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Once again, no public consensus on zoning issues

Fri, May 30th, 2003
Posted in Features

It was another long evening at the Fillmore County Planning Commission meeting last Wednesday as the commission tackled a long agenda of public hearings that covered a wide range of issues from a bluff ordinance variance to dwelling densities in the agriculture district. Bluff variance deniedThe evening began with Lynn and Roxie Tienter requesting a variance from the Board of Adjustment (a legal sub-group of the planning commission) to construct a new home within 40 feet of a bluff on a 10-acre parcel adjacent to Forestville State Park. The bluff ordinance requires an 80-foot setback from the top of a bluff, but because the site already has an existing cabin at the edge of the bluff, and because building the proposed home further from the bluff would place the structure on prime ag soils, the Tienters were requesting the variance. During the public hearing on the variance, Forestville State Park manager Mark White requested the variance be denied, citing the need to preserve the scenic integrity of the park. David Foster of Spring Valley also commented in support of the parks position, noting that there was no hardship in this case because the bluff ordinance did not restrict the Tienters from building at a different location on their parcel. Minnesota state law requires that a variance can only be granted when an ordinance has created a hardship. The Tienters, in response to the concerns, stated that they would remove the existing cabin, would not have a yard security light, and would paint the new home in colors of green and brown to make it less conspicuous. After a discussion, the Board of Adjustment voted to deny the variance because the Tienters have room on the lot to build at the required setback of 80-feet. The soils class rating appeared to not be an issue because the parcel is considered an existing building site. Building on prime Ag soilsThe planning commission revisited the building restriction on soils with a crop equivalency rating (CER) of 66 or greater as it tweaked the language in an amendment that Commissioner Duane Bakke had proposed at an earlier meeting.The amendment as proposed by Mr. Bakke would allow any landowner who owns 80 or more contiguous acres to place a dwelling on the land with a CER of 66 or greater provided that it meets all other requirements of the zoning ordinance. During the public hearing on the amendment, the acting county attorney, Matt Opat, and several township officers spoke in favor of the ordinance amendment provided that language be added that states, "the dwelling must be within 300 feet of the centerline of the road." A motion by Commissioner Bakke without this language was defeated, and a new motion by Jim Keune that added the 300-foot maximum language was approved. The intent of the maximum setback is to prevent long driveways from being constructed across prime tillable acres, thus removing more tillable land from production. Cooperative Township ZoningThe longest public hearing of the evening dealt with Commissioner Bakkes new zoning plan that would give the townships a menu of options from which to choose, on an annual basis, regarding how many homes or subdivisions each township would allow. Chatfield city councilwoman, Brenda Johnson, opened the public comments acknowledging that public funding is tight now, and that development in the county must be done in a cost-efficient manner, without extra burden on the taxpayers. Ms. Johnson presented the planning commission with a report from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture that indicated that the associated costs to local governments of rural home development is greater than the increased tax revenue. "We need to have some thought to the costs of rural development. I see this as a dollars and cents issue," stated Ms. Johnson. Stating that she is not opposed to building homes in the townships, Ms. Johnson also recommended that the county update its comprehensive plan to show where development should occur. Lanesboro city councilwoman and local attorney Peggy Hanson followed Ms. Johnson and spoke in opposition to the proposed cooperative zoning plan, questioning its legality with respect to the state County Planning Act, the law that gives the county its legal authority to implement planning and zoning. "I see this as zoning by township resolutionand thats a problem. Id be worried about litigation," said Ms. Hanson.Ms. Hanson also presented the planning commission with a letter from Steven Reckers of the Local Planning Assistance Center at the Minnesota Department of Administration that was written in response to questions Hanson had submitted regarding the precedent, legality, and practicality of the proposed cooperative township zoning plan.In his letter, Mr. Reckers stated that he was unaware of any county in the state that had taken this type of approach to zoning. The closest example, he offered, was Wright County, where the county worked closely with the townships to develop a land use plan for each township that was then incorporated into the countys comprehensive plan. Mr. Reckers also stated in his letter that any official controls on land use (zoning, subdivision, official maps) developed by the county must have a direct relationship with the comprehensive plan. Ms. Hanson completed her comments by urging the county to get legal opinion from both Mr. Opat and the Attorney Generals office as to the legality of the cooperative zoning plan proposed by Commissioner Bakke. She also recommended the county update the comprehensive plan. Fillmore County Commissioner Chuck Amunrud also made comments about the new proposal. Mr. Amunrud spoke in favor of the basic idea of the plan, but took exception with some of the schedules in the amendment. "We have to allow our townships to growwe need new houses in the country," stated Mr. Amunrud.In his comments, Commissioner Amunrud questioned the part of the amendment that would allow the townships to change their dwelling density options on an annual basis, offering instead that the townships could revisit their options every three years. Mr. Amunrud also read an exert from the current county comprehensive plan that states, "It is the intent of this plan to provide areas in rural Fillmore County for the development of non farm dwellings on the less productive soils while at the same time preserving the prime soils for the production of agricultural crops and other commodities."In response to Mr. Amunruds quote from the comprehensive plan, Ms. Hanson also quoted from the same page in the plan, "Urban residential development will be encouraged within or adjacent to existing urbanized areas where necessary urban services and public utilities can be provided."At this point, Chairman Mike Tuohy told the audience that there had been enough questions proposed regarding the legality of this zoning amendment that he closed the hearing and stated that no action would be taken until Mr. Opat had a chance to review its legality.

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