Minneapolis shows the way on zoning

It looks like the Minneapolis City Council is poised to succeed where its counterparts in Austin failed.

A controversial plan to make Minneapolis a more densely populated city has enough support on the City Council to pass when it comes to a vote next month, council members said this week.

From afar, the debate raging over Minneapolis 2040 –– the proposed overhaul of the city’s land development code –– appears to be a carbon-copy of what Austin has endured over the past year-and-a-half. From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

“Affordable housing can be accomplished under the current zoning laws,” said Clyde “Jake” Reber. “This plan is only written to benefit investors and builders.”

Scott Shaffer sees the city finally addressing a major problem.

“No one should exclude neighbors by prohibiting more affordable types of buildings,” he said. “Zoning in Minneapolis and across the country was developed for racist purposes to control and segregate people of color, and dismantling that exclusionary zoning is a necessary step toward racial justice.”

In at least one way, however, the Minneapolis plan appears far more ambitious than the latest draft of CodeNEXT. It will allow a triplex to be built on any lot that is currently zoned single-family. While CodeNEXT only ever contemplated allowing duplexes on most single-family lots, along with an accessory dwelling unit, assuming that the lot was at least 5,000 square feet (down from the current minimum lot size of 5,750). CodeNEXT also proposed leaving in place one-unit limits on a small (but not insignificant) number of lots.

I’m struggling to find any references to lot sizes in the Minneapolis plan, but it appears that the standard lot size there is 5,000 sq ft.

Minneapolis’ triplex policy is actually less bold than what was originally proposed: fourplexes on any lot. The city has similarly backed off a proposal to completely eliminate off-street parking requirements. That that was even on the table stands in marked contrast to the debate in Austin, where CodeNEXT’s proposal to eliminate parking requirements for some small businesses prompted howls from neighborhood groups.

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.31.11 PM
All that yellow is triplex-eligible.

Above all else, however, the Minneapolis plan stands in contrast to CodeNEXT in that it is unabashedly urbanist in its goals. There’s a whole website devoted to how the plan will facilitate diversity of housing, bolster public transit, increase housing supply etc etc etc. CodeNEXT sorta kinda referenced those things in the abstract, but city staff, notably Planning and Zoning Director Greg Guernsey, took great pains to avoid describing the proposed code in big picture, ideological terms.

One big difference between the process in the two cities is that Minneapolis is reforming its zoning as part of its comprehensive plan. In Austin, City Council unanimously approved the feel-good aspirational comprehensive plan (Imagine Austin) in 2012 but put off the much harder task of implementing an associated land use code.

In the wake of CodeNEXT’s death, City Manager Spencer Cronk has been tasked with drawing up a new plan to improve, if not take another crack at overhauling, Austin’s code. Cronk, if you’ll recall, is a Minneapolis native. In fact, he was a few rows ahead of me, sitting in economy comfort, on a Saturday flight from Minneapolis to Austin. Maybe he brought some ideas home with him from Thanksgiving.

4 thoughts on “Minneapolis shows the way on zoning

  1. “While CodeNEXT only ever contemplated allowing duplexes on most single-family lots, along with an accessory dwelling unit, assuming that the lot was at least 5,000 square feet”

    Code Next didn’t even go this far (for most lots).

    3 units (duplex + ADU) was only in transect-zoned areas (draft 1). Then R3C (second draft).

    My 8700 square foot SF3 lot, inside the “core” (within the 183 loop), current McMansion zoned was non-transect in the first draft (along with the rest of my neighborhood and many others). R_2_C in subsequent drafts.

    Just another example of why CodeNext died. It basically didn’t even change anything for 99% of the city. So why bother.

    1. Are you referencing the first draft of CodeNEXT? I’m talking about the third draft, after they’d ditched transects.

      1. I’m referencing both.

        In the first draft, transect allowed 3 (sometimes more) units, and non-transect only allowed 2. The majority of the city was non-transect (so basically unchanged). A large portion (perhaps a majority) of even the “urban core” was non-transect.

        The names changed in draft 2 and 3, but it was basically a change in name only.

        R2B, R2C, etc. allowed only 2 units. So a duplex OR a ADU, not both.

        A duplex AND an ADU (3 units total) were only allowed in R3 zones.

        In draft two, it was literally just a name change. Everywhere that had been non-transect ended up one of the R2s. Everywhere that had been transect ended up R3 (or possibly higher, in a tiny number of cases).

        If I recall, draft 3 made even more locations R2 (so even smaller zoning).

        By the time of draft 3, neighborhood interiors were contributing approximately 0 to any (theoretical) housing capacity increase. It was all in the corridors.

  2. I sometimes wonder if Minneapolis’s size and current density help them in this matter. They’re <60 square miles (1/5 of Austin). They're landlocked(surrounded by their suburbs). They're not trying to simultaneously zone neighborhoods that have been there for a hundred years AND figure out the zoning for greenfield developments).

    In Austin, I'd expect a vote that was just "urban core" residents to be dominated by the ANC. Though maybe I'm wrong (based on the voting patterns we saw earlier this month).

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