MN House Passes On Variance Bill

From the Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services office:

House votes to ease restrictions on zoning variances

published 4/4/2011

The House voted 79-52 to allow local governments greater latitude to grant zoning variances, but some said more work was needed on the legislation.

Sponsored by Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers), HF52 would modify the authority for cities, counties and townships to grant zoning variances. It now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) is the sponsor.

The bill is designed as a response to a 2010 Minnesota Supreme Court decision. 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 next to impossible for cities and townships to grant variances, except in rare circumstances. Supporters say the bill would merely clarify the current law so that local governments can go on using the same standards that have been in place for decades.

“The Krummenacher case actually took what was in practice here for a number of years in the state of Minnesota and made it illegal,” said Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R-Sartell). He added that $45 million in construction projects in the state are being held up because of the decision.

Opponents said the bill does not have support from key stakeholders like the League of Minnesota Cities, who argue the bill’s language creates disparities in the relative authority of cities, counties and townships to grant variances. They argue the legislation would trigger more court cases.

“What we should be doing is actually getting the compromise worked out… creating a bill that’s ‘peace in the valley,’” said Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley).

Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee) said the relevant stakeholder groups are in the process of negotiating a compromise. He said the plan is to incorporate their agreement into the Senate version of the bill, which would then be sent back to the House for approval.

– Nick Busse

Kudos to freshman Rep. Doug Wardlow (R-Eagan) for speaking up in support of the Supreme Court’s Krummenacher reasoning, even if we disagree on the proper remedy.

(Rep. Winkler explains in the video below a bit on the League of Minnesota Cities position, which is not without merit)

As I’ve said before and I still believe, professionally and personally, that H.F. 52 is a bad bill.  It’s bad policy and lazy planning—and it gives NO investment-backed expectations, and grants far too much discretion to unelected Boards of Adjustment.  Score 1-0 for the Good Old Boys vs. the Rule of Law.  Round 2 moves to the Minnesota Senate, S.F. 13.

(As always, these views are mine and mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, boards, commissions, or municipalities with which I may work.)


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5 Responses to MN House Passes On Variance Bill

  1. Randy W. Stroetz says:


    I live in Rochester where I have worked in health care for the past 32 years.

    I am contacting you in relation to H.F. No. 52, the issue regarding local control and variances.

    Specifically, I am interested in the continued choice to use non-mandatory language in the granting of variances even in the case that all requirements proving “practical difficulties” and all other requirements are met.

    I own a 40 acre parcel in Farmington Township, Olmsted County where this soft language has allowed the creation and continuation of a township “fiefdom”; local officials continue to pride themselves in never having granted a variance since their adoption of local control over 25 years ago.

    Despite a 15% growth in population in Olmsted County between 2000 and 2010, and also the proximity to growing Rochester, the population of this township (and select few other nearby municipalities) has decreased significantly.

    I believe this is the result of a “no variance / no build” policy which has been long upheld with support by the “Variances MAY be granted….” statutory language which allows local officials to do as they please despite being presented with clear, logical, factual material in support of granting a variance.

  2. John says:

    Thank you, Randy, for your well-thought comment.

    If changing conditions make greater density or reduced setbacks more appropriate in the community, local control should mean changing the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance to reflect reality.

    A variance is special legislation, applicable to one property so different from all others so as to deny fair use. Our founding fathers clearly were opposed to special legislation and institutionalized equal protection under the law in the US Constitution.

    If the problem is the people, elect new people. If the problem is the property, that’s a different question.

  3. I am very intrusted in this bill. The City of Rich-field is waiting for this to pass so that they would grant a variance to Orally Auto Parts.
    Is there any way that I can be notified when the Governor signs it????

    • John says:

      HF 52 was sent to the Governor yesterday (2 May). You can track bill status on the Legislature’s website.

      For as much damage as this bill does to property rights, I am amazed how many “Conservative” politicians have lined up behind it….

  4. John says:

    HF52 signed by the Governor, 5/5/11

    It still get irked when I see misinformed analysis of the Variance issue from the media and others who should know better:

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