Return of the Corner Store in Minneapolis? Planning Commission Approves First Land Use Rezoning Plan Since 1999

After a nearly four hour meeting Monday night, the Planning Commission voted to expand the possibility for small scale corner stores and offices across large parts of the city. They also passed an amendment to make grocery stores viable by easing square footage maximums. The City Council takes up the issue next.

It’s been a quarter century (1999!) since the city last redefined which land uses are allowed in which places. So testimony at yesterday’s public hearing on land use rezoning took note of the “once in a generation” opportunity. It’s the last big step in bringing the city’s zoning code into compliance with the city’s 2040 comprehensive plan, adopted in 2018.

Testimony highlight: Elizabeth from Ward 5 stole our hearts with dreams of coffee shops and yarn stores.

Details on corner store amendment, which passed 7-0:

  • Where it applies: Corner lots in the UN2 and UN3 (urban neighborhood) districts. This change mostly affects parcels north of 38th Street in the south and Lowry Ave to the north — though it does include some corridors beyond those boundaries. Consult the proposed land use map here.
  • Uses allowed: Coffee shop, general retail, office, art studios. All of these uses would be limited to no more than 1,500 square feet
  • Building must include at least 1 residential unit.

The other big one: grocery store square footage was expanded to 20,000 square feet in certain commercial and mixed use zoning districts. This was motivated by a recognition that grocery store footprints are often larger than 10,000-15,000 square feet. Like the corner store amendment, the grocery store amendment was approved 7-0.

The significance of the unanimous vote is that Council Member Koski voted for it. This potentially bodes well for passage by the City Council. Koski serves on both the Planning Commission and the City Council.

The group Neighbors for More Neighbors (which I co-founded and am very proud of — but can’t take credit for yesterday) spent months organizing in favor of the changes. Testimony at yesterday’s public hearing included climate-based arguments about walkable neighborhoods; equity-focused arguments related to food deserts and economic opportunity; and arguments appealing to livability and a return to historic development patterns that predominated before car-centric land use took over.

Another item the group had been advocating for, an amendment to address setback issues, failed to pass.

Analysis: If adopted by the City Council, I’d guess the effect of the corner store allowance will be incremental. Not much will change. But it’s a big shift in how we think about what’s allowed to exist in a neighborhood. In this way, it could be similar to doing away with single-family zoning.