A proposed apartment building perfect for Minneapolis’ 2040 plan. So why did the planning commission refuse the project?

Low carbon construction: Check

Low power passive design: Check

Right next to a major public transport stop: Check

Midrange “missing middle” housing: Check

Luxury cycling facilities instead of off-street parking: Check

The article continues after the ad

A recent proposal for an apartment building in the northeast seems tailor-made for the Minneapolis 2040 Complete Planwhich was passed with pomp and circumstance by a 12-to-1 city council vote in 2019. At the time, the plan ambitious objectives codified at city level around housing, equity, transportation and climate action, in part by taking big steps to encourage density and investment across the city.

So it was a big deal last month when an apartment offer by a small-scale local developer hit a wall. In a rare case where commissioners overturned staff recommendations, the Minneapolis Planning Commission voted 6-3 to deny the request. The case goes to Minneapolis City Council Business, Inspections, Housing and Zoning Committee for a decision next Tuesday, with another public hearing scheduled.

Combining affordable housing and climate action

Cody Fischer, a self-proclaimed “building science” nerd, became interested in housing when he was frustrated with the lack of options in much of Minneapolis. As a result, two years ago Fischer built an unusual six-plex behind a duplex he owned in South Minneapolis, one of the most innovative infill projects I’ve seen. Van Buren’s proposal is his next investment idea: a 23-unit building on a single lot just off NE Central Avenue.

MinnPost photo by Bill Lindeke

Vacant land next to the proposed building.

“I’m originally from Minnesota,” Fischer told me, describing how he was inspired to become a developer while living in different cities around the world. “I think more and more about the intersection of environment, climate change and urbanism, and its impact on the quality of life: social equity, social justice and the housing crisis. »

Fischer’s four-story construction proposal will offer a mix of bachelor and one-bedroom apartments in the heart of northeast Minneapolis. The area is certainly suffering from a housing shortage, with high demand for apartments between the towers of Central-Hennepin and the popular arts district in northeast Minneapolis.

“It’s a 60-foot-wide lot in Van Buren with lane access, and [the city’s] The Corridor 6 overlay was ideal,” Fischer told me, referring to Minneapolis 2040 zoning changes that allow for six-story development on the parcel. “And it’s obviously a spectacular location from a transit, shopping, amenities, and employment perspective.”

The article continues after the ad

For climate action, the bells and whistles on the building are something I haven’t seen this side of a European architecture studio. The building incorporates high R60 insulation standards, capture of solar heat gain and what Fischer describes as a “minimal continuous thermal envelope”, which I had to watch. The end result is what Fischer hopes will be a model for combining affordable housing with climate action.

“It will be fully electrified and solar powered, 60% more energy efficient than anything built today, with low embodied carbon,” Fischer told me. “With 40% of global carbon emissions coming from buildings, the next decade is crucial for the planet. What we build, how we build and where we build will be decisive in avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

The character of the neighborhood

Certainly the site is a bit atypical. The apartments would adjoin a driveway connecting NE Van Buren Street and vacant land along Central Avenue, one of Minneapolis’ main thoroughfares. The No. 10 Street bus is one of the busiest routes in Minneapolis and is set to receive a multimillion-dollar service upgrade with the Transit metro line F project in 2025. Within two years, people living in the new building will enjoy one of the best public transit services in the state.

But it all hinges on approval from the city, which is in limbo as two dozen neighbors in and around Van Buren Street called the Planning Commission with objections to the apartments. The main complaints were about traffic, parking, shadows and concerns about the process surrounding Plan 2040 zoning changes.

The built form map in the Minneapolis 2040 plan.

City of Minneapolis

The built form map in the Minneapolis 2040 plan.

“Bikes are fine, but I find it ironic that we’re talking about carbon emissions and being eco-friendly while tearing down a pristine single-family home,” a neighbor testified. Others spoke of the need for homes for families and the quietness of the street.

“Neighborhood character” is not only a frequent topic at community meetings, but is often part of the findings enshrined in city zoning codes. At the same time, the character of the neighborhood is always in the eye of the beholder.

For example, within two blocks of the Van Buren property you will find: a 50-year-old 20-story public housing tower; Lush, an old warehouse converted into a thriving gay bar; windowless industrial uses such as an electronics recycling plant and seed supply warehouse; and the Vegas Lounge, the best karaoke in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, there are duplexes and a four-unit building a few doors down Rue Van Buren. Rather, this site exemplifies the rich diversity and density of northeast Minneapolis.

Still, the testimony convinced a few commissioners to change their minds, even though the ensuing debate over the staff report focused on things outside of the zoning code like parking or contested access to the aisle. As a result, what should have been an application for a superficial plan was rejected. Third Ward Councilman Michael Rainville, who represents the area, introduced the motion, calling the plan “just not a good project” and saying the plaintiff had “not been very close”.

The article continues after the ad

I contacted Rainville for this story, but he said he was unable to comment due to the quasi-judicial nature of this type of case.

Setting a precedent for the changes of 2040

The Van Buren impasse challenges the ambitions of future overlays that are a key part of the Minneapolis 2040 plan. One of the interim zoning changes, the zoning of Corridor 6, is dotted throughout all commercial streets in Minneapolis: the along the North Minneapolis waterfront, West Broadway, Hennepin, Lyndale, and Nicollet in South Minneapolis, and a dozen other key transit routes. In theory, any property along these streets can “by right” be turned into a multi-storey building. In practice, this decision by the city council will set a precedent for all these communities in the future.

The stakes are high, as a recent study by Denver-based climate think tank RMI analyzed local actions cities can take and found that urban infill is the most effective type of climate action. Focusing on the specific number of trees, while ignoring the density and impacts of new energy-efficient housing next to public transit, is a recipe for climate inaction.

At the very least, Cody Fischer will likely have a good lawsuit on his hands, but what he really wants to do is see more apartments built next to public transit in Minneapolis.

“For me, what I was trying to build was a paradise for urban cyclists, pet lovers for people who want public transit, a bike-oriented lifestyle and live with a low carbon footprint,” Fischer told me. “We would take this story and show everyone in our market that you can do the exact same thing. It’s an upfront cost, but it reduces long-term maintenance and utility costs. It’s my vision. “

Comments are closed.