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Granting zoning variances

Published (1/14/2011)
By Nick Busse
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Property owners feeling boxed in by strict zoning ordinances may get some relief from the Legislature.

As soon as next week, members of the House Government Operations and Elections Committee could vote on HF52. Sponsored by Committee Chairwoman Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers), the bill is intended to address a Minnesota Supreme Court decision last year that made it nearly impossible for local authorities to grant variances, or exceptions, from zoning codes.

The committee took testimony on the bill Jan. 11. No action was taken.

In Krummenacher v. City of Minnetonka, the court ruled that the city could not grant a variance to a property owner because the property in question could be put to a reasonable use without one. Peppin said the decision stunned many local planning officials.

“The decision, really, in my mind and I think a lot of people’s minds, overturned a longstanding precedent,” Peppin said.

The court stated that the Legislature would need to clarify the language of the law if it wanted to provide local officials more latitude to grant variances. Tom Grundhoefer, general counsel for the League of Minnesota Cities, urged lawmakers to do just that.

Grundhoefer explained that the court did not say it disagreed with the policy of allowing local governments to grant variances; only that its interpretation of the statute did not allow for a flexible variance policy.

He read from the court’s decision, “‘Unless and until the Legislature takes action to provide a more flexible standard for municipalities, we are constrained by the language of the statute.’ So what we’re really trying to do is fix the statute.”

Peppin said there are concerns about the bill’s language however, and she wanted to wait to put it to a vote until they had been addressed.

Alyssa Schlander, director of government affairs for the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association, said the members want time to examine the bill in detail.

“I happen to represent an industry with very unique land use needs,” Schlander said.

One concern is that the bill’s language might impose new environmental requirements on property owners, though she could not cite a specific example in the bill.

Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) sponsors the companion, SF13, which awaits action by the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.

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