Appeals court lifts injunction on Minneapolis’ 2040 plan

Signs opposing the Draft 2040 Comprehensive Plan sit in a front yard.
Signs opposing the Draft 2040 Comprehensive Plan sit in the front yard of Carol Becker's home in Minneapolis' Cooper neighborhood in 2018. After many of the signs were stolen, Becker said she now places numerous signs in her yard for people to take.
Lacey Young | MPR News

The city of Minneapolis can resume work under its 2040 Comprehensive Plan following an appeals court ruling Monday. That’s the plan that gained national attention when it made Minneapolis the first U.S. city to end single-family-only zoning.

A lawsuit alleging that the city should have conducted an environmental review before approving the plan has kept it in legal limbo for more than five years.

Monday’s ruling does not end that lawsuit, but rather, lifts an injunction on development under the plan.

A city spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email asking whether the city would resume issuing permits for multi-family buildings the plan had newly allowed.

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Meanwhile, state senators this week are considering a bill that would end the lawsuit by exempting the 2040 plan from the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, which is the basis for the legal challenge. The bill would also clarify that such plans don’t need environmental reviews, just individual developments that arise under them.

Smart Growth Minneapolis, the group challenging the 2040 plan, calls the bill a “bail out.”

“We know that people of color will be disproportionately impacted when governmental bodies are allowed to not comply with environmental laws,” attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong said in a press release Monday. “If this bill is enacted, those same communities will find it difficult to garner the resources to challenge a city hall or a corporate constituent that violates environmental laws.”

Levy and other supporters of the lawsuit argue that dense, urban development allowed by the plan could adversely impact the health of waterways and bird habitats. Supporters of the 2040 plan argue that density prevents urban sprawl, which can also harm the environment.

In its ruling today, a three-judge panel did not decide on the merits of either argument. Instead, it said the court had erred when granting the injunction because it put the burden of proof on the city rather than the petitioners.