Since the first draft of the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive plan was released, it's been a rollercoaster of a ride. The City's plan, required to be created by the State every ten years, is solely guidance — but it hasn't stopped the hyperbole.
The initial plan allowed fourplexes to be built anywhere in the city, even in single family neighborhoods. That quickly met backlash and the "Freyplexes" were replaced with triplexes and included modest height minimums in the next revision of the plan.
Yet, this visionary and highly sober plan, with good guidance for dealing with a growing population inspired by national trends and Minneapolis' denser past, seems to have made some very vocal Minneapolitans take a very interesting approach in opposition to the plan.
This Monday, a local coalition filed a lawsuit against the plan and the City. Consisting of the local groups Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis, Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds, and Smart Growth Minneapolis at the forefront, they are claiming the City never did an environmental review of the plan.
Despite the fact that the recently formed Smart Growth Minneapolis (SGM) shares a name with but is not related to Smart Growth America, a pro-density advocacy group, SGM's tactic is a common one against anti-density advocates, especially in California. Sacramento's Capital Public Radio recently covered a local lawyer in Redwood City, California who had used the state's laws to call an environmental review on a 20-unit Habitat for Housing project. His justification? It would create traffic and impose shadows on the rear windows of his home office.
Luckily, the state of Minnesota does not have an environmental law like California's, which is ripe for abuse by grumpy citizens with too much time on their hands. As local lawyer Matthew Melewski wrote after examining their lawsuit, the case "conspicuously elides" the Minnesota law that expressly states comprehensive plans are exempt from the environmental reviews SGM is calling for.
SGM's argument falls especially flat, because the 2040 plan is clearly engaging environmental concerns. For example, SGM mentions the plan ignores issues about runoff. Yet, policies 73 and 74 in the plan are "Stormwater Management" and "Integration of Water Management into Development." Additionally, four of the Plan's 14 goals relate to stewardship of the environment, with one of them being “climate change resilience.”
Additionally, the plans advocacy for multiple modes of transit is clearly rooted in a concern for the environment. City planners designed it to encourage walking, biking and public transportation, all forms of transportation that leave less of a carbon impact than driving. They hope the plan can reduce automobile trips and bring the city’s emissions down to its 2050 emissions goals.
SGM’s guise of environmentalism falls away in their choice of a lawyer, Jack Perry. Literally a waste lawyer, Perry has carved out a nice niche representing garbage companies. This isn’t his first tussle in Minneapolis, either. Perry just wrapped up a stint representing Northern Metal Recycling, a scrap metal company that recently moved out of North Minneapolis. The reason for the move? Perry couldn’t successfully prove to the State that the recycling plant wasn’t releasing harmful emissions.
The lawsuit and SGM’s twisting of the law will fail. Their haphazard approach and underhanded tactic indicates they don’t really care about the environment. In contrast, the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan actually has a coherent approach to the environment. It is serious about proposing innovative solutions to our city’s pressing problems. Its guidance won’t solve all our city’s problems, but it’s a step in the right direction.