The court ordered Minneapolis to conduct an environmental study or throw out the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Why doesn’t the city comply?



Months after a judge struck down Minneapolis’ 2040 Comprehensive Plan, halting ongoing housing projects, local developers have made Minneapolis the first in the nation to eliminate single-family zoning regulations. I still hope that the plans that made it into a city will be revived. Their project has been revived.

One way that could happen? The city may follow the court order and conduct an environmental study for its 2040 plan. But with few other options, Minneapolis leaders have little interest in pursuing that path.

Mayor Jacob Frey says the problem is that despite plans to go green by 2040, the irony is to use energy more efficiently, reduce the need for cars, and save energy. He said the plan is being undermined by groups that weaponize environmental laws to slow down development patterns aimed at environmental protection. Urban sprawl.

“Environmental laws were enacted decades ago with good intentions,” Frey said. “More recently, we’ve seen them being used in ways that have negative environmental impacts.”

The state Supreme Court has ruled that the landmark Minnesota Environmental Rights Act gives residents the right to sue for environmental reviews of their cities’ comprehensive plans. But the mayor said such a review only makes sense for individual projects with specific specifications, since the environmental impact of a theoretical citywide addition “cannot be determined by the smartest minds in the world.” I categorically claim that there is.

However, other cities that are paying special attention to water resources are conducting environmental studies for their comprehensive plans.

The City of Moorhead, located on the banks of the Red River along Minnesota’s western border, is voluntarily evaluating the environmental trade-offs of possible complete construction scenarios in three large areas of the city. Since the 1990s, Seattle has required an environmental study every time the comprehensive plan is updated. Local environmental groups say the review process could calm the controversy and ease delays for new projects.

Jack Perry, an attorney representing the groups Smart Growth Minneapolis and Minnesota Citizens for Migratory Bird Conservation, which are suing to get an environmental review of the 2040 plan, said the city of Minneapolis has no plans for the plan. I suspect they are worried that they won’t be able to withstand public scrutiny of their environmental trade-offs.

He pointed to a 2018 podcast interview in which then-City Council President Lisa Bender said: [prevented] If “we would have had to do an environmental impact assessment,” she said, “we wouldn’t have had to vote on our plan.” to vendors to provide additional context for her remarks. It was not possible to contact him.

Perry proposed a settlement that would allow stalled development to move forward as long as the city commits to conducting an independent environmental review and pays the plaintiffs more than $1 million in legal fees collected over five years of litigation. He said he proposed. He said he hasn’t received any response from the city, adding, “It’s scandalous that the city keeps saying they’re considering all options.”

City spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie told the Star Tribune that the city felt the offer was not “serious.”

moorhead and seattle

The City of Moorhead has been conducting environmental studies in portions of the city since 2004. Community Development Director Kristy Reshofsky said the goal is to understand the overall impact of urban planning decisions on nature.

“Everything from rainwater to tree canopies, climate adaptation and resilience, fish, wildlife and plant communities,” she says. “From my perspective as a planner, it’s very beneficial because it covers so many things that I don’t have to try to figure them out on the fly or individually for each development. ”

Moorhead pays about $55,000 to update the environmental study every five years. The city is checking the health of public facilities and infrastructure and calculating the potential impact of increased density. In Reshovsky’s experience, detailed documentation of environmental impacts has allowed the city to credibly respond to residents who may object to the development.

Seattle, on the other hand, follows a Washington state environmental law that requires citywide environmental reviews of major land use changes. Michael Hubner, Seattle’s long-term planning manager, said this is not a pass-fail test that can be used to rule out growth. Rather, this process helps cities alleviate potential problems associated with growth, such as clogging roads, loss of trees, and displacement of disadvantaged people.

However, this process is not without its burdens. The city of Seattle is paying a consultant $700,000 to conduct a comprehensive 10-year plan update. And once the final findings are produced, interested parties could challenge them and delay Seattle’s housing construction goals.

Still, Hibner said the process is worth it.

“Washington State is having a lot of discussions about reforms to reduce the burden of the State Environmental Policy Act while still maintaining its core values,” he said.

Tiernan Martin of FutureWise, a sustainable growth organization in Washington, said that in Seattle, environmental policies have been used to block individual projects on disingenuous grounds, but recent changes in the law allow the city to be inclusive. He said it has become easier to use the results of an environmental review of a plan to invalidate it. Part of that effort.

“meanwhile, [environmental study] Although manufacturing is expensive and time-consuming, we believe that requiring cities to collect and share information on current conditions, environmental impacts, and potential mitigation measures provides real benefits to the public. . ”

remaining options

The city of Minneapolis hired engineering consulting firm Stantec last year to conduct some kind of environmental analysis for the 2040 plan, but requests for additional information about that process were denied.

This year, the city is prioritizing other strategies to protect its 2040 plan.

First, oral arguments are scheduled for Wednesday in the Court of Appeals, where the case continues. City attorneys will argue that the injunction was too harsh when District Judge Joseph Klein ordered the city of Minneapolis to conduct an environmental study or permanently repeal 2040. The Court of Appeals has already heard the case twice.

Second, the city wants to change state law. Minneapolis’ first policy goal in the new Legislature is to tweak the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act so that comprehensive plans for large cities are automatically considered acts that do not pollute natural resources.

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