Wayzata rejects GreenStep Cities over potential impact on development

On the surface the GreenStep Cities program sounds like a no-brainer when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency pitches it to unsuspecting cities around the state. After all, what could go wrong with a voluntary program that’s supposed to be all about sustainability and environmental protection?

As it turns out, more than appears to be the case once you take a deeper dive into the program in the view of Wayzata City Councilor Alex Plechash.

“One of my main concerns is that many of the steps in the GreenStep Cities program may ultimately generate onerous regulation on businesses and homeowners, infringe on their private property rights, and potentially transform the culture and the feel of the city,” Plechash said at a recent city council meeting to discuss whether to join the program.

Behind the scenes the MPCA works with city staff like Wayzata’s Energy and Environment Committee to pave the way by recommending their city councils vote to join the group. And the sales pitch appeared to be right on track recently in Wayzata, according to the Sun Sailor.

Councilmember Jeff Buchanan, who serves as a council liaison for the Energy and Environment Committee, said joining the program would help the city in working toward environmental sustainability, which is one of the guiding principles in the Wayzata 2040 Comprehensive Plan.

“The committee feels that by becoming a GreenStep city, we will be in a better position to satisfy our purpose and deliver on our responsibilities,” Buchanan said.

But a closer look at the reality behind the program’s rhetoric gave several members of the Wayzata City Council pause for concern.

Mayor Johanna Mouton commended the Energy and Environment Committee for their work, but said there was just too much ambiguity in the GreeenStep Cities program.

“It is so loose and so ill defined that I’m not comfortable making a decision based on what I have been presented this evening,” the mayor said.

She said she believed implementing the program’s best practice to “construct new buildings to meet or qualify under a green building framework” could add to already high building costs and lead to more requests for developments that are taller and higher in density.

An American Experiment analysis of the GreenStep program last year found the MPCA program urges local governments to factor environmental sustainability into everything from budgets to ordinances, land use and long-range planning. A growing network of grassroots opponents, however, views GreenStep as a drain on city resources, risk to taxpayers and threat to local control.

In the end, the Wayzata City Council followed the example of neighboring Plymouth last year in deciding GreenStep Cities was out of step with the community on a three to two vote.

Councilmember Cathy Iverson too had concerns that the program could require additional staff time and potentially dictate city policies.

“The timing is not right. I would love to have our (Energy and Environment Committee) team do some additional work and take on some of these initiatives on their own first,” she said. “Let’s step back and see how successful you can be without having to be part of such a large program.”