Cities and homeowners who feared new rules would reduce their control over property and development are welcoming changes made in the critical-river-area measure signed by the governor last week.
Legislators said the bill, included in the Legacy Amendment law, was modified to protect homeowners and cities along a 72-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, from Hastings to Dayton.
The measure allocated $500,000 over two years for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to revise rules for new development along the corridor. The DNR is to begin developing rules in January.
Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul and chief author of the House legislation, outlined some of the changes:
• The law dropped proposed DNR fees for reviewing revised city ordinances or policies passed to comply with new river development standards. Cities also will not face late fees if they don't give the DNR 10 days' notice before holding zoning or variance hearings.
• The law includes a provision assuring existing homeowners that the new rules would not change their property usage, which would be covered by current state statutes on property that does not conform to zoning ordinances.
• Guidelines for the new rules to be developed under the law had a clause deleted that said rules would include "permitted uses and dimensional and performance standards for development." Cities believed that language would allow the DNR to usurp local zoning power, said Craig Johnson, a lobbyist for the League of Minnesota Cities.
"Some of the language changes made our planners a little more comfortable," added Pierre Willette, a lobbyist for Minneapolis.
Hansen said the permitted-uses language was dropped to avoid controversy. "We had a tremendous amount of public input from folks and look forward to the rule-making process also involving people," Hansen said.
One of those who testified on the bill was Rick Townsend-Anderson, who lives on the Mississippi in Brooklyn Park. He said his small lot is nonconforming because his house is 50 feet from the river. He currently needs no variances to make repairs or renovations on the home's existing footprint. "We wanted to be treated like any other city resident, and not be a special class," he said.
Townsend-Anderson said he plans to testify during the DNR rulemaking process and hopes to "eliminate concerns about the river becoming a green corridor where you can't cut vegetation. ...We want to continue to be able to beautify our homes and not become something resembling the [federally regulated Wild and Scenic] St. Croix River."
The river corridor, which covers 25 municipalities, is governed under the Mississippi River Critical Area Program. It was adopted in the 1970s to protect water quality, historic sites and other features, and is overseen by the DNR.
At least six cities -- Lilydale, Mendota, Coon Rapids, Champlin, Anoka and Ramsey -- adopted resolutions or sent letters opposing the bills to legislators.
The lead bill sponsor, Friends of the Mississippi River, opposed deleting the permitted-uses clause from the bill.
"We thought it added clarity," said Whitney Clark, Friends executive director. "We are pleased the legislation passed. It is an important step forward for the Mississippi."
Rulemaking, overseen by a state administrative law judge, will include public testimony and evidence for permitted land-use rules tailored to preserving river features such as bluffs, scenic views and wetlands.
Jim Adams • 612-673-7658