This article is a continuation of our opinion piece published in September.
Rep. Elkins, House District 49B, is proposing a new state law pre-empting cities’ ability to zone single-family residences. The Elkins bill is over 23 pages long. You can see the a shorter legislative summary CLICK HERE
The bill has a lot of moving parts, and it is not easy to determine exactly what all the impacts on single-family neighborhoods would be. Elkins hid many of the consequences of his bill in different provisions whose impact can only be seen by considering their effect when taken together. Here are a few of the ways the Elkins bill will affect your neighborhood if it passes. Contact us if you’d like to know the specific articles/sections of the bill for any of these.
The Elkins bill’s most sweeping change requires all cities to allow ‘multi-family’ dwellings in neighborhoods currently zoned for single-family houses. That includes demolition and rebuilding on existing lots. Under Elkins’ bill a developer could buy a large suburban lot and put up a triplex (or buy two or three such lots and put up apartments) and make a lot more money than would be possible by building single-family homes on those lots. The Elkins bill enlists the profit motive to redevelop and drastically change existing single-family neighborhoods.
Typically, city zoning laws are intended to protect landowners from incompatible uses in the same area, especially residential areas. Elkins’ bill aims instead to implement social changes he wants. His bill not only has the state preempt city zoning for single-family neighborhoods, it inserts the Met Council into city zoning. Elkins’ bill indirectly calls for ‘inclusionary housing’ (what most of us call low-income housing) by referring to state law governing how Met Council money is used. In government-speak: City proposals get priority for Met Council ‘inclusionary’ money if “…at least 15 percent of the owner-occupied units are affordable to households at or below 60 percent of the area annual median income and at least ten percent of the rental units are affordable to households at or below 30 percent of area annual median income".
Elkins’ bill also charges the Met Council with developing a ‘model impact fee ordinance’ which presumably would be ‘offered’ to local cities to use. Undefined ‘Stakeholders’ would help develop the model ordinance. Anyone who could possibly benefit from “affordable housing” may be considered a ‘Stakeholder’. The new model ordinance would have to be finished by the end of next year (2022).
Elkin’s bill appears to allow new development to tear down trees on neighbors’ existing lots. The Elkins bill says that city regulations can mandate properties have access to solar energy. Government-Speak translation: Your neighbors can demand you cut your trees so their roof gets sun. The same part of the bill also says cities can mandate “protection of ecologic features” but does not define ‘ecologic features’.
The bill defines who pays for providing city services to new or redeveloped property. Cities would be allowed to pay for costs of new development mostly through impact fees (for brand-new developments) and through street improvement districts for redevelopment of existing parcels of land.
In brand-new developments, parcels of land on which affordable housing is built are exempt from impact fees. Plain English: Low-income housing put into currently single-family neighborhoods could be exempt from paying their fair share of the cost of the development. That share of the cost would be added to payments by non-“affordable” housing parcels in the new development. Those parcels – most single-family houses and higher cost condos or apartment units - would pay more.
STREET IMPROVEMENT DISTRICTS
For projects where already existing, built-out single-family neighborhoods are to be ‘remodelled’, “street improvement districts” would be allowed to charge for adding “fixed transit infrastructure” (mass transit lines, bus shelters, etc.) to the project.
Street improvement district fees would have to be paid by all parcels in the district, whether or not each parcel in the district is being redeveloped. The cost is apportioned based on the number of vehicle trips made from each parcel. This appears to mean that parcels like apartments whose occupants mostly use public transit would pay much less per apartment than a single-family dwelling would pay.
The bill adds complexity to the appeals process for street improvement district assessments by treating them differently than property tax appeals. To appeal the assessment from a street improvement district, a homeowner would have to go to court. Current appeals on property taxes are made to administrators (that is, not through courts) at the county level. And if a homeowner does not go to court and appeal their “street improvement district” assessment, that assessment is final and remains due.
If Elkins’ bill passes in the 2022 legislative sessions, these examples show how sweeping the changes in your single-family residential neighborhood in Minnesota could be.