A million more people. That's how many additional folks likely will call the Twin Cities metro area home during the next decade or two. The increase represents about a 25 percent increase over the current population. To many, this is what is referred to as a "good headache." Yet, where will they live? How will they get to work? Can we afford the infrastructure to support them?
The answers will come from our region's comprehensive planning laws. The state Legislature has established a special metropolitan area planning process that applies to all cities and counties in the seven-county region. Every 10 years, the Metropolitan Council must establish a metropolitan development guide that delivers a broad outline for regional growth. The Met Council must also produce "system plans" for the regional systems it operates. The local communities, in turn, design comprehensive plans consistent with the regional plans. The next deadline for completion of this entire process is 2008. So, watch for a public hearing in your favorite city hall someday soon if you want to see how your community will develop over the next decade.
A million more people. That's a lot of single-family homes. Many communities, however, are also incorporating other options into their land-use plans. Mixed-use developments are springing up throughout the area. Many policy- and market-related factors drive such developments. Mixed-use development is occurring in urban redevelopment settings and exurban greenfield sites. Well-known examples include the Excelsior and Grand project in St. Louis Park, as well as Ramsey Town Center in Anoka County. Communities regularly consider whether to include more mixed-use neighborhoods in long-range plans.
For lawyers and real estate professionals, inclusion of a particular designation in a comprehensive plan is a vital first step toward future development. We all know about zoning. You can only build the types of projects allowed in the corresponding zoning. Well, in Minnesota, the comprehensive planning process drives the zoning process. Communities must make their zoning ordinances consistent with their plans. In addition, Minnesota courts recognize that refusal to zone according to the comprehensive plan is evidence that the city is acting in an arbitrary manner.
In January 2004, the Metropolitan Council adopted a new development guide called the "2030 Regional Development Framework". The 2030 Framework recognizes that finding a place for our new residents will require new strategies.
Perhaps the answer is "old" strategies. More and more communities, for example, are looking into creating town centers, pursuing tomorrow's version of yesteryear's Main Street. As the Met Council put it, many cities "are working to create town centers with a mix of housing, commercial and civic uses to provide a gathering place and focal point for their community."
When cities update comprehensive plans, corresponding zoning controls will follow. The 2030 Framework encourages communities to adopt "innovative zoning techniques for mixed-use development."
Mixed-use ordinances are already in place throughout the metropolitan area. They can be found in the core cities, first-ring suburbs and outer-ring suburbs. The city of St. Paul has established "Traditional Neighborhood" zoning. Bloomington has implemented mixed-use zoning in the area that includes McGough Development's Bloomington Central Station project located along the Hiawatha light rail line. The city of Ramsey adopted zoning to support the densely developed Ramsey Town Center in the midst of what is mostly a large-lot residential community.
It won't be long until new comprehensive plans are adopted in the cities you care about. And then, the zoning ordinances will change, too. So now is the time to let your personal or business interests be known. A million more people are coming to town.
This article originally appeared in The Business Journal.