Judge orders Minneapolis to stop implementing 2040 plan

A district court judge has ordered the city of Minneapolis to stop implementing its 2040 plan after several groups argued the city wasn’t complying with state environmental laws.

Wednesday, Judge Joseph R. Klein sided with the environmentalists and ruled the city must halt its 2040 plan implementation until it complies with the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA).

Minneapolis now has 60 days to revert to previous zoning requirements and stop any actions and plans included in the 2040 plan.

“This decision is a pivotal win for the residents of Minneapolis and the environment,” Smart Growth Minneapolis Executive Director Rebecca Arons said in a statement. “The law requires the City to show that its actions are causing the least environmental harm feasible while trying to achieve its goals, including greater density. This court victory will prevent mistakes from being made by environmentally blind implementation of the plan. It will provide an opportunity for city leaders to make two important values of our city — environmental sustainability and equity — work together and better achieve the goals of the 2040 Plan. Finally, it will give the City the chance to better address issues of environmental injustice, gentrification and housing displacement.”

“We think the 2040 plan goes too far and ignores the cumulative effects of the proposed city-wide build-out,” Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis representative David Hartwell added. “The City’s future growth needs to take into consideration the livability of the community that includes clean air, water and adequate green space for all its residents.”

RELATED: Minneapolis 2040 plan rezoning questioned by some residents

The 2040 plan went into effect at the start of 2019 and city officials have used it to guide decisions and changes in many areas, including housing. City leaders have said they’re projecting significant growth in the city over the coming years and said the city needs increased housing options to prepare for and deal with that growth. To do that, the plan focuses on increasing density to increase capacity, largely through getting rid of single-family zoning — a major move that got national attention.

Smart Growth Minneapolis and the Audubon Chapter sued the city in 2018, saying the city didn’t identify the environmental effects of the 2040 plan, which violated the law. The city had countered that it didn’t need to do environmental analysis since “a full build-out of almost 150,000 new residential units is extremely unlikely to occur.”

Judge Klein ruled that it’s 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.”

In deciding that the city must revert to its 2030 plan, Klein wrote, “While this may no doubt create no small amount of short-term chaos—which the court does not take lightly—this court is inclined to agree that, under MERA, no other action by the court would properly address or remedy the likely adverse environmental impacts of the 2040 Plan.”

Deputy Minneapolis City Attorney Erik Nilsson issued the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS in response to the ruling:

“We are still reviewing the order and, while we anticipate filing an appeal, will consider all options.”

As part of the ruling, Klein also required the environmental groups to post a $10,000 security bond, as can be required under MERA, within 30 days.

Details on the 2040 plan can be found online.