Arguments Against Minneapolis’s Draft Comprehensive Plan, Addressed (Part III)

Phew! The public comment phase of the exhaustively publicized, discussed, and public-feedback-solicited 2040 Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan is over. I don’t know about you, but I am incredibly aware of the existence of this planning process and of my opportunities and methods for learning what the draft plan contains, and for offering my feedback! However, the planning process continues, and opponents of the draft do not seem to be ready to take their foot off the gas pedal of disinformation, so here are some more arguments you might hear from them, along with some responses. (The first two parts of this series are here: Part IPart II )

What Do Residents of North Minneapolis Think?

I am extremely hesitant to touch this one, because I don’t live there. It’s not my place to speak for them. But wow opponents of the draft plan who live in South Minneapolis sure don’t have that same hesitation! Unsurprisingly, they report that residents of North Minneapolis agree with them that density is scary and bad and that’s about it so shut the whole thing down.

I’m not convinced. I want to hear more from actual North Minneapolis residents about what land use policies they think are important or could improve their lives. The stuff I’ve heard isn’t what the Red Scary Signs About Bulldozers brigade is reporting hearing. Let’s let them speak for themselves, and not consider input that has been interpreted, re-packaged, and re-framed by vocal and generally wealthy South Minneapolis residents that have benefited from generations of city and private investment and political favor.

Building New Housing Is “Trickle Down Reaganomics”

Ronald Reagan in The Bad Man, by Richard Thorpe (1941)

Ronald Reagan in The Bad Man, by Richard Thorpe (1941)

Many density opponents have characterized the concept of building more housing units to increase supply as (gasp!) Trickle Down Economics. Invoking the spectre of Zombie Reagan, they’re here to keep us from repeating an economic blunder all good liberals should oppose.

But they either misunderstand Supply-side Economics, and what was wrong with it, or they understand and know how it is different from allowing housing unit density to increase naturally, and are sowing confusion intentionally.

Here is a summary of Supply-side Economic theory, and here is a brief discussion of how shortages of market goods affect prices. I’ll let you reach your own conclusions, but when I read about the two subjects it’s clear to me they are quite different: Supply-side theory was about indirectly reducing prices through giveaways to goods producers, specifically by giving them tax breaks and then wishing underpants gnome style that they’d reduce prices out of the goodness of their hearts instead of just pocketing the money. The price reductions, of course, never materialized.

Increasing the housing supply in a shortage by legalizing new multi-unit dwellings is quite clearly not the same thing. The draft comprehensive plan does not propose any fiscal incentives or giveaways to anyone in exchange for a mere hope they will build. No. The plan provides that either someone builds additional units and supply increases for free, or they don’t and they get nothing and nothing was lost because no public investment was made.

More significant is that this mischaracterization is part of a pattern of behavior from Comprehensive Plan critics. Their arguments frequently have compelling surface-emotional appeal—bulldozers! property taxes! Reaganomics!—but fall apart under even casual critical examination.

In this case, the suggestion that the plan is Evil Reaganomics seems designed to wrongly imply that increasing density is a right-wing proposal simply because there are legitimate supporting economic arguments that, if you cover your ears just right, rhyme with unrelated discredited right-wing economic arguments. But, in fact, the impulse to protect and preserve a Haves/Have Nots status quo, and to craft public policy to benefit the self-interests of the already wealthy over the social good is as conservative as political views come. So calling a legitimate economic argument Reaganomics simultaneously adds confusion and implicitly accuses upzoning supporters of the very thing upzoning opponents are guilty of.

I’m not the sort of person that is impressed by Machiavellian rhetoric, but it’s quite something to see right-wing-style politics of fear and misdirection adroitly rolled out over a matter of municipal land use planning. All’s fair in love and self-interest, I guess. (I’m being sarcastic, my opinion is that it is unethical and irresponsible, especially as it is being led in part by a current elected official.)

I Prefer The Suburb-Within-A-City Lifestyle And It Should Be Preserved

No, it shouldn’t. Though you may find it individually desirable, it is fundamentally incompatible with any form of social responsibility. Just like how we don’t tolerate massive bonfires in city backyards, or dumping motor oil down the storm sewers, only we have been much slower to recognize the harm it does.

Even so, fears of radical transformation are unfounded. Minneapolis legalized ADUs almost half a decade ago, and just a handful a year are built. No density explosion has materialized.

So continue to enjoy your chosen car-dependent lifestyle. Your neighborhood won’t change that much in your lifetime. But it is time to stop expecting the city continue to subsidize and preserve car dependency through maximally restrictive land-use regulations that hurt the city’s ability to house everyone who wants to live here. We need to build a sustainable city for people that doesn’t promote car dependency. This is about the future, not what suits and comforts us today. Thanks.

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24 Responses to Arguments Against Minneapolis’s Draft Comprehensive Plan, Addressed (Part III)

  1. Andrew Evans July 25, 2018 at 10:51 am #

    I live on the East side of Nomi, south of Lyndale and Lowry.

    I’ve said it before here, and to friends, that in North the impact will be little to nothing. The housing values aren’t high enough yet to justify private investment in new single family homes, let alone multi, and that’s with getting a cheap city or county lot. Private lots seem to be asking for $20 to $30k, which puts off the break even point that much more. Off hand I’m not that aware of all the grants or city programs, but they can’t be targeted towards new construction since we still have a metric ton of lots up here that are still sitting around. Unless it’s going like gangbusters in other parts of North, which very well could be the case.

    If anything is built, we have plenty of open lots, and even larger spaces, for buildings to go up long before anything is bulldozed. Or, it will effect North along the river, once the city and park board realize their wet dreams of kicking out the industry and extending river road up, and thus extending the North Loop all the way to the Lowry bridge. (At that point it will be branded something other than Nomi, or Hawthorne, and “true North” will be across the freeway.)

    I wished I could have found a few articles from a couple years back that described how new luxury housing does trickle down and eventually helps lower incomes. It takes time, and a person needs to view housing as a regional thing, but the idea has merit. However, most seem to look at housing within a city’s limits, which I feel is short sighted a little. I don’t feel the zoning part of the plan has to do with that, it’s more a realization that the city needs to build up rather than stay static, or at least that’s my high level understanding.

    All in all I’m for higher density, especially along transit hubs and routes. Although it’s easy to say since my home, although off Lyndale, is safe for a long time from development. But still, people are wanting to drop their cars and live off transit (I’m not one, we have 3 cars, one in storage, and I may get a 4th next year), and that means we need those multi family properties rather than single family homes. The only issue it seems people have is that they are either very rich and don’t want a large condo going up by their million dollar parkway house, or they are in a desirable neighborhood and don’t want to see the functionally obsolete larger old house or mansion tore down in favor of small apartment buildings. Or, they are straight up niby and are fine with progressive growth policies as long as it doesn’t directly effect their block.

    In any event though, this can’t be like the failed North Greenway and shoved down on people, and opinions need to be considered and listened to, especially if the council members want to keep their 6 figure jobs. So although I will call someone a nimby, it is in good faith and I can easily see how they would be concerned about their neighborhood or their property.

    • Trent July 25, 2018 at 2:50 pm #

      It’s terribly ironic, perhaps more so then the commentor realizes that the article points out correctly that North Minneapolis should speak for North Minneapolis. Then a commenter from – wait for it – South Minneapolis – weighs in to calm the waters and reassure everyone there won’t be much of any impact in North Minneapolis. Because true to form, South Minneapolis residents are experts on North Minneapolis.

      I think the “what about North Minneapolis” question has several origins. Firstly, it’s the only area of the city with a large quantity of vacant lots, and 2040 had no specific strategy or policy for the region. Yes the policies of 2040 apply city wide and some more than others to North but there wasn’t a focus say the way St. Paul has a Ford Plant site focus.

      Secondly “what about North Minneapolis” is an acknowledgement that feedback doesn’t always come from that side of downtown. With so many 2040 proponents making upzoning all about targeting southwest Minneapolis, social justice, and framing the dialog as though Ward 13 opposes the plan and everyone else is on board, it’s important to listen to more voices.

      The city council members from North have highlighted the concerns of the community. Local media, Star Tribune articles – and some of the concerns are the same and focus on the balance of homeownership and rental, for example. However you never hear 2040 proponents publically vilify North Minneapolis residents for their concerns the way southwest is shamed for not embracing the plan, for being underlying racist in their housing policy preference.

      A sentiment I have heard in south/southwest Minneapolis more than once, is that instead of trying to cram everyone who wants to live in Linden Hills into that neighborhood, let’s improve neighborhoods across the city to make them all more appealing. This seems to apply to North – so let’s hope the next 2040 draft is more ambitious in this regard.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller July 25, 2018 at 3:40 pm #

        Yes, a consistent refrain is “put those people somewhere else” often tied to fantasy investments that will make North into Linden Hills.

        Which would be great, sort of, if it were that simple, but it’s not.

        As for why SW Minneapolis get criticism and North does not:

        “A survey of localities in the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan areas showed that low-density-only zoning, which restricts residential densities to fewer than eight dwelling units per acre, consistently reduced rental housing; this, in turn, limited the number of Black and Hispanic residents.” https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01944360008976094

        • Andrew Evans July 26, 2018 at 3:52 pm #

          To Adam, it’s really a double edged sword sometimes. We want development, but we also want to keep things affordable, and we don’t want to displace current residents. It’s really picking one of the 3, or gathering investments in non profit buildings.

          As I said in the original comment, without any external money driving more of the non-profit development (Green Homes, apartments like PPL built on Lyn/Lowry, rehabbing properties for lower income applicants), I just can’t see anything in 2040 having an effect on us.

          Using private money, I can’t see anything happening because we’re not at a place yet where it makes sense to build to rent or build to sell. Then when it does make sense those prices will be out of reach for those most in need.

          I see the future of North more as NE or uptown was 10 years ago, mixed in with South from around the VA. We have some great old houses here that rival anything from that period in any other part of the city. Then we have some story and a half to single story homes that are smaller and will always be more affordable. So no, we’re not going to be Linden Hills, but we could be a nice regular run of the mill neighborhood with regular home prices.

      • Andrew Evans July 26, 2018 at 3:43 pm #

        If the comment from Trent was directed at me, Lyndale and Lowry is in North (Nomi), and although I’ve only lived there a handful of years, I do live there and own a house there.

        I did mention “East” since I’m pretty much by the freeway, and there is a lot of the neighborhood and area I’m not exposed to or drive though. So, there very well could be development going on that I’m not aware of.

  2. Monte Castleman July 25, 2018 at 11:06 am #

    So basically if you don’t want the possibility of apartment towers 4-plexes built on all sides of your single family house in the city and blocking your sunlight and eliminating your privacy, you should buy a house in Chaska (and presumably drive your car all the way downtown) instead? Got it.

    • Chris Moseng
      Chris Moseng July 25, 2018 at 11:10 am #

      You could buy the adjacent properties.

      • Chris Moseng
        Chris Moseng July 25, 2018 at 11:47 am #

        I’m going to reply to my own post so I can expand on this, because it does get to the heart of what’s going on here.

        SFH zoning is a form of government protectionism that distorts the market. It gets a landowner for free, by government fiat, what they might otherwise have to pay for. Don’t want a fourplex next door? Buy the property. Or buy an easement! Put your money where your mouth is if you think it’s so important.

        Why is this unlikely to happen in most cases? People aren’t actually going to pony up what it would cost to actually buy the rights to burden adjacent land this way. They don’t *actually* value those exclusionary impulses as much as they claim to, or if they do, they can’t afford them. So they need the government to do it for them, so they can live above their means and control how other landowners use their property.

        And calling them “apartment towers 4-plexes” sort of gives away the shell game. Four plexes aren’t towers, and most of these houses, and the neighboring properties are already as big or nearly as big as a fourplex. If unfounded fear and anxiety about some speculated future is going to force you out of your house, you’re probably going to sell to someone more rational and give them a bargain in the process.

      • Monte Castleman July 25, 2018 at 11:57 am #

        So we shouldn’t have zoning to prohibit metal recycling or asphalt plants next to your property too? After all you should just buy the neighboring property if you don’t want something built that’s going to ruin your enjoyment of your home and investment.

        • Matt Steele July 25, 2018 at 12:09 pm #

          I’m personally of the take that if you can build a metal recycling plant that meets a form-based standard for land use and does not create any sort of actual environmental harms for neighbors, then go ahead….

          But are you comparing the noxious nature of metal recycling or asphalt operations to human beings and the housing they occupy? It seems like a stretch to relate those two situations.

        • Alex Cecchini
          Alex Cecchini July 25, 2018 at 4:09 pm #

          It’s pretty tired to compare a building that you don’t like the look of, or will shade *some of your property for *some of the day, or people will be able to look into your backyard or side window… to a use that produces toxins that can cause asthma or other long-term health impacts, or by their very nature produce noises that make sleeping (or concentrating during the day) difficult, or any other number of verifiable health impacts.

          There are some potential gray areas! For example, sunlight is good! But lack of sunlight in your back porch or eat-in-kitchen doesn’t have serious impacts on someones physical or mental health, and even the minor impacts anyone can point to can be mitigated by going for a walk outdoors for 30 minutes a day.

          In general, there’s a fairly distinct line between impacts that ‘ruin’ someone’s enjoyment and impacts that (permanently, not short-term like construction) make it so people can’t sleep or breathe.

        • Matt Eckholm
          Matt Eckholm July 26, 2018 at 12:07 pm #

          Why is the default argument on a change in residential zoning “BUT WHAT IF IT WAS INDUSTRIAL?”

          That’s clearly not allowed, and is a fallacious argument.

    • jeffk July 25, 2018 at 12:44 pm #

      Which is it? Apartment towers or 4-plexes? Because the latter won’t block your light, and the former is not being built surrounding a single family home.

      And if someone *does* want to build a tower text to your home, it means the land is awfully valuable. Cash out and move to Chaska.

      • Harrison July 25, 2018 at 2:54 pm #

        Lots of blocks – probably thousands of homes – are at risk of having a tower built adjacent to them by virtue of Corridor 4 and Corridor 6. So yes the former is proposed to be built around many small scale residential buildings including single family homes.

        • Nicole Salica
          Nicole Salica July 25, 2018 at 3:04 pm #

          6 story “tower”? I dunno.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke July 25, 2018 at 7:02 pm #

        Yeah four-plexes can be quite petite.

        • Julie Kosbab July 26, 2018 at 8:47 am #

          And the good thing about a fourplex is it effectively reduces the cost of development by dividing the land cost and certain costs associated with things like utility hookup across 4 units, rather than one, taking up the same space.

          It is also cheaper than a larger building, as different rules around ADA elements apply.

    • Daniel Hartig
      Daniel Hartig July 25, 2018 at 1:01 pm #

      If you want to tell your neighbors what they can or cannot build on their private property, you need to pay for that right. America is the land of the free, man; lets make it so.

      Also, we should tax city property at a flat rate per square foot, depending on area of town. That way parking lots are taxed at the same rate as Capella Tower; therefore there will be limited parking and no free parking, and people have to take the train into work. Since there are no trains, someone will have to build a train to Chaska, then the people who moved out of the city because they don’t like freedom, can take the train to work. That will take care of the carbon emissions problem. Utopia!

      • Matt Eckholm
        Matt Eckholm July 26, 2018 at 12:08 pm #

        That sounds like a great plan actually, let’s do that.

  3. Melody Hoffmann
    melody hoffmann July 25, 2018 at 12:19 pm #

    Before I share my thoughts as a Northsider, please check out this article that mentions a 2040 community meeting in North: http://spokesman-recorder.com/2018/07/20/major-update-of-ten-year-mpls-plan-gets-citizen-scrutiny/ (tldr; we are worried about police-community relations and racial/economic disparities. we are not worried about 4-plexes)

    Hi! Northsider here. I am very involved in my neighborhood, vote in local elections, go to meet and greets with politicians, frequent many Northside businesses, and drive/bus/walk/bike around the area. I have lived on the Northside for a few years now and know a lot of my neighbors. I also keep up with what is going on in South so I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the two areas. I used to live in Whittier for years and visit South weekly.
    Credentials aside…

    I have a few things to say:
    1. I can safely say almost no one in North cares about 2040. There is no organizing around 2040 that I know of.
    2. We have bigger fish to fry. The police shoot and kill my neighbors, drivers drive too fast, the neighborhood kids are hungry and bored, and a kickball tournament was almost witness to a civilian murder. (see MSR article I linked to)
    3. Our neighborhoods communicate! We all know each other, kids bike around, people porch sit and chat to passersby. If we thought 2040 was going to wreck us, there would be organizing.
    4. I went to a meet and greet with Ilhan Omar last week. NO ONE brought up 2040. She also didn’t bring it up (that I know of!)
    5. I don’t see a lot of pushback to development here. Everyone organizes around hiring people within the community. Thor Construction just built its headquarters on Penn and Plymouth. New apartment buildings include rent adjustment, etc. I lived in a similar area in Milwaukee (Riverwest) and you can trust that in tight knit diverse neighborhoods, development stays far away from gentrifying corporate crap. We won’t have it. Although, even if we wanted a corporate business (say, a major gas station company) it may be a hard sell (thanks to racism and classism on behalf of corporations).

    Please use my words and my name at any time to amplify this: Northsiders are not part of the 2040 discussion. We do NOT agree with the people in South worried about development. We have a lot of vacant lots and houses that need rehab. We’d love more housing here. The likelihood that rich white people in South have talked to working class African Americans in North about 2040 is a laughable concept.

    -Melody

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 25, 2018 at 12:23 pm #

      Thanks for weighing in Melody. I really appreciate you sharing your perspective, and it reinforces some of my guesses about all of this. In Saint Paul, the Comp Plan is a complete non-issue, as I suspect it is in most places.

    • Chris Moseng
      Chris Moseng July 25, 2018 at 1:48 pm #

      Thank you!

  4. Karen E Sandness July 25, 2018 at 3:20 pm #

    I live in a neighborhood (Linden Hills) where anti-2040 hysteria has taken root, and although I lived away from Minneapolis for 28 years of my life, I did grow up here, and I have eyes to see what Linden Hills looks like now.

    First of all, “fourplex” is not a new word or a scary alien architectural term. It’s a word that I learned as a child in the 1950s, and I know of at least two fourplexes that already exist in Linden Hills. There may be others, but I have not surveyed every single block. There are also duplexes on most blocks and several small apartment buildings along Lake Harriet and in various parts of Linden Hills.

    I don’t see anyone planning to build “towers” in Linden Hills. Neighborhood pressure forced the developer of the old Famous Dave’s site to lop a couple of stories off his original plan.

    Second, if one wants to preserve the character of Linden Hills, the construction to object to is the kind that takes a perfectly good vintage house, tears it down, and replaces it with a trophy house from the pages of the Catalogue for People with More Money Than Brains.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 25, 2018 at 7:03 pm #

      Linden Hills is a special place. Your second point is the real “problem” there, though to me it seems more like the precise “character of the neighborhood” (if you will).

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