Sunday, July 22, 2018

Minneapolis 2040 Does Not Serve North Minneapolis




Public comments are due tonight on the Minneapolis 2040 Plan, so by the time most of you will read this, I'm hoping that enough input has already made it clear that the plan in its current form is unworkable and needs a new draft.  I have serious concerns over the 2040 proposal, but first want to articulate what this is and what it is not, for the sake of readers who may not be familiar with how these long-range plans work.

The best comparison in north Minneapolis would be the West Broadway Alive! plan.  And I remember my first reaction to the vision of what to do with the north Minneapolis segment of West Broadway was that this plan was full of political pablum and had no concrete ideas whatsoever.  A fair criticism, to be sure, but West Broadway Alive! was not meant to put forth specific development ideas.  Rather, it was meant to express the community's long-term values and goals for West Broadway.  Then, when various proposals came forward, we could point back to the document and say one of a few things. "Yes, this follows the WBA; yes, it could follow those values with some tweaks; no it does not follow the plan and deserves to be summarily rejected; or no, it does not follow the plan, but presents some previously unthought of ideas that we should now incorporate into Broadway's development."

In the years since, north Minneapolis residents, business owners, investors, and advocates have used the WBA plan to push back against the location of a Hennepin County Services Center, to keep the MPS from creating more surface parking, to preserve historic storefronts before and after a fire, and to guide multi-family housing along the Broadway curve from James Ave to Penn Ave.  That's how I see the 2040 plan's future use, which is why even after the initial draft phase is closed, we need to keep giving our input to city council members and other officials.  Because once 2040 is adopted - and eventually it WILL BE - then for the next decade or more, people will come forward with their detailed proposals for specific developments in specific areas.  And they absolutely will point to the 2040 plan in its final form as a document that was passed with enough community input that its gravitas and credibility should continue to guide city and community decisions for years to come.

So since this document will be used to justify or oppose how our city develops and grows for decades, the time to make our voices heard is now.  Which leads me to my concerns over the Minneapolis 2040 Plan...


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Where Will We Put All Those Fourplexes?


After my initial foray into the citywide fourplex proposal, I began to take a closer look at my own surroundings.  And as much as I want to exercise caution I became quite surprised at how little of north Minneapolis is zoned for multifamily housing compared to how much this part of the city could use such development.

For instance, from my place on 26th and Penn up to 30th Avenue North (which is only three blocks because the 2800 and 2900 blocks get jumbled together here), there are at least twenty-three city- or county-owned vacant parcels of land.  All of them are zoned R1 residential, so without a variance only single-family homes can be built.

Penn Avenue North is a community corridor.  It already has a mix of multi-family and single-family homes along the route, especially in this three-block stretch.  North Minneapolis has bled density and needs to add more people back to our community.  In fact, you can't rightly call Penn a commercial corridor because there isn't enough of a population to drive much commerce here.  When Metro Transit surveys their ridership to see where its ridership is most dependent on busing as their primary mode of transportation, Penn's route (the 19) and its tributaries and parallels (the 5, 22, 14, among others) consistently come out near the top.

When you talk about areas that need density, we're it.  When you talk about building housing for those without cars, the northside is not some trendy place where young college grads use the Uber to Lyft their Car2Go or whatever the kids are doing nowadays.  People are riding the bus to do their laundry and grocery shopping because that's what they need to get by.

So looking at this zoning proposal in terms of racial equity and access to an affordable infrastructure of housing and transit, corridors like Penn and Lyndale, Emerson and Fremont Avenues North absolutely have to be the cornerstone of how communities can benefit.  Because the next carless micro-unit building for college grads making sixty grand is not going to cut it.

With that in mind, my next round of number crunching was centered around this query: Were it not for the R1 zoning restriction throughout much of north Minneapolis, would we see an influx of multifamily investment?  Or as some council members have posited, would that investment be focused in other areas even at the expense of existing housing stock?

Some of what I found seemed to support my predispositions and other data was more than a bit surprising.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Who Would Benefit from Relaxed Citywide Multi-Family Zoning?

Vacant land, multi-family, and single-family homes.
These parcels are likely already zoned for multi-family housing, but there are plenty of vacant lots around me that would benefit from the addition of 3-4 unit properties.

"Well, the cat's out of the bag," said Council Member Lisa Bender regarding a proposal to relax zoning requirements practically citywide.  The change could result in there being virtually no barriers - from a zoning perspective - to building a four-unit house throughout much of the city.  To be honest, the prospective change excites me more than just about anything I've seen from our new council.  But it is replete with possibilities to further exacerbate some of Minneapolis' worst problems even while it addresses rental housing shortages.

CM's Johnson and Gordon raised some of their own concerns, namely that the new ordinance could result in starter homes being priced out certain markets as the land beneath the home becomes worth enough for investors to purchase, demolish, and build anew.  While this would add a net gain of housing units, it would come at the expense of first-time buyers and would not be the ideal way to roll out such a change.

I share those concerns, and worry that otherwise viable housing will be demolished in favor of new construction of fourplexes.  If that dynamic becomes widespread, then I also worry that we will have a housing change that prices more owners out of south and northeast Minneapolis while passing over the swaths of already-vacant land in north.  And then let's talk about who benefits and how.  Obviously renters benefit from having more options available to them at (hopefully) affordable rates for quality housing.  The communities around the new units get the benefits - and let's be honest, the drawbacks such as they are - of increased density.  And the largest beneficiaries would the the new owners of the four-unit housing expansion.

I will be focusing on those two aspects of the proposal as this post proceeds - how to incorporate a zoning change in ways that minimize the demolition of viable homes and how to ensure that the largest windfalls that ownership provides are aimed at people and communities that have been historically marginalized.