Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon proposed an ordinance last month that could give Minneapolis neighborhoods the power to block inappropriate developments. While these “conservation districts” could protect older, smart development, they also add another check to growth and participation.
Conservation districts have been a tool for historic preservation for the past decade, and they are effectually similar to the city’s historic districts. Though many cities may use this tool, Minneapolis should be wary about implementing districts without care.
One aspect of the proposed ordinance gives only a district’s property owners voting power. For example, one-third of a district’s property owners must approve a conservation district study, and two-thirds must approve a vote on adopting a district.
Minneapolis city planner John Smoley and Gordon told the Star Tribune that conservation districts would be relevant for the Marcy-Holmes, Dinkytown and Prospect Park neighborhoods. Many University of Minnesota students live in these areas and likely make up a disproportionate amount of renters. Under the proposed ordinance, conservation districts would not inherently include student renters in the process and would allow renters a voice only at public hearings and meetings.
The fast pace of development on and around campus is a concern for many, including student residents, so it’s important to include this group in the process. It can be easy to downplay students’ dedication to their neighborhood, but as recent developments have shown, many University students care about their community.
Conservation districts could benefit very specific and well-planned areas of historic, dense development. However, the ordinance has its risks. Minneapolis is in the midst of huge growth and shouldn’t risk harming development or neighborhood outreach.