As we’ve talked about throughout our site, population growth targets are the cause, driver, and justification for land use & zoning changes, density increases, over development, and increased congestion. It’s the first domino.
Ask Edina leadership, planners or the Met Council about our new population targets and you’ll likely hear something along the lines of, “well, Edina has seen unexpected growth in the past decade and our new population targets reflect what we’re seeing in the city. We’re being responsible and planning ahead for the coming growth.” This sounds very reasonable.
But why has Edina had unexpected growth in the first place? Isn’t the point of a Comp Plan to anticipate, manage and plan for the future?
Before we go further…
How does a city manage population size?
In a city like Edina, populations aren’t determined by how often people have babies. We are not at the mercy of the birth rates, death rates and relocations. Yes, at a MACRO level there are nearly 7 billion people on earth and our population is going up — which is out of our control. But at a MICRO level we have quite a bit of control — despite what our commissioners say.
Here is what COMMISSIONER Fisher will have you believe...
There is a fact that people are born, people die, and people move around — population changes just happen. But there’s this fallacy out there that somehow we have a ticker at the borders of our community and that at some point, we’re going to put up a wall or shut the door. That’s not what a comp plan is. It’s not like we’re saying we want X number of people to move here by this date. That’s not the way it works. Market forces decide where people want to live, and we respond to that. Communities don’t say '“here’s the number of people we’re going to allow to live here.” That’s the misconception that’s going on. There are actually people out there that think the five city council members sit around thinking about how many people we want to live here — and that we control it somehow.
(Edited for brevity. Full speech here)
Let’s put this Very simply
In Edina, if Neighborhood A has 500 housing units and Neighborhood B has 2,500 housing units — which neighborhood will have a larger population? Neighborhood B. Pretty simple.
Cities control populations through land use, zoning, and project approvals. Zoning requirements set the maximum densities of different land use types. A city can amend zoning laws and land use categories to allow for greater density…. i.e. more people. They can incentivize development through tax breaks and project funding. Want to manage growth slowly? Keep your densities down, don’t use taxpayer money for private developments, and don’t rezone to more dense land uses.
It is misleading and negligent for Commissioner Fisher and others at city hall to think the Comp Plan has no control over the city’s population.
Fact: Cities have many levers they can use to manage their population size. Population growth is something they proactively choose and manage to.
Now, let’s rewind to 2008….
In 2008/2009 Edina approved their 2008 comprehensive plan. Just like the 2018 comp plan, it sets populations targets for the upcoming three decades. The 2008 comp plan was approved by the city council — thus becoming the roadmap for the city. Minnesota Statute says that zoning laws and city behavior need to align with a city’s comprehensive plan.
Here are Edina’s population growth targets in the 2008 Comprehensive Plan…
2008 Comp Plan Population Targets
[Line chart for population growth targets]
This chart represents the commitment city council made to the residents of Edina. It is their job to lead and guide the city along this path. This line shows a 3% growth over 30 years, which is inline with nearly every surrounding suburb.
So how did Edina leadership do guiding the city along the approved growth targets. Here are the actual populations of Edina since 2008…
Actual Population vs 2008 Comp Plan
Looks like the city isn’t doing what they said they’d do. We’re ‘a bit’ ahead of schedule. (This isn’t supposed to happen.)
But why is this? Unfortunately we can’t blame it on Super Bowl babies after 2009 :( The economy has been hot, maybe that’s it? People are feeling more financially secure, having babies, and upgrading their homes? The old “market forces” argument made by Commissioner Fisher, et al.
Well, if the economy argument is to be believed, then we should expect to see similar population growths in neighboring cities with similar housing inventory. But that isn’t happening. Every southwest suburb is growing on pace with their 2008 comp plan, save Minnetonka. Coincidentally, Edina’s city planner is also on the Minnetonka city council.
So what’s the culprit for this surge in population? Well, we think it has something to do with the city approving XX projects that added XXX hosing units since 2008. We also have a hunch it’s from the zoning law amendments that significantly increase density maximums in key parts of Edina. These changes and approvals effectively opened the door for development and population growth.
The curious thing about this growth — it does not align with the city’s commitments in the 2008 comp plan. Like, not at all. This begs the question — if they city isn’t bound by the commitments made in comp plans, do Comp Plans actually matter? Is the city council setting a dangerous precedent for future councils?
Fast forward to 2018
So now it’s 2019 and we’re about to approve the 2018 comp plan. Here is what the 2018 Comp Plan targets look like…
2018 Comp Plan Population Targets
As we saw above, our current population was mismanaged and has ballooned beyond the city’s previous 2030 forecast. As a result, in November 2018 the city requested an increase to the Met Councils population targets. This requested increase is a forecast of 33% over our 2010 census numbers. For a bit of context, nearly every surrounding city is forecasting growth in the 3-6% range, save Minnetonka…
Question - what would have happened if the city council followed through on their commitments and properly managed to the 2008 comp plan? We believe this population boom would not have happened — and thus we would not be asking for increases from the Met Council.
Where to go from here?
We understand unexpected things happen — and we want to move the city forward in a resident supported direction — so we have two different solutions:
Poll the residents, at the very least. Since this population growth was unexpected to everyone at city hall, let’s find out what the residents think. Simple. Maybe we find out that it’s good and people like it. Or maybe not. Either way, being prudent and gathering resident feedback is very reasonable.
Press Pause and reduce our population targets. Since the recent growth surge wasn’t forecasted in the 2008 Comp Plan, it’s only logical to assume Edina isn’t prepared for the ensuing impacts. How about we pump the brakes a bit? We can always decide to hit the gas again — but there is no going back once concrete is poured.
There is no reason we need to bulldoze this comp plan through the city. We can always proceed with aggressive growth and development once we know the residents are in favor and the impacts are known.