A Zoning Code That Matches Our Values

In commenting on the city’s current plan to downzone the Wedge neighborhood, former Minneapolis city planner Perry Thorvig has given us some historical perspective. He starts off by celebrating the results of the 1975 downzoning:

The zoning scheme adopted in 1975 must have worked. It was gratifying to me and I’m sure many neighborhood residents, including former council member Meg Tuthill, that the recent study by city planner Brian Schaffer found that very little new development has occurred in the neighborhood since that rezoning was done forty years ago.

(note that while Mr. Thorvig appreciated the 1975 downzoning, he worries the 2016 proposal may go too far in creating non-conformities.)

The kind of housing the city and activists stopped from being built decades ago–the 2½-story walk-up–is what is now referred to as naturally occurring affordable housing (built with private rather than public money). As a result of what we did way back then, we now have less affordable housing.

Today, there’s lots of local renter advocacy happening around the 1970ish 2½-story walk-up. Many such buildings are being sold and renovated with rents higher than current tenants can afford. This has led to local government allocating money to purchase these buildings in order to preserve some tiny portion of what’s become a dwindling supply of affordable units in the region. To the extent we devote public money to saving them, we value the benefits these buildings provide. But are we moving towards a zoning code that matches those values?

Look at these headlines and the very similar apartment buildings pictured underneath:

1972 headline: "LHENA asks for moratorium on 2 and a half stories"


Minnpost headline: "Hennepin County puts money into effort to preserve "naturally occurring" affordable housing."


After all these decades we’re still pursuing a policy (restrictive zoning) aimed at pleasing low-density property owners who would very much not like to have their beautiful, desirable neighborhood “destroyed” by dense multifamily housing; and on the other end we’re forced to mitigate the effect of that policy (painfully expensive housing) by spending a woefully inadequate pool of public housing money.

What are we doing?

It’s 2016 and we’re still downzoning. It doesn’t bode well for the future.

If you’d like to weigh in on downzoning the Wedge, it’s item 5 on the agenda for the next meeting of the Minneapolis City Planning Commission, Tuesday, Nov. 1st, at 4:30 PM.