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Edina Debates a Comprehensive Plan

Edina’s City Council approved a draft comprehensive plan last Tuesday. While it’s not nearly as ambitious as the 2040 plan approved last year in Minneapolis, the Edina plan has still attracted some organized opposition.

Bruce Christensen, creator of two anti-population growth websites in Edina (stopthelid.com and We Can Do Better Edina), led a contingent of of residents whose testimony focused on opposition to Metropolitan Council population forecasts. Those forecasts, showing Edina growing by 33 percent by 2040, were incorporated into the plan. Christensen called the plan a “massive density vision.”

Among the residents echoing that sentiment was Jill Fay who said, “I have 5 children and I’ve raised them up here. I like Edina a lot. I’m just here to say I wish the city were growing not so at a rapid pace. I find it disappointing because I want my children to be able to live here some day and then raise a family like I did.”

Edina Population Forecast

Population growth estimate chart from Edina comprehensive plan.

Here’s a statistic cited throughout Tuesday’s meeting: 93 percent of Edina’s land area will see no change — and in some cases a decrease — in allowed density. Edina Planning Commissioner Todd Thorsen emphasized the degree to which they’re maintaining the status quo in his presentation to the City Council:

“We’re taking a very different view in Edina about how we’re accommodating population growth vs. Minneapolis. We’ve concentrated it in those areas of change, whereas Minneapolis has adopted a different view […] which is allowing triplexes in typically R1 [single-family] areas. This plan really maintains those [single-family] areas in the very heart of Edina…”

Thorsen noted that population forecasts are not goals, but are used for planning purposes. There’s no penalty for not reaching a particular forecasted number, but there is a downside to underestimating: less state funding for things like affordable housing and transportation. Thorsen told the Council, “If we were to try and get the Met Council to reduce our forecasts that could reduce the transit dollars and opportunities that are coming to Edina.”

Council Member Mike Fischer said, “The reality is we haven’t actually increased [allowed] densities that much over the previous comp plan.”

While population densities would remain the same — or decreased — for 93% of Edina, that doesn’t mean low-density areas won’t see change. But that change takes the form of single-family teardown/rebuilds. Mayor Jim Hovland said the city should be proud of the trend: “What a tremendous investment the town can be so proud of. We’ve had over 800 of our single family homes torn down and rebuilt.”

Those rebuilds are exclusively single-family homes — bigger and more expensive than the ones they replace. And there’s nothing in the draft plan approved by the City Council that would halt that trend — and nothing that would allow two or three families to occupy a house the size of a large single-family home (as in the Minneapolis 2040 plan).

Mayor Hovland also noted that multifamily housing has “been subsidizing single-family homeownership” in Edina. He pointed to the example of condos that pay double the property taxes of the median single-family home, per square foot. “We haven’t wanted to heap that [property tax] burden on the 93% of folks that are living in a single-family home.”

Council Member Kevin Staunton said he knows many people move to Edina for the great schools but “the problem is eventually all the single family homes are filled and there isn’t room for the next generation.” Edina schools have seen a 26% decline in enrollment between 1970 and 2010. Despite Edina adding households, families got smaller.

Staunton also gave this statistic: between 1989 and 2017, incomes in Edina doubled while single-family home prices tripled. “Now some people would say that’s a good thing, but I’m not sure it’s sustainable. And it does raise a question about affordability.”

Resident Chris Bremer spoke in support of the plan:

“I’m deeply concerned about what kind of world we will leave our children and grandchildren. And so I believe we need to grow responsibly. This means higher density housing which will bring new and better transit and reduce commuting and greenhouse gases throughout our region. It also means developing more affordable housing.”

Carolyn Jackson, who chairs the city’s Energy and Environment Commission, noted that 40,000 people commute into Edina every day. She supports creating more housing options so that some of those 40,000 could live in Edina, which would reduce car traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking in opposition to the plan, Edina-based concerned citizen Frank Lorenz said, “Apartments are a lousy place to raise children.” Earlier in the meeting he suggested, “Let them live in Hopkins or Richfield or unprestigious east Bloomington and commute ten minutes to work in Edina. Poor babies!!”

Bremer’s response to the comment about apartment families: “I grew up in a two-bedroom apartment in a family of four and I would maintain that I turned out ok.”

Edina is scheduled to submit a final comprehensive plan to the Metropolitan Council by the end of this year.

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