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Linden Corner: Just What Is A 'Small Area Plan?'

Linden Hills is trying to write guidelines for future developers.

This spring, the Linden Hills Neighborhood Organization (LHiNC) is to write guidelines for any future developers looking to build in the neighborhood.

But is it, , an example of NIMBYism at its worst? Not yet, at least. What matters is their content, built out of theoretically-non-partisan polls, workshops, focus groups, and community meetings.

It turns out, small area plans—the kind of document LHiNC is hoping to create—are fairly common throughout Minneapolis. A glance at the city's list and map of plans reveals 34 active plans covering all sorts of neighborhoods around town. 

"The intention is to get ahead of the curve as to what kind of change might take place (in a neighborhood), and to figure out a strategy for how that change should happen over time," said Jack Byers, head of the city's community planning office.

Planners work with neighborhood residents for several months, using focus groups, surveys, and other means to gather input on what they want their neighborhood to look like in 15 years.

"There's no way that we can foresee every design issue that’s going to come up, but we can set guidelines and goals," Byers' colleague Amanda Arnold said. "So if you’ve built that consensus before development is proposed, it starts discussion (with a developer) from a certain point by outlining what the neighborhood wants."

Ultimately, said Byers' colleague Amanda Arnold, the plans get incorporated into the city's comprehensive plan.

While Linden Hills was deeply divided by the failed Linden Corner development, Arnold said some small area plans she's worked on have benefited from that kind of discord. So many people were energized about typically-dry zoning issues, it was easier to get people involved across the spectrum of ideas.

"We had to spend a long time talking to a lot of different people to make sure we weren't getting just one perspective," Arnold said about efforts to develop the Uptown Small Area Plan. "That's an important role for the small area plan process, to get all those views out on the table."

Updated 9:40 p.m. 3/30/12: This article was updated to clarify that the schedule public engangement process to develop a Linden Hills small area plan has not been set.

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