original.”
  • “We don’t know if the city is ok with this.”
  • “We’ll withdraw support” if curb cut is moved to Colfax.
  • “The political momentum [for more housing] has increased to a fever pitch” and this might be better than a building with more units down the road.
  • “This may be the better alternative.”
  • “This can help to dampen people’s misconception that this neighborhood is upper middle class homeowners against affordable housing.”

Graves people spent a lot of time working with neighbors on the 1900 block of Colfax, as well as Lisa Goodman, trying to satisfy concerns.

Board member trying to soothe traffic concerns: “25,000 cars go down Hennepin every day… I don’t think [this new building] it’s that big of an impact.”

Someone says: “if Colfax residents are comfortable…”
Colfax resident: “I wouldn’t say we’re comfortable.” Grudging.

Colfax resident says there’s still a lot of opposition. But she’s resigned to the fact they can’t change zoning.

Another board member: “This whole thing is like negotiating a divorce. People do not walk away equally happy, they walk away equally unhappy.”

Someone just turned and snapped “off the record” at me. Doesn’t work that way!

Letter of support passes Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. 41 units of affordable and supportive housing for young people leaving foster care is one small step closer to reality.

I got out alive. Please support my courageous reporting this evening.

Live Coverage: Ward 2 Comp Plan Meeting

No surprise: the people with the most housing security in Minneapolis are very vocal about wanting nothing to change. They’re not shy, and you shouldn’t be either. Send your council member an email or ten with your thoughts about the Minneapolis draft Comprehensive Plan. View the plan and comment here: minneapolis2040.com

Below is last night’s Twitter thread as a more readable blog post.


It’s weird to be in that part of Minneapolis that is actually St Paul.

Guy just introduced himself to Ward 2 City Council Member Cam Gordon as a “new resident of Longfellow, used to live in Uptown” and Cam said, “so you grew up.” And a guy from the Wedge said “hey I’m from the Wedge!”

(guy from the Wedge was me)

People complain about government workers, but these two just solved forgetting a power cord for their projector by scrounging up an extension cord at this church. pic.twitter.com/SY6Ma2BpCO

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) April 27, 2018

People at my table are very impressed with the hard copy of these maps: “oooh, you can’t print these at home.”

Cam said “we didn’t print out enough of those booklet dealies, but I can email one to you.”

Heavy representation from Prospect Park at this meeting.

Cam calls once-a-decade comprehensive plan update: “One of the bigger decisions we’re gonna make in a long time.”

Scoop: Minneapolis director of long range planning Heather Worthington says there’s a planner with bundles of post it notes from all the comp plan public meetings on the floor of his office.

Planner says she likes to think of navigating the comp plan website as a “choose your own adventure” book she read as a child. You can click through to explore policy topics and how they relate to plan.
Minneapolis2040.com

Lady says it’s “really difficult” to get to the “bottom line of what the plan really means.” Also concerns about having a paper copy. Wants PDF version people can print.

Now a question about extending public comment period because of lack of PDF to this point.

Planner starts to speak, then interrupted by resident, “excuse me who are you and what is your role?” These people are very precise.

Comprehensive Plan, once adopted, has the force of law, says planner Joe Bernard. Update to zoning code follows comp plan update over the next few years. Comp plan is not zoning, it’s a guide to inform an upcoming process.

Analysis: one of the dirty secrets of the comp plan is that so many of our current policies conflict with the current comp plan, so concerned residents have plenty of room to fuck with this process going forward.

Not a static document. It can be amended, says Heather Worthington.

Cam calls comp plan a “lever” to get your chosen policies down the road.

Guy (who I’m told is a former planner with the Met Council): “my home is zoned single family, and this plan says somebody can come in and buy my house and build a 4plex. Why are you trying to do away with single family homes?”

Hey guy, you don’t have to sell your home.

Presentation stalled by flurry of questions…

I say legalize 4plexes and small apartment buildings. People will continue to live in single family homes, and buy single family homes for use as single family homes far, far into the future. The sky is not falling. Making something legal doesn’t make it mandatory.

Single family homes keep us not Detroit, says guy.

I feel like there was almost a moment of self awareness when he said we didn’t “go the way of Detroit” because of SFHs, when he said “when, uh…. people moved out”.

HMM.

— Alex! (@BikeAlex) April 27, 2018

Carol Becker is here and if she tries to have a beer with me I’m grabbing this baby and fleeing this church like a dad in distress.

Look who sat next to me. pic.twitter.com/RD3V72RTIy

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) April 27, 2018

Met council planner guy assures us he has an understanding of the issues. “Prospect Park is a mosaic and it works.” Doesn’t want duplexes and 4plexes to go just anywhere because that’s bad “for those of us who have invested in our homes.”

Single family homes are the foundation of everything that’s good about Minneapolis is the gist of this.

Heather Worthington says we’re not banning single family homes.

Cam has asked met council planner guy not to talk for a while because he has used up his quota.

I urge you, if you are a person who exists outside this room I’m in right now: make yourself very loud and visible to your council member and city planners about where you stand on ending exclusionary zoning.

Heather Worthington says housing chapter is least complete in this draft. They are “working on it concurrently.”

Lady asks if anyone has been to a planning commission meeting. Lots of yeses. “I found it very frustrating.”

“I have a 4plex next to me. No problem with it. But it has 4 parking spaces.”

Seward guy says he likes 4plexes! He lives along the river and he sees value in allowing people to downsize and stay in the neighborhood. I like this guy.

Next lady not so much. “We’re being inundated by students.” Says all neighborhoods are different. “We see what’s happened to Como and Marcy Holmes and some extent to us, and we don’t like it.”

Carol Becker plugging her Star Tribune letter. She’s off to the races! “Did anyone see it???” Yes, Carol.

I need a fit young planner to come to my rescue. “We’re gonna see electric cars in the future… Unless you’re gonna bomb the city and start over again…” this plan won’t work. Says her neighborhood doesn’t have triplexes. “We don’t wanna demolish every home… Some parts of the city it makes sense.”

Scott the young dad is speaking. He lives in a 4plex near transit. Looking to become a homeowner, but ownership options are expensive. Holding housing supply down is recipe for displacement. Teardowns are creating giant expensive single family homes.

Sarah mentions climate change and that this plan is about Minneapolis evolving over the next two decades, when Scott’s baby is 20. Then whispers “I stole all your ideas.” Sarah is my mouthpiece.

More supportive comments from @SerafinaScheel and @BikeAlex who are smart people you should follow.

Alex says the house he bought very recently would be unaffordable to him right now. That’s how much home prices have gone up. We need more homes in Minneapolis.

“if yimbys and nimbys and maybe some social justice people came together that would be a slam dunk” says Cam. Lol.

Ethan says he bought his house in 2015 and he couldn’t afford it today. The starter home “window has closed.” Time to expand our definition of starter homes.

Lady chimes in with another data point. Bought home 3 years ago, just sold it. Made $40k.

Analysis: Profiteer.

I see a divide in this room between:

  1. people who own homes
  2. people who own homes but also realize there are other people who don’t own homes.

Lady values opinions of the youth here in the room. She likes bikes and hates climate change and is for social justice. She wants to bridge the divide, but she wants us to know about slumlords. That’s why she can’t support 4plexes, even though she likes the idea. Hates developers.

Analysis: I have had nice landlords. Slumlords are not the extent of our non owner occupied housing supply. More inspectors? This is not an insurmountable problem.

All these students have cars. That’s the reality, says lady.

Downtown is now concrete, says lady.

Analysis: what was it before?

Lady is inundated with offers to buy her home and somehow that’s the problem with this draft comp plan.

Guy says he wants to talk about predatory landlords. Was charged $600 for a broken doorknob. Says he’s the only person younger than 20 in this room. I say you could raise the cutoff to 30 maybe. (But you wouldn’t know it by looking at me.)

Head of long range planning Heather Worthington takes it as a badge of honor that the comp plan process was criticized recently for being skewed to the youth.

The entire population of North Dakota is moving to the region in the next 20 years, says @jdhoudek. Do we want that growth to sprawl out to car dependent suburbs?

Not literally all of North Dakota, but the equivalent.

I hope Cam Gordon has the discipline to end this meeting on time right now because I bet these folks have endurance.

Comment from @kburrows033 says he likes the idea of allowing 4plexes away from noisy polluted corridors because it’s wrong to restrict renters to undesirable areas.

Lady moved to her current home to be close to transit, not have a car. Gets a lot of offers for her previous home, a duplex, which she rents. Doesn’t sell because she feels responsibility to offer quality affordable housing. A good landlord! She’s convinced 4plexes are not affordable to homeowners, but duplexes are. Thinks we need to get more creative about density.

Public education is under the purview of the school board, we have no control over it, says Heather Worthington. It is addressed in the economy section.

Self-described young person from Marcy Holmes is here to warn us against the Ward 3 model. Says not requiring affordable housing has set us back. Calls this room out for lack of diversity.

Noted local dad @edkohler gets the honor of closing this meeting out. Says people are willing to trade square footage in order to drive less. “That extra density, it works for me.”

The Future: Minneapolis 2040

At a community meeting for a street reconstruction last year, a young mom made a passionate argument: it would be a generation, she said, before the street was reconstructed again. This was our only chance to create a neighborhood street where she could safely push a stroller, or walk and bike with her kids. It was an argument that stayed with me, not just for its passion, but because it so obviously placed the question in the right context: we were about to lock in a reality that would endure for decades.

I admit that mothers and children make for unreasonably sympathetic figures, but even if you’re not a fan of moms and babies, the underlying argument is compelling. The city plans things, often years before acting on those plans. And when plans are enacted, we live with the results for a generation. It’s easy to let short-term fear of change overtake the politics of planning for the kind of future we want for ourselves and our children.

Minneapolis is currently in the middle of a multi-year process to update its comprehensive plan — a big picture blueprint on “housing, job access, the design of new buildings, and how we use our streets.” The update is mandated by the Metropolitan Council, and it only happens once every ten years. The current draft comprehensive plan is called “Minneapolis 2040,” and the name is more than just empty, futuristic branding.

In every sense, Minneapolis 2040 is a long-term plan. On zoning in particular, the process of updating the city’s code would begin some time after the comprehensive plan is adopted by the council late this year. And zoning by itself does not transform neighborhoods overnight. As I have written previously, the pace of change in built-up neighborhoods is very slow, even under permissive zoning.

This is all to say: the plan called “Minneapolis 2040” is really, truly, and literally about Minneapolis in the year 2040. The people of 2040 will live with the biggest effects of decisions we make this year. The year 2040 is about the time that babies of today will have jobs, homes, and families of their own. As I write this the day after Earth Day 2018, those grown-up babies of 2040 will also probably wish their parents’ and grandparents’ generations had taken big issues like climate change more seriously.

Are we giving the people of 2040 the chance at a transportation system that moves significantly more people in ways other than private automobiles? Are we making it possible for every Minneapolis neighborhood to affordably accommodate considerably more people than live here right now? Are we promoting increased access to jobs, housing, and transportation in ways that serve everyone equitably?

I have my own ideas of how we get to Minneapolis 2040, and I believe this draft plan is a good start. But mostly I want to encourage you not to consider these questions with anxiety and fear about how the plan will affect you personally over the next few years (answer: hardly at all). These big, long-term questions should be considered with an eye towards the Minneapolis we need to become 20 years from now. It won’t happen overnight, but it won’t happen at all unless we start planning for it right now.

The Minneapolis 2040 draft comprehensive plan is open for public comment through July 22. The city is also hosting a series of open houses in May.

Zoning Reform and the Pace of Neighborhood Change

There’s a post on streets.mn debunking the idea that fourplexes mean four stories. The truth is that Minneapolis’ new draft comprehensive plan that proposes allowing up to four-family homes in currently single-family neighborhoods, would limit those homes to 2.5 stories (the “Interior 1” designation). Honestly, I am someone who thinks four stories is just fine in lots of places and the comprehensive plan isn’t radical enough — but if you’re bothered, the facts should be reassuring.

“Interior 1” in the draft Minneapolis Comp Plan

There’s another point to be made about the pace of change that modest zoning reform would bring to any given neighborhood. As with most things, I like to use the Wedge neighborhood as an example. For the last 40 years, the Wedge has had the most permissive residential zoning in Minneapolis (R6) across many interior blocks (along with a generous portion of two-family zoning). It’s the kind of zoning that, if you can assemble multiple lots, might conceivably lead to a five- or six-story building with a 100 or more apartments.

For people who hate the idea of more neighbors, R6 zoning is as scary as it gets. R6 zoning has been the rallying cry for the Wedge’s anti-housing activists to justify repeated downzoning (two successful, one failed) and historic districts.

What has this extremely permissive zoning created in reality? From about 1975 until 2018, it produced a 42-unit building (which, from the street, appears to be three stories — the fourth story is stepped back), a 10-unit building, and a fourplex. This is all that’s been built in the Wedge interior. When I say “interior,” that’s everything excluding Lyndale Avenue and the formerly industrial/Greenway area south of 28th Street.

Again, this is an area famous for the most permissive residential zoning in Minneapolis. That’s just three buildings and 56 units in 43 years.

On the other end of the spectrum from R6, the “fourplex zoning” (Interior 1) recommended in the Minneapolis draft comprehensive plan is about as  restrictive as it gets, short of leaving in place single-family zoning. Fourplex zoning would limit building heights to 2.5 stories, limit units, and limit lots to a “traditional size city lot.” Meaningful change happens inside the building, with up to four families now able to live there.

Small changes over an entire city can add up. But allowing two-, three-, and four-family homes in formerly single family neighborhoods will not radically transform individual neighborhoods overnight, or even over the course of 40 years. Just because something is allowed, doesn’t mean it becomes mandatory. But it does mean small changes would be possible, creating more housing choice across every neighborhood in the city.

You can comment on the Minneapolis 2040 draft Comprehensive Plan through July 22.