Appeals court sides with environmental groups seeking to stop Minneapolis 2040 Plan

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling that found the Minneapolis 2040 Plan in its current form violates state environmental law, but an order to pause the policy hangs in the balance.

The comprehensive plan went into effect in 2020 and guides the city’s decision-making on several matters, including housing, transportation and the environment. One core aspect of the plan involves doing away with single-family zoning to promote building density throughout the city.

Environmental groups challenged the plan, claiming the city did not adequately analyze the effects a “full build-out” would have on the environment.

In June, Hennepin County Judge Joseph R. Klein sided with the plaintiffs, Smart Growth Minneapolis and the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis, ordering Minneapolis to halt its implementation of the plan until the city brings forth a version that complies with the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act.

The city appealed the ruling and was allowed to enforce the 2040 Plan during the appeals process.

A panel of three appellate judges returned an opinion on Tuesday that affirms Klein’s judgment but asked for further findings supporting an injunction.

“Given the lack of findings supporting the district court’s grant of injunctive relief, as well as the district court’s limited analysis of the issue, the record is insufficient for this court to determine whether the district court properly exercised its discretion in granting injunctive relief,” the ruling states.

Jack Perry, the attorney representing Smart Growth and the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis, said Tuesday’s ruling is a win for enforcing the state’s environmental statutes.

“Our clients are very, very pleased that the Court of Appeals, like Judge Klein and the Supreme Court before that, are giving teeth to MERA, the state’s first and longest environmental protection statute,” Perry said. “The result of this ruling is good for the environment. It’s good for the citizens of Minneapolis, and it’s good for our clients.”

Minneapolis City Attorney Kristyn Anderson said the city plans to file an appeal with the Minnesota Supreme Court.

“We appreciate that the Court of Appeals did not stop the implementation of the Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan (“2040 Plan”),” Anderson wrote in a statement. “That means the City will continue to apply the 2040 Plan standards and requirements to proposed development projects. We disagree with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that the Plaintiffs satisfied their burden to show that the 2040 Plan is inconsistent with State environmental laws. The 2040 Plan has been nationally recognized by policy experts as a major step forward for climate action, and we are confident that the 2040 Plan will have enduring, positive environmental impacts.”