An open letter to sponsors of MN HF 52/SF 13, dealing with statutes for zoning variances in Minnesota:
As a professional planner of 20 years experience in several states, and a committed Conservative, I strongly oppose the proposed amendments in HF 52/SF 13. While I applaud harmonizing land use standards across city-township-county statutes, at least 40 out of 50 states currently use the “undue” and/or “unnecessary hardship” standard (as does Minnesota’s MS 462.357 Subd.6(2) as interpreted by the State Supreme Court in Krummenacher).
The proposed “practical difficulties” standard is antithetical to property rights and good public policy. Local government should not be able to grant variances to laws or regulations at whim. Do we grant variances to speeding tickets because the driver has a “practical difficulty” with the numerical speed limit? Property owners must be assured that their right to quiet enjoyment of their property will not change arbitrarily due to some nebulous interpretation of “difficulties”. If local governments cannot serve a public purpose with official controls in effect, they need to fix their ordinances, not just hand out variances to whomever can afford an attorney to make their case.
All citizens must enjoy equal protection of the law, as enshrined in the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The “unnecessary hardship” standard has a long history of clear practice and judicial interpretation that should not be discarded without due deliberation. I urge you to reconsider this proposal and support a stronger rule of law with the “unnecessary hardship” zoning variance standard for both municipalities and counties.
My comments are my own, and not those of my employer or the Minnesota Chapter of the American Planning Association.
-John C. Shepard, AICP; Slayton, MN
This is a bit of “inside baseball” for the non-land planners among you. If you got this far, feel free to move on to lighter fare.
The MnAPA Legislative Committee has been discussing recent somewhat contradictory decisions from the state Supreme Court on variance standards in cities (Krummenacher v. City of Minnetonka) and counties (Stadsvold v. County of Otter Tail Board of Adjustment, both discussed here; MnDNR has a nice summary PDF here. MPR did a story this summer on some of the fall-out here.)
I lurk on the Legislative Committee and we were due to forward recommendations to the MnAPA Board this week. However, other parties pushed forward with the bill as currently proposed, and the MnAPA Board decided to sign on to the bill to as I understand it 1) support harmonization of city/twp/county statutes, and 2) keep a seat at the table as the bill moves forward. We’ll see how that goes.
[Edit: fixed Findlaw case references 1 March 2011]