Mar 1, 2021 - News
Minneapolis move to legalize triplexes shows little impact
Illustration of the facade of a triplex being held up by wooden beams.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Minneapolis 2040 plan legalized duplexes and triplexes just about anywhere in the city. But the overhaul resulted in the new construction of just 16 duplexes and four triplexes in 2020, the first full year of the new zoning rules.

By the numbers: 22 existing properties were also converted to duplexes and triplexes. Altogether, those "plexes" added about 70 new units of housing to a city of 420,000.

Flashback: The Minneapolis 2040 plan was hailed by national media as a revolutionary vision because it ended single-family zoning.

Reality check: Developers say the financials and other zoning rules still make it difficult to build triplexes and duplexes.

Bruce Brunner built a triplex in Uptown thanks to finding a relatively cheap ($260,000) house. He's working on more, but outlined for us why so few people aren't doing what he is doing:

  1. It's hard to find vacant lots in sought-after parts of the city. Buying a house and tearing it down typically costs more than $300,000 — before the rebuild. In areas with cheaper houses, such as North Minneapolis, you can't get the rents you would need to make it work, Brunner said.
  2. Existing zoning rules mean developers have to squeeze triplexes into small footprints.
  3. Developers are concerned about new regulations, including proposed ballot measures on rent control.

Yes, but: The small number of plexes doesn’t mean the 2040 plan hasn’t helped the city grow. Developers built 3,300 units in 2020, despite the pandemic.

  • The biggest driver — and one that got much less ink nationally — was a change allowing easier approval of the five- and six-level buildings seen frequently on busier streets such as Marshall, Broadway, Hiawatha, Lyndale and Lake.

Janne Flisrand, co-founder of pro-2040 Neighbors for More Neighbors, said she expects the number of plexes to grow in future years. But she acknowledged they will represent only an incremental change compared with the rise of taller residential buildings.

What's next: Minneapolis code development manager Jason Wittenberg said the City Council has directed staff to collect data "to inform whether there are significant zoning barriers" to developing triplexes at scale.

This story first appeared in the Axios Twin Cities newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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