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Zoning Summit looks at Ag District

Fri, Mar 9th, 2001
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By John Torgrimson Monday, March 5, 2001

County leaders, township officials, and interested residents attended the joint meeting of the Fillmore County Board and the Fillmore County Planning Commission on Monday, February 26. The two bodies met together to discuss broad issues related to zoning. The meeting was chaired by County Board Chair Helen Bicknese and focused on zoning in the Ag District, feedlots, the realignment of the board of adjustment and the need to update the comprehensive plan.

Splitting of Ag land into three districts

The Fillmore County Comprehensive Plan calls for the county to protect and preserve prime farm land. One of the ways it does this is by restricting the development of non-farm homes in the Ag District. At present, the Fillmore County Zoning Ordinance allows for only one non-farm home per quarter quarter section (40 acres). This is the standard that has been in place since 1989.

The question being asked by the planning commission at this time is should this standard be changed to allow for increased development activities in certain areas of the county? A more restrictive standard could be used where there are large tracks of farm land, as in the flatter, western part of the county (one non-farm home per 160 acres has been suggested). Alternatively, a less restrictive standard could be used around the river valleys and forested areas of the county where it might be possible to encourage development (one idea has four non-farm homes per 40 acres). In other parts of the county the one per 40 acre standard could continue to be used.

"The one non-farm home per 40 acres is not necessarily the best thing for the county," Fillmore County Planning Commission chair Mike Tuohy told the group. "There are many sites, small woodlots that are assets to farmers, that could be contributing to the tax base."

Gordon Gullickson, a township supervisor from Amherst and a member of the planning commission agreed. "Every township has five to 10 acre woodlots. I don’t think, there is anything wrong with putting some houses on them. They are wasteland," Gullickson said.

Tuohy said that the county needs to address these things as a whole and look long-term at where it wants to go. "We need to protect farmers while at the same time looking at development," he said.

Dave Kiehne of the Fillmore County Assessor’s Office said that it is hard to describe the difference between farm and non-farm homes in real estate terms. "Occupation shouldn’t enter into what is going on in real estate" he told the group.

Kiehne gave an example of where over protection in zoning can lead to unintended consequences. He noted that in Rice County, which has a similar non-farm zoning standard as Fillmore County, land with type-A soil is selling for $4,200 per acre because buyers from the metropolitan area are buying 60 acre parcels. This in turn is driving up property taxes for farmers.

County Attorney Matt Opat said that he is interested in knowing where townships were at on these issues, noting that townships can be more restrictive in their zoning than the county.

"My concern is there are not many people giving input into these discussions," Opat said. "You could end up with a subdivision with 20 people and they could end up controlling that township. Townships need to weigh in on this."

Opat said that in the last 10 years in Olmsted County, townships have been doing their own zoning, battling the city of Rochester.

Lynn Tienter, a supervisor from Carimona Township, responded that "we can’t have 23 townships doing their own zoning."

"But if the county does nothing, townships could be forced into that," Tuohy acknowledged, noting that two townships already have moratoriums in place. "We need to take the thoughts of as many townships as we can and let the planning commission move ahead on this. We need to gather feedback over the next year."

The question of subdivisions and how cities can exercise their own zoning on subdivisions within two miles of their boundaries came up briefly and was used to illustrate the complexities of land-use planning in the county.

"If you take into account the set asides for the bluff ordinance, the shoreline ordinance, the two mile subdivision limit, setbacks for feedlots, as well as the non-farm home per quarter quarter section, you can see how complex zoning is in Fillmore County," Tuohy told the group.


The recent feedlot survey carried out by Fillmore County Feedlot Officer Mike Frauenkron shows that there are 1477 registered feedlots in the county. Of this number, 981 are over 50 animal units (AU) in size and 6 are less than 50 animal units. The county is in the process of computerizing this data and hopes to be able to show the breakdown of feedlots by size and location.

The county plans on entering into agreements with farmers who have an open-lot and less than 300 AU by October 1, 2001. The state program requires that farmers take correction action to minimize pollution from their operations by the year 2005, with a second set of remediation activities being completed by 2010. The county also hopes to make the necessary feedlot site visits by October 1 to qualify for Level II funding from the state in 2002.

Board of Adjustment

At present, the Fillmore County Board of Adjustment is made up of three members, one of which also belongs to the seven member planning commission. The question being asked by the planning commission is whether the board of adjustment should be replaced entirely with five members of the planning commission, in effect consolidating the two groups into one. The role of the planning commission is to make recommendations on land use, mainly through conditional use permits, to the county board. The board of adjustment in turn acts on variance requests.

Fillmore County Zoning Administrator Norm Craig said that this kind of consolidation has been done in Martin County with good results. He said that the benefit is that it is more efficient for government in that site visits and hearings can be combined. County Commissioner Duane Bakke said that another benefit is that members could see the zoning issue from all sides.

It was agreed that this issue needs to be studied further by the planning commission. Any decision to change the structure of the board of adjustment would require a public hearing on the matter and approval by the Fillmore County Board.

•Comprehensive Plan. The Fillmore County Comprehenisve Plan was adopted in June 1990 and amended in December 1994. There was a general concensus that this should be updated.

•Resource Management. There was general concern about the amount of crushed rock leaving the county, and in some cases the state. There was some discussion about the county adopting an Aggregate Tax on rock leaving the county which could be used for reclamation as well as road improvements.

While there were no decisions made at the meeting, it was important for the commissioners and commission members to meet if for no other reason than to share ideas, agree on what zoning issues the county faces and the general direction the planning commission will be going as it begins to make long-term plans for zoning in Fillmore County.

The two boards agreed to meet together again in six months.

By John Torgrimson

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