“Compromise” Language on Local Control is No Real Deal–Calls Needed Before Feb. 22

Below is LSP’s full action alert regarding the latest attack on township and county rights.

This issue is especially timely here in Big Stone County with the proposed Strata granite quarry, and Ortonville Township Board’s ability to pass an interim ordinance, placing a moratorium on the project and giving residents time to study the project more fully. Keeping local control strong is a fundamental part of our good Minnesota democracy.

Retaining the full power of the interim ordinance is an important piece of LSP’s work in the state. If you believe in the right of local governments to determine what kind of development is right for them, you should be a member of Land Stewardship Project.

Calls Needed: Bill that Weakens Township & County Rights Up (Again)
in the State Legislature Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 10:15 a.m.

Proposed ‘Compromise’ Language on House File 389 Still Weakens Local Control

House File 389 will make it more difficult for citizens who want their township, county or city to take action and protect the community from unanticipated, harmful development. The bill weakens the power of local governments to enact interim ordinances (also called land use moratoriums). An interim ordinance allows local governments to quickly put a temporary freeze on major development. This power is essential when the community is caught off-guard by unanticipated and potentially harmful proposals, especially those from corporate interests and outside investors, such as big box stores like Wal-Mart or a large-scale factory farm. An interim ordinance freezes the status quo and gives the community time to review or create the appropriate zoning ordinances.

UPDATE: House File 389 was tabled at the Jan. 26 hearing in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee due to our phone calls and e-mails and strong testimony in opposition. Now new language for the bill is being proposed as a “compromise.” However, this new language still dramatically weakens local control and is NOT a compromise. Under this new proposal, after a project applies for a permit the local unit of government has a short window of time in which to enact an interim ordinance. If they miss that window, then the proposed project is exempt. The clock starts running before any public hearing — by the time there is a hearing, the clock could be run out. (Full details below.)

TAKE ACTION!

1.  Contact these key members of the House Government Operations and Elections Committee before Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 9:30 a.m. If you have called before, call them again. They need to know a large number of people are watching the issue.

Here is a suggested message: “Minnesotans value strong local control and township rights. House File 389 authored by Rep. Beard undermines these rights, specifically the right to enact an interim ordinance or land use moratorium. I urge you to oppose it. This power is essential when the community is caught off-guard by unanticipated proposals, especially those from outside corporate interests. I am familiar with the new language being proposed and it still weakens local control unacceptably. Local control is working and should be left alone.”

If you have more time, contact these other members of the committee:

2.  Attend or testify at the House Government Elections and Operations hearing on House File 389 on Wed., Feb., 22, at 10:15 a..m. in Room 5 of the State Office Building. Contact Bobby King at bking@landstewardshipproject.org or call 612-722-6377 for more information. Committee information is here.


More details on this legislation:

  • House File 389 is authored by Reps. Beard (R-Shakopee); Quam (R-Byron); Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park); Sanders (R-Blaine)
  • Senate File 270 (the Senate companion) is authored by Sen. Limmer (R-Maple Grove).

Interim ordinances (also called land use moratoriums) are a part of strong local control. An interim ordinance allows a city, county or township to quickly put a temporary freeze on major development. This is necessary when the community is caught off guard by unanticipated and potentially harmful development. This power has been attacked repeatedly by corporate interests over the years.

The power to enact an interim ordinance matters. For example, communities in southeast Minnesota have been bombarded with outside corporate interests wanting to mine for sand to be used in frac mining. These mining proposals are much different in scale and scope from the aggregate mining that takes place there now. In response to citizen concerns, Wabasha, Goodhue and Winona counties enacted interim ordinances that put a moratorium on frac sand mining while they study the issue to see if their current ordinances are sufficient to deal with this new type of mining.

Here are the details of how the legislation and the proposed compromise weaken local control:    

  • Under the proposal, merely applying for a permit exempts a proposed development from any future interim ordinance. But all too often neighbors do not get any information about a project until AFTER the permit has been applied for. When that happens, an interim ordinance may be needed to freeze the status quo and create time to assess the situation.

Proposed “compromise”on this aspect: After a project applies for a permit, the local unit of government has a short window of time in which to enact an interim ordinance. If they miss that window, then the proposed project is exempt. The clock starts running before any public hearing. In fact, by the time there is a hearing the clock could be run out.  Here is how this new clock would work.  After the permit application is accepted, a 30-day clock starts at the next public meeting. This is any public meeting and not a hearing on the project. For example, a permit for a sand frac mine is accepted on a Thursday and the county commissioners meet the following Tuesday. This issue will very likely not even be on the agenda at that meeting, but that meeting triggers the 30-day clock. By the time the first public hearing happens and neighbors know about the project, the 30-day deadline could be expired.

  • The proposal requires a two-thirds vote (a super majority) to enact an interim ordinance.  For counties this would mean 4 of 5 commissioners must vote for the ordinance, or 80%. Currently, an interim ordinance can be enacted by a simple majority — that’s how democratic rights should work. There is no reason to make adopting an interim ordinance so difficult by requiring a two-thirds vote. (The “two-thirds vote” proposal is also included in the”compromise” language.)
  • The legislation slows the process for enacting an interim ordinance by mandating public notice and a hearing before an interim ordinance can be enacted. In many cases, a local unit of government — particularly a township — does not get complete information on a proposed development until shortly before approval. In those cases, there can be legitimate concerns that the local government needs to address. When that happens, an interim ordinance must be enacted quickly to be effective. An interim ordinance can only be adopted at a public meeting, but currently no special notice is required to be given that the interim ordinance may be considered at the meeting. The very nature of an interim ordinance is to address unanticipated situations, and so there are times when it must be enacted quickly as an emergency measure. (The “mandated public notice” proposal is also included in the new “compromise” language.)
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