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Zoning variances bill approved

Published (2/18/2011)
By Nick Busse
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A committee approved a bill Feb. 17 that would make it easier for local officials to grant zoning variances, over the objections of opponents who say it needs more work.

Sponsored by Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers), HF52 is designed as a response to a Minnesota Supreme Court decision last year. In Krummenacher v. City of Minnetonka, the court interpreted state law to say that cities cannot grant variances to property owners if their properties could be put to reasonable use without a variance.

In effect, the decision made it near to impossible for cities and townships to grant variances, except in rare circumstances. Supporters say the bill would clarify the intent of the current law and provide greater latitude to local governments.

The House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved the bill and sent it to the House floor. Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) sponsors the companion,  SF13, which awaits action by the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.

An amendment successfully offered by Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee) removed language that would have allowed cities and townships to impose “conditions and mitigating requirements” on the granting of variances in the interest of “public health, safety or the environment.”

Beard argued the amendment would ensure the bill addressed the issues raised by the court’s ruling without expanding local powers, but lobbyists representing cities and townships said the amendment could trigger another court case.

Kent Sulem, general counsel for the Minnesota Association of Townships, said the amendment would put cities and towns in a position where they do not have the same powers as counties. He described a scenario where cities could be sued by property owners if they try to impose certain conditions, but challenged by the counties if they don’t.

The amendment was adopted on a roll-call vote of 10-5.

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