Planning Commissioner Wants to Un-Legalize Triplexes

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At a meeting of the Minneapolis Planning Commission last Thursday, Commissioner Alissa Luepke-Pier argued against implementation of the 2040 plan’s triplex zoning. She referred to it as a “bait and switch” and “morally indefensible;” that it would “displace more people than we’re going to help.”

And it raises the question: If she thinks it will produce such profoundly negative consequences — why did Commissioner Luepke-Pier vote for this plan last year?

Luepke-Pier’s suggested alternative was to greatly limit the triplex plan so that it applies only to vacant lots and owner-occupied properties. She maintains that she still believes in the “goals of the plan.” Two of her colleagues, Sweasy and Coleman, were ready to support her alternative proposal. The Planning Commission has ten members.

Remember 2018?

You probably remember the drawn out conversation Minneapolis had about legalizing triplexes in 2018. It was called the 2040 plan. There were things other than triplexes in the plan, but nothing that got as much attention. Who could forget the apocalyptic yard signs? Ending single-family zoning was the issue everyone was either very mad or very excited about.

Countless articles written in the months before the City Council’s approval, at the end of 2018, made it clear that Minneapolis was about to end single-family zoning. And this single issue really drove the controversy. Some were passionately defending their single-family neighborhoods. Others were decrying the effects of exclusionary zoning.

In the first half of this year, the common understanding of the national press — same as the local coverage — was that Minneapolis had just ended single-family zoning. But that isn’t stopping a member of the Minneapolis Planning Commission from trying to convince her colleagues that 2018 never happened.

Last Thursday’s meeting wasn’t the first sign of her change of heart. In an interview published in June, Luepke-Pier said the triplex provision would “set us back 10 or 20 years” on racial equity; that it’s potentially “catastrophic”; that it’s on par with disastrous urban renewal policies of “1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.”

Again: why did she vote for a plan that she thinks is going to ruin lives?

Rehashing the Density Debate

Commissioner Sam Rockwell, responding to Luepke-Pier’s “density at all costs” criticism, said “I would disagree that density is unconnected to the goals.” He added, density isn’t the primary objective, but is “needed” to achieve the city’s climate change goals. Meeting those targets means reducing the number of trips people make by car. It means legalizing the kind of neighborhoods that can support transit, grocery stores and other amenities.

Commissioner Alyssa Olson echoed Rockwell, saying that density is “an essential tool” for achieving the plan’s other goals.

In a 15-minute prepared speech, Luepke-Pier repeatedly referenced “Johnny Slumlord” as a stand-in for bad landlords. Commissioner Jeremy Schroeder, who is also the Ward 11 Council Member, said, “I get the intentions” of the concerns. Schroeder thinks that’s an issue for housing inspectors — you don’t go after every problem in society by tightening up the zoning code. Schroeder said he prefers “addressing the issues head on,” rather than indirectly though the zoning.

Rockwell pointed out that landlords own a lot of single-family homes — any discussion of bad landlords shouldn’t be limited to triplexes.

Commissioner Amy Sweasy, who was the lone commissioner to vote against the 2040 plan last year, said she was unhappy with the amount and proportion of rental housing approved during her time on the Planning Commission. She believes they’re sending the message that “renting is the way to go.” Sweasy was supportive of Luepke-Pier’s opposition to triplex zoning, while decrying “density for density’s sake.”

Commissioner Jean Coleman was also open to Luepke-Pier’s proposals: “I’m willing to entertain it and pass it on.”

Commissioner Matt Brown said he supports the original triplex plan “largely as is.” He was not supportive of the owner-occupancy requirement, suggesting that it might be a fair housing violation because it discriminates against renters.

Thursday’s unexpected drama at the Planning Commission comes amidst other attempts to chip away at the zoning reforms achieved last year. Have you heard of conservation districts? Parks Commisisoner Meg Forney is seeking a “conservation district” for her neighborhood. The intent is to prevent additional housing that might result from the 2040 plan. The neighborhood is adjacent to a $2 billion transit investment.

The triplex zoning change is expected to be made effective by the City Council on the same day as the 2040 plan, November 16, 2019.