The city is poised to take a big step this spring when it enshrines zoning regulations that will guide the city’s growth for decades to come.
Ward 7 City Council Member Lisa Goodman, who chairs the council’s Business Housing Inspections and Zoning Committee, gave notice of her intent to introduce major amendments to 11 different sections of the city’s code of ordinances as part of implementing the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan in February.
“The new and amended regulations are intended to allow a range of uses appropriate for each zoning district and provide a greater degree of predictability for residents, businesses and the development community,” wrote Goodman.
“The city is legally obligated to eliminate the conflicts between our zoning code and our comprehensive plan,” said city planning manager Jason Wittenberg. “Minneapolis 2040 leaves quite a bit up for discussion,” he said. “So, people can use their influence to get more of the uses they want to see more of, and limit uses that they find less desirable.”
“This is truly a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change our city to be more walkable, more complete, and more neighborly,” said Brit Anbacht, a Field neighborhood resident and volunteer with the group Neighbors for More Neighbors.
“The last time the zoning code was overhauled was in 1999. The time before that was approximately in the 1970s. Most likely we will not be changing the code in a major way again for another 20 to 30 years.”
The draft plan was released for review on Jan. 21 along with an online survey to gather public feedback about it. On Feb. 15, the city held on online public meeting.
The new rules will not change any current uses of properties, but they will provide guidance and limit, allow or expand possible future uses.
NEW ZONING CATEGORIES
At a recent Planning Commission Committee of the Whole meeting, Wittenberg and other planning staff highlighted some uses often found to be less desirable. These included entertainment uses, liquor stores, tobacco shops, firearms dealers, pawn shops, check cashing establishments, and automobile services.
The new proposal creates new primary zoning categories with specific uses allowed or prohibited within them. The new catalogs, or districts, are urban neighborhood (UN), residential mixed-use (RM), commercial mixed use (C), downtown (D), production (PM), transportation (T) and parks (P). To find more details and submit comments people can see https://minneapolis2040.com/implementation/land-use-rezoning-study/.
DEADLINE EXTENDED TO MARCH 26
The deadline for comments on the draft was set for Feb. 26, but has been extended an additional 30 days until March 26, following a letter signed by Roxxanne O’Brien & Shalini Gupta, co-founders of Community Members for Environmental Justice (CMEJ) that requested an extension to the process. The letter was co-signed by 20 additional organizations.
“Zoning is one of the most important functions of city law,” the letter said. “As zoning was established nearly a 100 years ago in many cities across the country, it has historically played a major role in segregation and concentration of unwanted uses in lower income and communities of color. This rezoning will decide how and where specific industries, and hence pollution, will be allowed. Those decisions disproportionately affect the health and well-being of environmental justice and communities of color in the city.”
“To result in a better more equitable zoning code revision,” the authors requested a six-month public engagement period and that the city design a process, especially within the city’s two designated Green Zones, that would “allow the city and neighborhood organizations to incorporate meaningful public input about the specifics and language of the proposal.”
“I think that the extension is the bare minimum as far as having compassion or acknowledging that it is already going so fast,” O’Brien, who is also a member of the Northern Green Zone advisory committee, said after the 30-day extension was announced. “It’s still insufficient, and not what the 2040 plan had in mind about future community engagement.”
With the extension, the public hearing at the planning commission has been scheduled for April 24, with consideration of the council’s Business, Inspections, Housing, and Zoning Committee tentatively set for May 16, and the full council vote set for May 25.
Industry and residential areas
O’Brien is most concerned about where industrial uses will be located and how close they might be to residential property, as well as schools and parks, including the new park and housing proposed for the Upper Harbor Terminal area. She wants those areas examined carefully, and worries that “too much may be left to the discretion of staff.”
One aspect of the plan, highlighted at the Feb. 15 meeting, was that it will no longer allow many intense industrial uses that were allowed in the past. The proposal does away with the “industrial” zones, and replaces them with production and processing areas for production, processing and distribution of products “that have minimal or no air, water, or noise pollution impacts, and that provide quality living-wage jobs.” As called out in the 2040 plan, future uses will be limited and “new heavy industrial uses that harm human health or the environment” will not be allowed throughout the city.”
As outline in the proposal, this includes uses like shingle, asphalt, battery and paint manufacturing, which will not be allowed as a new use anywhere. However, the new proposal would permit concrete, asphalt and rock crushing; concrete, stone, clay, or tile production; small scale forgeries and foundries, grain elevators or mills, recycling facilities and waste transfer facilities. At the meeting, staff encouraged people to review and submits comments on if and where these uses would be permitted.
Anbacht is organizing more on the southside, and has already conducted two community walks in her neighborhood to help educate people about the how properties might be affected.
Under the proposal, there are three exclusively residential districts. The UN1 district allows for small-scale residential uses. The UN2 district allows for small to moderate-scale residential uses. The UN3 district allows for moderate to large-scale residential uses near transit routes and stations. These areas allow a wider variety of housing types, but they would not allow any new commercial uses.
“There are legitimate concerns that zoning is supposed to help mitigate,” said Anbacht. “When we live in a city, we live with our neighbors within hearing distance. The barking dog, the noisy party after 10 p.m., the delivery trucks. I live within the noise zone for the airport, as well as 35W. But those noises also come with benefits like a bakery where you get a donut before work, or a meal at a bar on the weekend without having to drive for 40 minutes first.”
A point of contention is the interpretation of the 2040 plan’s policy to not encourage commercial uses on land designated as residential. “Staff has been very conservative in their interpretations of some of the language of the 2040 plan, in particular that ‘not encouraged’ must mean ‘prohibited’ with regards to commercial uses,” Anbacht said.
Anbacht, Neighbors for More Neighbors, and some planning commissioners are suggesting that some commercial uses could be allowed in these residential areas provided certain conditions are met.
“It’s particularly apparent how restrictive the zoning is when looking at the map,” said Park Board and City Planning Commissioner Becky Alper. “I see a lot of benefits, particularly from a 15-minute city perspective, of allowing additional uses within walking distance of residences as we seek to have three out of every five trips, taken by walking, rolling, or transit.”
Fellow commissioner Chris Meyer said, “A potential proposal I’m working on would be to allow low-intensity commercial – coffee shops, dentist, thrift store – on corner sites throughout the city.”
“This is a step forward in the ongoing implementation of the 2040 Plan, and as we move forward, I want to make sure that I’m thoughtfully gathering feedback from Ward 11 to bring into our discussion at City Hall,” said Ward 11 City Council Member Emily Koski, who is the council’s appointee to the commission. She asks that Ward 11 residents, business owners, and local developers contact her with feedback.
When the plan was approved, Wittenberg recalls, a point was made to legalize existing commercial properties in residential areas, but there was also a call to preserve areas for housing to accommodate current needs and projected growth. Wittenberg said, “I think people are being selective in the reading of the policies. It was staffs’ feeling that there was never much discussion of allowing new commercial uses [in these residential areas].” He said the proposal overall “will increase the amount of commercial zoning in the city by 50%.”
Neighbors for More Neighbors has identified areas along bus lines where multi-story buildings are in UN districts, which means commercial uses in any part of those buildings would be prohibited. Allowing some conditional commercial uses there, they suggest, could lead to more complete neighborhoods in more areas especially along bus routes.
There is also interest in changing the square footage allowed in the residential mixed-use areas, at least to allow grocery stores to be larger than other allowed uses in an area. Anbacht uses the example of the Aldi grocery store that recently announced that they are closing in North Minneapolis. Along Penn and Fremont, the draft code would limit the commercial 5,000 square feet but the store that is closing is closer to 10,000 square feet.
‘WE NEED TO LEGALIZE A GROCERY STORE’
With the planning commission expected to make recommendations in at the end of April, ideas and organizing will likely pick up in the coming weeks. More time could allow more people to dig into the details and build support for the changes they want to see.
“We have a two-year-old kid,” said Anbacht. “I want the changes we make now to make it possible for them to live a car-free life anywhere in the city when they are an adult. Zoning code determines which neighborhoods are allowed to have corner stores and daily necessities in walking distance and which are not. We need to legalize a grocery store before we can walk to one.”
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