from Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate

Following Council Chair Sue Haigh’s announcement that economic development, affordable housing, and a vibrant 21st century transit system are the top goals for the agency, the Metropolitan Council is moving forward with a strong transit-oriented development (TOD) agenda.

Early this year, the Council announced new TOD grant funding (for pre-development and development) within the Livable Communities Account. The Council also created new TOD funding (for site investigation and clean up) through the existing Tax Base Revitalization Account (TBRA). In February 2012, grant applications were submitted by 12 metro area cities, including Anoka, Apple Valley, Coon Rapids, Eden Prairie, Fridley, Hopkins, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Ramsey Richfield, St. Louis Park and Saint Paul. These cities represent a large percentage of the eligible TOD areas, which were established based on current, or soon-to-come, high-quality transit service (see map).

Map showing areas eligible for TOD funds via the Livable Communities Account
of the Metropolitan Council

A total of nearly $23 million was proposed for projects on twelve different transit lines. Not surprisingly, demand far exceeded the $13 million in grant funding available in 2012. The Council estimates that over $62 million in Transit Oriented Development grants have been allocated through the Livable Communities program prior to 2012.

The Council also recently put out a call for proposals to help the Council create a Strategic Action Plan for TOD. The action plan would include: a review of the current state of TOD in our metro region, a comparison with peer regions, an assessment of the biggest needs of developers and local governments, recommendations for setting a TOD vision, greater clarity of measures of success and a timeline for implementing new programs and policies.

Planning for TOD is about anticipating the new market for housing, retail, and jobs. A number of factors are driving the market for housing in walkable neighborhoods with convenient transit. These factors include:

1)      the consumer preferences of Generation Y (the largest group of homebuyers) for more walkable, bikable, transit-accessible neighborhoods (see Wall Street Journal: No McMansions for Millennials)

2)      an aging and changing population (91% of net household growth will come from households consisting of married couples without children and individuals living alone.  Married couples with children, will actually drop by more than 13,000 households in the region between now and 2030. Source: Minnesota State Demographer)

3)      the desire to provide an affordable combination of housing and transportation as gas prices trend upward at a pace exceeding recent or anticipated growth in household income.

We are encouraged by this new flurry of TOD activity, but the devil remains in the details. To reach the outcome of a substantially larger share of neighborhoods with convenient transit and walkable destinations, at least three key challenges remain:

1)      securing adequate funding to expand the region’s transit system to reach more of the metro area

2)      overcoming local resistance to increased development – housing and jobs

3)      designing our cities and streets to provide greater access by walking and biking to worksites, schools, shops, recreation, and transit.