Lawsuit filed against Minneapolis 2040 plan argues it will adversely affect environment

December 03, 2018 09:43 PM

A coalition of Minneapolis neighborhood and environmental groups filed a lawsuit Monday to stop the city council from voting on a comprehensive rezoning plan that would dramatically increase housing density and transform the character of neighborhoods.

Four environmental advocacy organizations, including a group called Smart Growth Minneapolis that focuses on preservation and the sustainable development of Minneapolis, argue in the suit filed Monday that the city's 2040 plan is "likely to cause the pollution, impairment, or destruction of the air, water, land or other natural resources."


The suit, filed in Hennepin County District Court, is asking that a judge immediately hear arguments on why the council should be stopped from taking a vote Friday on whether to approve the plan. The organizations argue the city has failed to conduct an environmental review as required under the Minnesota Environmental Right Act (MERA). City attorney Susan Segal provided a statement, saying "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."

Besides Smart Growth Minneapolis, other members joining the suit are the Audobon Chapter of Minneapolis and Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds.

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In interviews Monday morning, leaders of the coalition filing suit for a restraining order stressed that they are not against development.

"This is the most massive up-zoning project in North America," attorney John Goetz said. "There's never been anything like it."

Goetz went on to say, "It's incredible the city has not done an (environmental) analysis. We do not oppose density. We want evidence-based growth."

Goetz said the city needs to take a step back before a council vote is taken.

"They are rushing in, losing focus," he said.

Meanwhile, attorney Tom Basting. Jr., said, "The biggest takeaway is that it's incredible that the city hasn't done an analysis already. The scope of this project affects almost every square inch of the city of Minneapolis."

City planners have championed the new comprehensive plan, which is required to be submitted to the Metropolitan Council every 10 years, as a way to address the affordable housing crisis and housing disparities for people of color.

Created by the city's Community Planning and Economic Development department, the Minneapolis 2040 plan has policy recommendations about housing, transportation, economic development, public health, the arts and the environment given the arrival of an estimated 700,000 new residents in the Twin Cities during the next 20 years.

City planners have said adjusting for new residents means relaxing zoning codes in the Twin Cities to allow most neighborhoods to create triplexes. City leaders have said they realize housing in the immediate metro area is already in short supply, even without factoring in the expected population growth.

KSTP has reached out to city officials and is awaiting comment.

The organizations hoping to stop the plan from moving forward said it is a radical approach that will lead to a dramatic increase in "up-zoning" in which single family homes in residential neighborhoods could be replaced with multi-housing units, including high-rises.

Organization representatives said that scenario would increase water pollution because there would be less land to absorb run-off and tree canopies would be dramatically reduced.

A Bloomington engineering firm hired by the coalition to do an analysis of the zoning proposal concluded: "The 2040 Plan has not included a thorough evaluation to identify environmental impacts ... Other projects conducted within the state that propose a fraction of the magnitude of change contemplated by the 2040 Plan are subject to environmental review."

Officials had previously planned to submit a version of the Minneapolis 2040 plan to the city council and the Metropolitan Council by the end of the year.

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Ryan Raiche & Rebecca Omastiak

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