St. Croix Land Use Legislation Advances

The state veto authority of local variance decisions was removed from controversial bill.
(Published Mar 24, 2014)

A bill that originally would have made significant changes to the authority of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over local land use decisions in the lower St. Croix River area was considered by the Senate State and Local Government Committee on March 21. A group of citizens has been pushing for the changes for several years.

SF 2272 (Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport), as introduced, would have given the state veto power with no limit on the time taken for a decision over any ordinance, zoning change, or variance adopted by a local unit of government in the region. It also would have instituted a list of additional requirements for variances beyond existing state or federal law. The bill was passed by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee on March 13.

The League and other local government groups opposed the legislation, and negotiated a rewrite with the author and proponents before the bill was heard on March 21 by the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

The amendment limits DNR oversight to zoning ordinances, granting them the same authority they have in other shoreland areas to review the ordinance to certify that it complies with state and federal laws. The DNR is given up to 30 days for that review and, if the agency finds the ordinance lacking, it must specify why.

The DNR would also create a liaison position to work with local governments in the region on education and outreach efforts, and to assist them in reviewing variance requests. That amendment was adopted by the State and Local Government Committee, and the bill was sent to the Senate Finance Committee.

The House companion bill, HF 2714 (Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul), has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

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