WHAT IT IS
Per Minnesota statute, Metro Cities are required to create a Comprehensive Plan. The Plan covers land use, planned residential growth, types of housing, transportation, water, sewer, and parks. It communicates a vision for the city, and gives goals and plans for each of the aforementioned areas. The Met Council gives direction for the Plan and needs to approve any changes to it. Cities are required to update it every ten years
The Plan is designed to inform other bodies affected by a city's decisions, such as a watershed district or school district, of a city's long term plans.
As the long term plan for Plymouth, our Comp Plan has been used by future residents to understand the City's plans for an area - such as the eventual disposition for Hollydale Golf Course - before purchasing a home.
WHY IT MATTERS
All Land Use is "guided" by the Comprehensive Plan. In other words, all areas of the city are assigned a Land Use designation which gives direction for the long run as to how the land is to be used and zoned. Land use designations, listed on the figure to the left, indicate residential, commercial, industrial or other use. Certain zoning designations fit with certain guiding designations. Hollydale is guided "P-I; Public/ Semi-Public/ Institutional", defined as follows.
"The P-I guiding designation allows a variety of uses including public parks and open space, private recreation facilities and public buildings."
Note that P-I doesn't allow residential use. So it is not eligible to be zoned as residential.
What's important to understand for the purposes of this development, is that per Minnesota statute, the Comprehensive Plan takes precedence over the Zoning Ordinance. Plymouth's Zoning Ordinance explicitly states that understanding:
"In accordance with Minnesota Statutes Chapter 473, the City will not approve any rezoning or other changes in these regulations that are inconsistent with the City Comprehensive Plan."
Hollydale has been guided P-I since 1975. The City Council recently confirmed this guidance in its approval of the 2040 Comp Plan in July of 2019. Therefore, rezoning Hollydale into residential use is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan.
Rational observers would therefore conclude that since 319 homes don't meet the Comp Plan guidance that's been in effect for over 30 years, denying the residential application is a no brainer. However, there are provisions that allow a City Council to make changes to the Comprehensive Plan, so the City can approve this development if they want to.
Changing the Comprehensive Plan takes a super majority of 5 people to vote in favor of changing the Plan. So if three Council members vote against the change, the residential development will not be allowed.
A CHANGE FOR HOLLYDALE WAS PREVIOUSLY DENIED
It's important to note that in 2006, as the City was making decisions with respect to Northwest Plymouth and creating the 2030 Plan, the owners of Elm Creek and Hampton Hills golf courses asked for a change in Comp Plan guidance to Residential. In March of 2006 the owner of Hollydale “gave formal written notification” of their future plans for the property, and also asked for a change in guidance to Residential for seven Hollydale related properties.
Over the ensuing two years, there was consideration of alternative land use guidance for golf courses, residents near Hollydale were notified of a potential change, a listening session was held on March 6, 2007, discussions were held at the Parks & Rec Advisory Commission and the Planning Commission about Plan language with respect to golf, numerous letters were exchanged, and citizens made related comments at public forums.
Ultimately, the decision was made to guide Elm Creek and Hampton Hills residential, and leave Hollydale P-I.
The story was summarized in the StarTribune on February 4, 2008:
"In Plymouth, the three privately held golf courses were zoned under Public-Semi-Public-Institutional, or P-I — the same as churches, the Hennepin County Correctional Facility and Wayzata Senior High. In updating its comprehensive plan, the city let two of three courses -- one long closed for business -- out of that designation. The draft plan now allows residential development, as their owners requested.
But the owners of the Hollydale course were denied such a change after dozens of residents rallied to keep the course zoned P-I. Hollydale owners told the city that they plan to keep operating the course."
The letter from Hollydale's owner made clear that he intended to operate the course in the near term, but he also made clear he intended to develop it. The City was notified of his intentions long before the completion of both the 2030 and 2040 plans, and there was every reason to believe that there would be a request to put the property to a different use in the future. The fact that the City did not change the guidance under those circumstances would suggest to any reasonable person reading the Plan that the City intended for it to remain a golf course.
All that said, statute allows Comp Plan guidance to be changed , and changes from P-I to residential have been made before.
Yet "planning” becomes merely a euphemism if plans that have been in place for over 30 years can be arbitrarily changed six months after they were approved for the third or fourth time.
If requests by buyers and sellers of land to change the Plan are routinely granted, then it's not the elected officials and their appointees who are planning the city, it's the buyers and the sellers of land.