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Local mayors send letter in opposition of housing-related legislative initiatives

By Trinity Carey tcarey@swpub.com Mar 24, 2021

Nine local mayors have sent a letter to Scott and Le Sueur County legislators stating their opposition of housing focused bills proposed this legislative session, which they argue will shift control of growth and development in communities from local to state government.

Prior Lake Mayor Kirt Briggs, Savage Mayor Janet Williams, Belle Plaine Mayor Christopher Meyer, Elko New Market Mayor Joe Julius, Lonsdale Mayor Tim Rud, Montgomery Mayor Thomas Eisert, Jordan Mayor Mike Franklin, New Prague Mayor Duane Jirik, and Shakopee Mayor Bill Mars signed onto the letter which House and Senate majority and minority leaders, Gov. Walz and other local and state officials were cc’d on.

The legislative proposals opposed in the letter are SF915, SF914, SF801 and HF1085. Proponents of the legislation say the initiatives will increase home affordability.

“They’re all about reducing local control, taking decisions away from the cities, away from planning commissions, putting it up at the state level, and also limiting or curtailing certain fees on cities,” Briggs said. “What the impact of that is, it will add cost to the citizens. Just because you reduce the fee doesn’t eliminate a cost. As a matter of fact, it transfers that cost.”

Prior Lake City Manager Jason Wedel and City of Elko New Market Administrator Thomas Terry testified in opposition of SF915, which limits municipal planning and zoning controls, during a March 16 Senate Local Government Policy Committee meeting.

The bill encourages municipalities “to enact public policy to facilitate the development of unsubsidized affordable housing,” by allowing smaller lot sizes for single-family homes, allowing duplexes or fourplexes on lots zoned for single-family homes or allowing mixed use development, it states. The zoning practices are similar to those adopted in Minneapolis.

In his testimony Wedel noted that city comprehensive plans already designate portions of the city for such zoning.

“What this bill does is jeopardizes residents who have already purchased homes in our community and expect similar homes to be constructed around them consistent with the city’s comprehensive and zoning plans,” he said. “To suggest this change in land use after they have already made what is likely the single biggest investment they will ever make is not transparent nor equitable.”

Terry stated that legislative mandates and restrictions on cities were not necessary for local municipalities to bring a variety of housing opportunities to communities.

He specifically noted in his testimony actions taken by the Elko New Market city council such as adopting reduced residential lot sizes and an accessory dwelling unit ordinance to provide more affordable housing options.

The letter sent to legislators states proponents of the legislation’s “affordability narrative is false. It lacks data, credibility, and seeing any of these legislative proposals into law would serve to raise taxes on our existing citizens!”

One recipient of the letter was District 55 State Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake who said it’s an issue of balancing competing needs.

He’s heard developers argue it’s expensive to build in Minnesota citing permitting fees while cities are concerned the legislation will take away local control.

“I think it’s balancing the needs of a growing community with the needs to make sure that the growing community has its cost of development covered and that those decisions are made locally,” Pratt said, adding that home affordability needed to be looked at as a whole.

“One of the things we try to do in the senate is make sure that we take the feedback from stakeholders on both sides of an issue and what I hear in these letters is that the city officials don’t feel like they’ve had an opportunity to be heard and so this is a bill that probably requires a little extra work,” Pratt said.

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