Map of the Day: Substandard Lot Sizes in Minneapolis

There are more than 14,000 residential lots in Minneapolis that are smaller than what is currently required to build on per the current zoning code. Now, this is a messy statement. There are multiple minimum lot sizes (5,000 square feet, 6,000 square feet, and a large lot zone where the number is based on the size of nearby lots). These lots are generally also legal to build on, if it was legal to build on when it was platted.

However, our zoning code is a statement of our values. Any time we make a special exception to a policy for someone who meets special standards, it’s special treatment and implies it’s less than normal or approved of. Allowing special arrangements signals tolerance, not welcome. (Consider some parallel examples: Does a group meal proactively plan to accommodate people with dietary restrictions, or do they have to ask for an accommodation? Does a post use alt-text for accessibility, or does the reader have to recruit help? Are all religious holidays blocked out on meeting calendars, or do non-Christians have to flag them for coworkers?)

I was curious where they are. Because every Minneapolis map is a redlining map, I wanted to see if they, too, are a redlining map. An advocate ally made this map to test it out. It’s not clear that it is, or that it isn’t.

Map of Minneapolis with a redlining overlay and a dot showing every substandard lot
Redlining overlay + residential lots smaller than the minimum lot size stated in the zoning code

I see several patterns:

  • Fewest small lots in the greenlined parts of southwest
  • East-west strips of small lots capping blocks
  • Scattered lots in older neighborhoods, and big strips in 1930s neighborhoods

What patterns do you see in this map?

How would you suggest Minneapolis reflect its values through minimum zoning code minimum lot size regulations?

About Janne Flisrand

Janne Flisrand spends her time thinking about how people interact with the space around them. Why do they (or don't they) walk or bike or shop somewhere? How do spaces feel? Why do people sit here and not there? Why bus instead of bike, bike instead of drive? What sorts of spaces build community, and what sorts kill it? Can spaces build civic trust and engagement?

Articles near this location

20 thoughts on “Map of the Day: Substandard Lot Sizes in Minneapolis

  1. Sheldon

    Confused- What do the background colors on the map mean–e.g. red, yellow, green…..Also, Note the bunch of “undersized” lots on the Milwaukee Avenue blocks in western Seward. Technically, these are not undersized because the fall in an area with a Planned Unit Development (aka Planned Residential Development) that the neighborhood worked with Mpls planning to bet back in the late 1970s

    1. jkflisrand

      The colors are redlining map colors – red is redlined, green is “good.”

      For me, the question I’m asking is about baseine policy and rules. Is it good policy to say, “5,000 is good, unless you get a special exception?”

      1. Sheldon

        Do you know which redlining this make came from– the areas changed dramatically over the years (and varied some by mortgage lender). The most used maps were FHA maps.

  2. BD

    I can only speak to the marked lots that are near my home, but if they’re undersized, it’s by inches. From visual appearance they’re exactly the same as other lots. In fact one just got a very large renovation placed on it and it still doesn’t appear undersized. Those technicalities aren’t meaningful. Not sure what conclusion to draw about this article now.

  3. nonpersonne

    I owned an undersized lot in northeast Minneapolis. Because of its shape and the position of our house on the lot, the entire yard was sunny all day and we had huge gardens.
    I also rented a house in South Minneapolis that had a tiny house (the original house) in the backyard, which was occupied by an artist. Before he went crazy, he would come out and join our barbeques.
    Yes, these unique situations are “tolerated” because they were grandfathered in. It is not akin to being disabled and having to ask for accessible text – please stop the moralizing.

  4. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    I’d argue that those blocks where the entire block is full of “substandard lot sizes” were initially platted that way and thus should be grandfathered in and ignored. There are a number of them between 38th and 54th but also a few scattered elsewhere.

    1. jkflisrand

      I agree – as does the city. They technically are grandfathered in and ignored. For me, the policy question is whether they should remain as allowable exceptions, or whether we should name that they are great places to live and there’s no reason to label them as inferior there, or anywhere in the city.

      1. Pete Barrett

        Inferior? How so? When people look at buying or renting a house, I just can’t imagine them asking themselves, “Hmm, I wonder if this is a sub-standard lot that is merely an allowable exception?” Do we have any idea that these lots/homes have lower market value directly or indirectly because they are an allowable exception?

        I’ll admit I’m the dumbest guy I know, but I really have no idea how or if this is a problem.

        1. jkflisrand

          I do not think they are inferior. However, that they aren’t designated as permissible by default, that they are “substandard” in our zoning documents labels them as inferior.

          This 2013 post shows that in some cases, they are seen by residents as of higher value than larger lots a couple blocks away. In this example there are some compicating factors, and… Why should city policy prefer that which is less desirable?

          1. Pete Barrett

            Well, I’m still the dumbest guy I know. I feel like one of us is obtuse, and it might well be me. Let me try again.

            Who is harmed by this? How are they harmed? Just what harm is it they suffer? Is it material? Emotional? Psychological?

            If we surveyed a random selection of homeowners of substandard/non-conforming/whatever-term-you-want-to-use lots, how many would even be aware that they are on a substandard lot?

  5. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

    Moderator here: two comments removed for violating our comment policy, which specifies that a valid email address must be used.

  6. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

    Moderator here: additional comment removed for violating our comment guidelines. Please remember to be respectful while commenting.


    I would like to know what is the plan for these lots and is there any talk about making them affordable for consumers to invest,buy these lots?

  8. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

    Moderator here: Comment removed for violating our comment policies. Be respectful in your comments, please.

Comments are closed.