Judge: 2040 plan can be enforced in Minneapolis amid appeal process

A Hennepin County judge has filed an order that allows Minneapolis officials to enforce the 2040 plan amid an appeal process.

Hennepin County Judge Joseph Klein’s order, filed Tuesday, allows Minneapolis officials to enforce the 2040 plan while an appeal to his earlier ruling overturning the plan is in process.

Several environmental groups are arguing that the city hasn’t been complying with state environmental laws. Last month, Klein sided with those groups and ruled the city must halt its 2040 plan implementation until it complies with the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA).

In the latest ruling, however, Klein addresses city officials’ concerns that reverting to the earlier 2030 plan will require a significant investment of time and effort, particularly if officials have to undo that reversion and re-implement the 2040 plan.

“This case presents an important legal question,” Klein writes in his order, going on to state, “No Minnesota court has ever before considered a MERA challenge to a comprehensive, city-wide zoning plan.”

Klein goes on to state, “Regardless of whether the Order is implemented, or stayed pending appeal, the uncertainty will likely continue. In the judgment of this court, a stay of its Order, pending the outcome on appeal, is warranted.”

He continues, “Because the City has pledged to conduct environmental reviews on a project-by-project basis and because the appeal period is short compared to the duration of the comprehensive plan, the court finds any potential environmental harm is not irreparable or disproportionate.”

About the 2040 plan

A comprehensive plan is required to be submitted to the Metropolitan Council every 10 years, and city leaders have previously championed the newest version, saying it is a way to address the affordable housing crisis and housing disparities for people of color.

The 2040 plan went into effect at the start of 2019 and contained policy recommendations about housing, transportation, economic development, public health, the arts and the environment.

City officials have used it to guide decisions and changes in those areas, having said that they’re projecting significant growth in the city over the coming years and that the city needs increased housing options to prepare for, and deal with, that growth. To do that, the plan focused on increasing density to increase capacity, largely through getting rid of single-family zoning.

Details on the 2040 plan can be found here.

A group of environmental advocacy organizations — including Smart Growth Minneapolis, which focuses on the preservation and the sustainable development of Minneapolis, the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis and Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds — sued the city in 2018 prior to the plan’s approval, arguing that the 2040 plan is “likely to cause the pollution, impairment, or destruction of the air, water, land or other natural resources.”

At the time, the group argued the city hadn’t identified the environmental effects of the 2040 plan, claiming that violated the law.

Then-city attorney Susan Segal countered, at the time, that “the 2040 comprehensive plan is an update by state law. The City’s proposed update is lawful and we will be defending the City accordingly.”

City officials also stated they didn’t need to do environmental analysis since “a full build-out of almost 150,000 new residential units is extremely unlikely to occur.”

RELATED: Minneapolis 2040 plan rezoning questioned by some residents

Last month, Judge Klein ruled that it was appropriate to analyze the full build-out of the city’s 2040 plan, adding that the city not only failed to rebut concerns addressed with the plan but also “failed to show that a reasonably prudent alternative to the 2040 Plan is unavailable.” He ruled that the city must revert to its 2030 plan as a result.

RELATED: Judge orders Minneapolis to stop implementing 2040 plan

Response to latest ruling

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey issued a response to the ruling:

Yesterday, Judge Klein granted the City’s motion to stay his summary judgment order which had previously halted all efforts around the 2040 comprehensive plan. This decision allows us to continue our nation-leading efforts to create a diversity of housing options in every neighborhood and push back on generations of segregation in Minneapolis. While this case is not yet settled, this is a critical step in defending our groundbreaking vision and plan.

Meanwhile, Interim Minneapolis City Attorney Peter Ginder issued the following statement:

We are pleased that the Court acknowledged the complexity and importance of this matter in granting our request for a stay of the proceedings. The effect of this stay is to return the City to the status quo from before the summary judgment order. This will allow previously postponed matters to move forward, and allow continued review and approval of building permits, rezonings, and other matters covered by Minneapolis 2040, pending the outcome of the underlying appeal. Projects that were in limbo will now move forward for City Council decision.

Rebecca Arons, the executive director of Smart Growth Minneapolis, said the following:

We are pleased that Judge Klein affirmed the importance of this case and its lasting effects. What we’re focused on — and the whole point of the lawsuit — is accountability and transparency. We want the City to study the environmental impacts that will accrue over 20 years as a result of up-zoning the entire city and we are not concerned about a short pause of the injunction of the 2040 Plan. I think most people will agree that such an environmental study is both logical and responsible.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has also reached out to the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis and is awaiting a response.