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New variance law standardizes criteria for zoning boards

A new state law went into effect Thursday changing the standards that counties, cities and towns must use in issuing variances to zoning ordinances.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed House File 52/Senate File 13 into law.

The bill, passed unanimously by both the House and Senate, says "practical difficulties" must exist in complying with an existing ordinance. It applies to all boards of adjustment and zoning control authorities.

Practical difficulties mean "the property owner proposes to use the property in a reasonable manner not permitted by official control; the plight of the landowner is due to circumstances unique to the property not created by the landowner; and the variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the locality," the new law states.

"Economic considerations alone do not constitute practical difficulties."

Dan Kittilson, president of the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations, said some fine-tuning would still be done on how the law is to be interpreted.

A group of 15 different COLAs has been working on Legislative issues throughout the 2011 session, Kittilson said.

A steering committee of that "COLA collaborative" has been invited to look at issuing recommendations as to how to interpret the new law.

While Kittilson said it may be easier to get a variance in the long run, the law will standardize the criteria used by all governmental units to award variances statewide. And that criteria will contain factors of analysis laid out by the Minnesota Supreme Court, stemming from two cases decided since 2008.

In passing the law, legislators abandoned a "hardship" standard that board had difficulty applying.

"Variances shall only be permitted when they are in harmony with the general putposes and intent of the ordinance and when the variances are consistent with the comprehensive plan," the new law states.

The Minnesota Supreme Court overturned an existing law that allowed variances.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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