Anoka County is leading an effort to exempt north metro cities from new state rules being crafted to regulate development and preservation along the Mississippi River from Dayton to Hastings.
The exemption effort comes after the state Department of Natural Resources has spent months meeting with officials from the 25 cities and townships and five counties along the 72-mile stretch, known as the Mississippi River Critical Corridor Area. At a meeting in October, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr told local officials that their concerns would be reflected in revised draft rules to be released in coming months, and followed by a public comment period.
Some local officials and residents fear that the new rules could restrict permitted land uses and improvements and hurt property values.
Anoka County invited local officials from eight river cities to discuss their concerns earlier this month. County commissioners expressed support for a resolution asking the Legislature to exempt the eight Corridor cities north of Minneapolis from the new rules, and on Tuesday, Jan. 28, the board unanimously adopted one.
"I don't think sending the control upstream to a bigger government agency will suit the cities and counties properly. We should have control of our riverbanks," Commissioner Scott Schulte said after the meeting with local officials.
State Rep. Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, said he is willing to introduce a bill seeking the exemption during the upcoming legislative session, which starts Feb. 25 and ends May 19 at the latest.
Several Anoka City Council members said they expect to adopt a similar resolution. The Coon Rapids council passed a similar measure a few years ago but hadn't discussed the current exemption idea, said Marc Nevinski, community development director.
Brooklyn Park City Manager Jamie Verbrugge said it was too early to say whether his City Council would consider a resolution seeking an exemption. He said some city residents had concerns when the rulemaking process began a few years ago. Initial draft rules made then appeared to address their concerns, he said.
Start, stop, restart
The DNR began the rulemaking in mid-2009, but the process stalled in January 2011. Last spring the Legislature appropriated $100,000 for the agency to finish the task. It set no deadlines but told the DNR to meet with affected local governments and respond to their concerns. Landwehr said he hopes to adopt final rules by year's end.
The new rules are aimed at protecting scenic areas and setting consistent standards to replace the confusing array of state and local regulations for residential and developed areas. The rules will seek to balance residential, commercial and recreational river uses.
Landwehr expressed surprise when told about the exemption request. He noted that at his last meeting with city officials in October, electronic polling showed that most of those attending liked the DNR's effort to modify rules to address local concerns.
"It's a fear of the unknown, is what that sounds like," Landwehr said of the resolution. "I guess we will have to see if the Legislature wants to take that on. … We will continue to work with the cities and move forward. We are not proposing a heavy hand here."
As required, the DNR sent a rule-making update this month to leaders of the Legislature's natural resource committees. The report noted that the DNR is responding to local concerns about a variety of issues.
The DNR estimated that it will take an additional $175,000 to finish the rulemaking and more than $75,000 to create model city ordinances and work with the Metropolitan Council to track ordinance updates.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, heads the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. He said he felt it was unlikely that the Legislature would exempt a handful of cities that didn't want to comply with the new rules.
"The bottom line is the rules are there to protect the river and water quality. It's a public resource. Minneapolis and a lot of cities get their drinking water from it," Marty said. "If the rules are reasonable, why would you want to exempt one group? If they are not reasonable, lets make some changes."
Schulte said he and others appreciate the DNR's efforts to address local concerns. "We just don't know how much of those things [concerns] will make it into the final rules," he said. "We are concerned the rules will come out too late for us to act on them, and we would be forced to live with them," he said.
"Some people think they should be able to kayak down the river and feel like they are in the 1700s and not see any buildings or smoke coming out of chimneys," said Schulte, who lives in Coon Rapids and served on its City Council. "But going through the heart of a suburb that is just not what we are shooting for. … The topography north of Minneapolis is completely different. It is more residential up here."
County lobbyist Kathy Tingelstad noted that the eight north metro cities have 74 percent of the 1,108 residential parcels along the 72-mile corridor. She said the Anoka County cities of Fridley, Coon Rapids, Anoka and Ramsey have 449 residential parcels on the Mississippi. On the Hennepin County side of the river, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Champlin and Dayton have 371 parcels.
Tingelstad noted that supportive local legislators have a limited window in the upcoming short session to fix potential problems with the draft rules, which may not be released until March.
"We are trying to send a message," she said. "If that means drawing a line in sand with this resolution, that is the only thing at our disposal at this point."