Trial of 2040 – Southside Pride
BY CAM GORDON
On June 15, Judge Joseph R. Klein ordered the City of Minneapolis to immediately halt all ongoing implementation of Plan 2040 until the city meets the requirements of Minnesota’s Environmental Rights Act ( MERA), which could include carrying out an environmental assessment.
On June 20, the city filed an appeal.
The case was brought by Smart Growth Minneapolis, formed, reportedly, to oppose the plan as a “nonprofit organization funded 100% by individual donations.” Their chairman is John C. Goetz and their legal team includes Jack Perry, Maren Grier and Thomas Basting, all of Briggs & Morgan, as well as Timothy J. Keane and former mayoral candidate Nekima Levy Armstrong. Smart Growth was joined in the lawsuit by the Minneapolis Audubon Chapter and Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds. No other environmental groups are part of the lawsuit, although one, led by former council member Diane Hofstede, the Great River Coalition, is listed on its website as a third ‘partner and friend’. .
The Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan was adopted pursuant to state law under the Metropolitan Land Use Planning Act, approved by the city council, and submitted to the metropolitan council in December 2018. It became effective on January 1, 2020.
This followed extensive community input and controversy over one strategy in particular: the fifth strategy under the first policy (Access to Housing) which stated: “In the innermost neighborhoods furthest from the city center that contain today mainly single-family homes, achieving a greater supply and diversity of housing. by allowing small-scale residential structures with up to three dwellings on an individual plot.
It was feared at the time that neighborhoods would be destroyed, “razed” or gentrified and that single-family homes would be abolished.
“Our lawsuit,” says Smart Growth’s website, “offers the only chance to compel the City to properly review its environmental plan and respond accordingly.”
This lawsuit focuses on the potential harms resulting from greater housing density. The judge’s decision is based almost exclusively on a Sunde Engineering report commissioned by Smart Growth and written by Kristen Pauly. This report assumes large-scale construction of new homes and apartments, which could result in up to 150,000 new homes. “The Pauly Report,” wrote Klein, “concludes that potential environmental impacts are likely to occur and that the 2040 plan largely ignores these impacts, lacks environmental impact analysis and does not provide criteria design or specific measures that would mitigate negative environmental impacts. According to the report, these impacts could include increased traffic and noise, decreased air quality, water quality and tree cover, as well as negative impacts on the habitat of birds and other wildlife.
Klein noted in his written decision that the city attorney did not substantially rebut the claims made in the report and that “this unfortunate strategy has left the city devoid of any factual rebuttal or affirmative defense, the type of which is requested under the MERA.
The plan, however, has environmental impacts and concerns woven into its 14 goals, 11 thematic areas, 100 policies and around 700 strategies. Of the 14 goals, at least two (clean environment and climate resilience) are almost exclusively focused on the natural environment. Of the 11 thematic areas, at least two (Environmental Systems and Parks and Open Spaces) focus on the environment. Of the 100 policies, at least 19 stand out for their focus on environmental issues. Concerning birds, among its more than 600 strategies, six specifically mention their protection or the improvement of their habitat.
The plan’s priority of focusing on the natural environment may be one of the reasons why some prominent local environmental organizations support it and why they are now concerned that the lawsuit is less about bird protection and conservation. of their habitat than on protecting separate areas and preserving them for the wealthy.
“Mpls 2040 also addresses equity and the city’s history of housing segregation in important ways. Minneapolis has a long history of redlining and racial segregation that has kept low-income communities and people of color on the fringes,” wrote Catherine Pokorny and Joshua Houdek of the Sierra Club after its adoption. “Restrictive contract covenants, racially isolated public housing projects, and discriminatory tenancy and real estate practices have been used by landlords and developers to segregate sections of Minneapolis based on race. Although these practices are now illegal, they facilitated the development of institutionalized racial inequalities that persist in the city today. Mpls 2040 is taking crucial steps to dismantle these historic inequalities through zoning and has the potential to allow new people of all races and income levels to settle in all areas of the city.
“The Minneapolis 2040 Plan is nationally recognized as a leading policy for promoting affordable housing, climate resilience and racial justice,” MN350’s Ulla Nilsen said after the judge issued her ruling. “Opponents say the plan will harm the environment, but the environmental benefits of planning and moving towards denser housing and reducing reliance on cars are clear. Cleaner air will especially benefit Black, Brown and Indigenous communities who have faced greater negative health impacts due to our city’s reliance on fossil fuels.
The judge’s order provided 60 days for the city to respond and invited them to make their case to refute Smart Growth’s arguments and either correct the flaws in the report or offer an affirmative defense. Instead, they chose to appeal the decision. City could win on their appeal, but to do so they need to be better prepared than they have been so far.
“We expect the City of Minneapolis to mount a more vigorous defense of Minneapolis 2040,” Nilsen said, “including more documentation of its significant environmental and health benefits.”