Judge again orders Minneapolis to stop implementing 2040 Plan; city plans appeal
A Hennepin County judge has again ordered Minneapolis to stop implementing its 2040 Plan and revert back to its previous comprehensive plan.
Judge Joseph R. Klein’s ruling on Tuesday is the latest development in a lengthy legal battle that stretches back to 2018.
The city of Minneapolis now has 60 days to revert to its 2030 Plan. The city attorney’s office told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, “We think the Court’s ruling is wrong and we will be appealing.”
The lawsuit stems from claims that the city’s 2040 Plan, which took effect in 2020, violates state environmental law.
The plan eliminated the city’s single-family residential zoning district, which covered roughly 50% of Minneapolis’s 57.49 square miles, and authorized a full build-out of almost 150,000 new residential units during the plan’s duration.
Environmental groups challenged the plan, claiming the city didn’t adequately analyze the plan’s likely effects on the environment.
In June 2022, Klein agreed and ordered the city to stop implementing the 2040 Plan but a short time later allowed the city to continue using the 2040 Plan’s standards while the appeal process played out. However, in December, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with the environmental groups and the Minnesota Supreme Court declined a request for review by the city.
In granting the injunction again on Tuesday, Klein noted that the 2040 Plan’s full build-out numbers are, for new unattached residential units, 100 times higher than the threshold for a mandatory environmental impact statement under state law and 150 times more than that threshold for new attached residential units. Even using the city’s expectation that only around 49,000 new residential units will be built under the 2040 Plan, that’s still 32 to 48 times above the minimum requirements for triggering a mandatory environmental impact statement.
Beyond that, the judge noted that the expert report the city relied on in its argument failed to even address or rebut the many environmental concerns posed by the environmental groups.
“Plaintiffs presented a lengthy, detailed, compelling, and unrebutted case outlining the likely environmental problems directly related to the population densification feature of the 2040 Plan. … With these undisputed findings in mind, this court finds that allowing any continuing implementation of the residential development portions of the 2040 Plan would be a manifest violation of both the letter and the spirit of [the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act],” Klein wrote in his opinion.
After losing its appeal, the city tried to argue that there isn’t any evidence that the 2030 Plan would have less of a potentially harmful impact on the environment than the 2040 Plan. The problem is the judge noted that the city’s lone expert didn’t critique the 2030 Plan at all and no other concerns with the 2030 Plan have ever been raised. Plus, Klein pointed out that the two plans are so drastically different that the city’s own argument actually undercut its efforts.
“The City seems to suggest that there is a reasonable concern that the 2030 Plan, on full implementation, will present environmental impairments—the types of which it has not specified and the means by which it has not, through any expert declaration, explained,” Klein’s ruling added.
He also wrote that under the 2030 Plan, new buildings often needed special approvals, which he said offered an additional layer of review to mitigate potential environmental impacts.
While acknowledging that forcing the city to revert to its 2030 Plan may create some difficulties, Klein wrote that it’s not unnecessary and implied that it’s the city’s own fault.
“Throughout nearly five years of active litigation, the City took no steps to voluntarily conduct a [Environmental Impact Statement] or [Alternative Urban Area Review],” the judge wrote in his opinion. “The City’s litigation strategy resulted in its failure to rebut Plaintiffs’ prima facie showing of a [Minnesota Environmental Rights Act] violation, or to establish any affirmative defense. After it lost the cross-motions for summary judgment, the City still took no steps to conduct any environmental assessment to study the potential adverse environmental impacts caused by the 2040 Plan. After all appeals were completed, it took no steps to address the environmental concerns raised by Plaintiffs. All the while, the City has continued to implement the 2040 Plan. It did so with eyes wide-open to the fact that Plaintiffs were seeking an Order enjoining any ongoing implementation of the residential development portions of the City’s 2040 Plan.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who wasn’t available for an interview on the matter Wednesday, was unhappy with the ruling.
“We’ve invested in record amounts of affordable rental housing production in Minneapolis, limited rent increases to just 1% for the past five years, and have been credited with keeping inflation way below the national average… so much of this progress, and our ability to meet future housing goals, has been made possible thanks to the 2040 Plan. Period,” Frey said in a prepared statement Wednesday.
“Needless to say, we are extremely disappointed in this ruling today and will continue fighting this legal battle,” the mayor added.
While reverting to its former comprehensive plan, the city will need to conduct environmental studies to try to move forward with the 2040 Plan in the future, and further court proceedings regarding the guidelines and transparency of that process are expected, according to the judge’s order. Of course, that’s all barring a decision on the city’s appeal.