Zoning Reform and the Pace of Neighborhood Change

A few days ago, Adam Miller had a post here on streets.mn debunking the idea that fourplexes mean four stories. The truth is that Minneapolis’ new draft comprehensive plan that proposes allowing up to four-family homes in currently single-family neighborhoods, would limit those homes to 2.5 stories (the “Interior 1” designation). Honestly, I am someone who thinks four stories is just fine in lots of places and the comprehensive plan isn’t radical enough — but if you’re bothered, the facts should be reassuring.

“Interior 1” in the draft Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan

There’s another point to be made about the pace of change that modest zoning reform would bring to any given neighborhood. As with most things, I like to use the Wedge neighborhood as an example. For the last 40 years, the Wedge has had the most permissive residential zoning in Minneapolis (R6) across many interior blocks (along with a generous portion of two-family zoning). It’s the kind of zoning that, if you can assemble multiple lots, might conceivably lead to a five- or six-story building with a 100 or more apartments.

For people who hate the idea of more neighbors, R6 zoning is as scary as it gets. R6 zoning has been the rallying cry for the Wedge’s anti-housing activists to justify repeated downzoning (two successful, one failed) and historic districts.

What has this extremely permissive zoning created in reality? From about 1975 until 2018, it produced a 42-unit building (which, from the street, appears to be three stories — the fourth story is stepped back), a 10-unit building, and a fourplex. This is all that’s been built in the Wedge interior. When I say “interior,” that’s everything excluding Lyndale Avenue and the formerly industrial/Greenway area south of 28th Street.

Again, this is an area famous for the most permissive residential zoning in Minneapolis. That’s just three buildings and 56 units in 43 years.


On the other end of the spectrum from R6, the “fourplex zoning” (Interior 1) recommended in the Minneapolis draft comprehensive plan is about as restrictive as it gets, short of leaving in place single-family zoning. Fourplex zoning would limit building heights to 2.5 stories, limit units, and limit lots to a “traditional size city lot.” Meaningful change happens inside the building, with up to four families now able to live there.

Small changes over an entire city can add up.  But allowing two-, three-, and four-family homes in formerly single family neighborhoods will not radically transform individual neighborhoods overnight, or even over the course of 40 years. Just because something is allowed, doesn’t mean it becomes mandatory. But it does mean small changes would be possible, creating more housing choice across every neighborhood in the city.

You can comment on the Minneapolis 2040 draft Comprehensive Plan through July 22.