Minneapolis 2040 plan back in play as lawsuit grinds on

A Hennepin County judge on Tuesday partly reversed course and is now allowing city leaders to implement the controversial Minneapolis 2040 plan while they appeal a lawsuit from its opponents.

The 2040 proposal has been in the works for years. Among other things, it would allow multi-family homes such as duplexes and triplexes to be built in areas previously zoned only for single family homes.

For decades, nearly half of the city was off limits to multi-family housing. The proposal drew national attention and praise from urban planners.

The plan authorizes the construction of about 150,000 new residential units, but city officials estimate only about a third of those will be built by 2040.

Three groups sued the city in 2018 under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, or MERA, a 50-year-old law that allows citizens to sue to stop pollution and similar harm. The plaintiffs — Smart Growth Minneapolis, the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis and Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds — allege that leaders failed to do the required environmental review.

Judge Joseph Klein initially dismissed the suit. But in June he changed course put the plan on hold following a Minnesota Supreme Court decision.

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In his latest ruling, Klein agreed with city arguments that the plan, at least at its current stage, is not harming the environment.

The judge also wrote that the city would have to "invest considerable time and effort" reverting to the 2030 plan, which would be for naught if the 2040 plan is ultimately upheld on appeal.

In a statement Tuesday, Interim City Attorney Peter Ginder said that city staff will resume its implementation of the 2040 comprehensive plan.

“We are pleased that the Court acknowledged the complexity and importance of this matter in granting our request for a stay of the proceedings,” Ginder said. “The effect of this stay is to return the City to the status quo from before the summary judgment order. This will allow previously postponed matters to move forward, and allow continued review and approval of building permits, rezonings and other matters covered by Minneapolis 2040, pending the outcome of the underlying appeal. Projects that were in limbo will now move forward for City Council decision.”