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The Legislature almost killed the lawsuit against the Minneapolis 2040 Plan

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The Legislature almost killed the lawsuit against the Minneapolis 2040 Plan

Sep 08, 2023 | 10:01 am ET
By Max Nesterak
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The Legislature almost killed the lawsuit against the Minneapolis 2040 Plan
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Lawn signs against the Minneapolis 2040 Plan. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Earlier this year, the Minnesota Legislature nearly passed a law that would have killed the lawsuit that has dogged the city of Minneapolis for years over its 2040 Plan, which calls for ending single-family zoning and adding housing density across the city.

The two nonprofit groups that sued the city under a state environmental law won a favorable ruling on Wednesday from a Hennepin County judge, who ordered the city to cease implementing the 3-year-old comprehensive plan.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Smarth Growth Minneapolis and Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds — successfully argued that the city didn’t adequately account for the environmental impacts like stormwater runoff and pollution in authorizing almost 150,000 new residential units.

Critics of the lawsuit say the plaintiffs are misusing the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, and that adding housing density in Minneapolis brings its own environmental benefits by slowing suburban sprawl and reducing commuting miles.

The city of Minneapolis, in its defense in court, said it’s highly unlikely that 150,000 new residential units will be constructed just because it’s permitted under the 2040 plan, which is a document outlining the city’s vision, not an ordinance per se. The city said it anticipates closer to 40,000 new residential units will be built by 2040.

Reps. Steve Elkins, DFL-Bloomington, and Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis, authored separate bills that banned people from suing metropolitan cities over comprehensive plans on the grounds that they could cause pollution or environmental destruction.

Elkins said he feared the lawsuit against the Minneapolis 2040 Plan could set a precedent that could be abused by “NIMBYs in any city in the state to block the development of affordable housing,” using the acronym for “not in my backyard.”

Elkins’ proposal was initially included in a housing bill (on page 60, line 28) but it was removed before the bill passed the Legislature.

Rep. Mike Howard, a Democrat from Richfield and chair of the chamber’s housing committee, said he and his counterpart in the Senate needed to focus on the financial details of the $1 billion bill, which meant many policy proposals fell by the wayside.

Howard said he did hear from one environmental group with concerns about exempting anything from environmental review. Other environmental groups, like MN350, have come out in support of the provision, Howard said.

He said he supports the effort, and it’s a top priority for him when the Legislature reconvenes in February.

Elkins said he’s working on a compromise with the environmental groups that think his proposal went too far in curbing the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act.