MRCCA Rulemaking Project - FAQs
What is the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA)?
The MRCCA is a land corridor along the Mississippi River in the seven-county metro area where there are special land use regulations that guide development activity. The corridor extends 72 miles along the Mississippi River from the cities of Ramsey and Dayton in the north to the cities of Hastings and Cottage Grove in the south. It includes 54,000 acres of land along both sides of the river. The State of Minnesota created the corridor and land management regulations in 1976. Local governments administer the regulations through their local plans and zoning codes.
How and when was the Mississippi River Corridor designated as a "Critical Area"?
There have been a number of decisions and designations for the river corridor. In 1976, Governor Wendell Anderson first designated the corridor as a state Critical Area with Executive Order 130. Governor Al Quie renewed the designation in 1979, with Executive Order 79-19. The Metropolitan Council made the designation permanent in 1979 with Resolution 79-84. In 1988, Congress designated the Critical Area as the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), a unit of the National Park System. The Minnesota Legislature designated the MNRRA as a state critical area with the same boundaries as the MRCCA in 1991.
Why was the corridor designated as a "Critical Area"?
The Critical Areas Act of 1973 (Minnesota Statutes 116G) authorizes the state to identify and plan for "areas of critical concern" that possess "important historic, cultural, or esthetic values, or natural systems which perform functions of greater than local significance." The original designation order determined that coordinated planning under the Critical Areas Act was needed to manage the corridor as a multi-purpose resource, resolve conflicts related to the use of land and water, preserve the corridor's environmentally sensitive areas. The MRCCA is the only critical area currently designated under the Act.
The Rulemaking Process
Why is the DNR developing rules for the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA)?
In 2009, the Legislature directed the DNR to establish, by rule, new districts and standards for the MRCCA. In 2009, the DNR initiated a two-year participatory process that involved communities, interest groups, property owners, and the public, resulting in the 2011 draft rules. Due to the length of this process and the complexity of issues and concerns, the rulemaking effort was put on hold in early 2011 and the DNR's rulemaking authority expired.
The 2013 Legislature renewed the DNR's authority to complete rulemaking for the MRCCA. The 2013 legislation addressed many of the local concerns expressed during the 2009 process. (see Laws 2013, Chapter 137 - HF 1183, Article 2, Sec. 18).
What did the 2009 legislation do?
The legislation required the DNR to establish, by rule, appropriate districts for the MRCCA, along with minimum guidelines and standards for these districts to protect key resources and features. The legislation also required the DNR to develop a preliminary bluff map that would be refined through rulemaking and used as a regulatory tool by local governments.
How did the 2013 legislation change rulemaking direction compared to the 2009 legislation?
The 2013 legislation included a number of changes:
- Required consultation with local governments prior to rule adoption.
- Removed all 2009 language pertaining to the creation of a bluff map and bluff-related definitions; however, protection of bluffs and related features remained a priority.
- Added a requirement that the corridor be managed as a multi-purpose resource in a way that provides for the continuation, development, and redevelopment of a variety of urban uses, including industrial, commercial, recreational, and residential uses.
- Removed two of the factors for consideration to establish new districts - one referring to the protection of features in existence at the time of designation in 1979, and one referring to the intent of the land use districts from Executive Order 79-19.
- Added existing and potential new commercial, industrial, and residential development to the list of resources to be considered in the creation of new districts.
- Exempted the rulemaking effort from the time restrictions in Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 14, which governs all rulemaking statewide.
- Required the DNR to report on its progress to the Legislature in January 2014.
What are the various draft rules that I've seen or heard of?
Since 2009, this rulemaking has had extensive public involvement and has resulted in a number of draft rules that have been revised and refined over time to reflect input and ideas, and that culminated in the proposed rules:
- "2011 Draft Rules": The 2011 draft rules were the result of the 2009-2010 rulemaking effort. They served as the starting point for the 2013 rulemaking effort.
- "June 2014 Working Draft Rules": The June 2014 working draft rules showed proposed revisions to the 2011 draft rules based on input from local governments and other interest groups received from July 2013 - April 2014. They served as the basis for public comments during the second Request for Comments period, between June - September 2014. Comments received during this time were used to develop the proposed rules.
- "Proposed Rules": The proposed rules are what are currently being considered by an Administrative Law Judge during this formal rulemaking phase.
What is the schedule for completing the rules?
The DNR has published a Notice of Hearing to adopt the proposed rules, which initiated a formal public comment period that will end on Wednesday, July 6, 2016 at 4:30 p.m. All comments received during this period will be reviewed by the Administrative Law Judge assigned to the rulemaking, and will be part of the record. After this, the schedule for completing the rules is uncertain. If no substantial modifications are needed to the rules after the public hearings and comment period ends, the DNR anticipates that the rules could be completed as early as late summer/early fall of 2016. If substantial changes are needed, it could take longer.
Has the DNR sought feedback from the public on rule development?
Yes, the proposed rules are the result of an extensive public participation process. Beginning in 2009 and continuing through two different rulemaking efforts, the DNR has consulted with local governments, multiple interest groups and property owners.
Will the public have an opportunity to provide input on the proposed rules?
Yes, the public can submit written comments to the Administrative Law Judge during the comment period, and oral comments at the public hearings. Information on dates and locations of public hearings and instructions for how to comment are located on the main MRCCA rulemaking webpage.
The Proposed Rules
What do the proposed rules include?
The major topics included in the working draft rules include:
- Responsibilities and duties of state, regional and local government
- Preparation, review, approval and adoption of local plans and ordinances
- How nonconformities, conditional/interim uses, and variances are addressed
- Establishment of six districts, each with dimensional standards for water and bluff setbacks, and building height
- General development standards for roads and other transportation facilities, recreational facilities, stairways, and signs
- Standards for protecting bluffs and steep slopes
- Standards for vegetation management and land alteration in sensitive areas
- Standards for protecting key resources as part of new development and redevelopment
What don't the rules include?
The following topics are not included in the propose rules:
- Any regulation of water surface use, such as no wake zones or boating restrictions
- Any regulations regarding docks or other structures or alterations below the Ordinary High Water Level (OHWL) of public waters
- Any regulation of dams on the Mississippi River, such as the Coon Rapids dam
- Any regulations related to water appropriations
The legislation requires the DNR to establish districts. What is a district?
Districts are sections or segments of the MRCCA. The rules identify parts of the MRCCA that have similar characteristics and group them into common districts. Each district has specific building height and structure setback standards.
The MRCCA already has districts, what will happen to them after the new rules are adopted?
The MRCCA currently has four districts: Rural Open, Urban Open, Urban Developed, and Urban Diversified. The boundaries of the districts are established by Executive Order 79-19. The 2009 and 2013 Legislatures directed the DNR to establish new districts for the MRCCA, and to take into account municipal plans and policies, and existing ordinances in conditions. The proposed rules identify six new districts that better reflect existing conditions, as well as current development trends.
Will these rules affect local zoning?
Yes. The rules establish minimum guidelines and standards that local governments must include in their comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances, as is currently the case with the existing regulations in Executive Order 79-19. Local governments are responsible for enforcing local zoning controls and regulations.
How will the rules be implemented?
The rules will be implemented through local plans and ordinances. When the proposed rules are adopted, local governments will need to amend their existing MRCCA plans and ordinances to be consistent with the rules.
When will my community have to implement the rules?
The rules will not take effect immediately, but rather will be implemented over several years.
- Once the rules are adopted, the DNR, in consultation with the Metropolitan Council, will notify local governments as to when they need to amend their plan and ordinance amendments to be consistent with the rules. The DNR will try to coordinate the timing with the comprehensive plan updates required by the Metropolitan Council.
- To help local governments, the DNR will prepare model ordinances, guidance materials, training, and other resources for local staff. Preparing this material will likely take up to a year after the rules are adopted.
- The DNR will then begin notifying communities that they must update their plans and ordinances to comply with the new rules. This will likely be done in phases, and communities will be given at least one year to complete the updates.
- Once completed, the updated plans and ordinances must be reviewed by the Metropolitan Council and approved by the DNR, and then adopted by the community before they take effect.
Will these rules change local control over land use decision making?
No. The new rules will not change the level of local control. Currently, all local government units (LGUs) in the MRCCA administer plans and ordinances that are consistent with the guidelines and standards in Executive Order 79-19. Once the new rules are in place, LGUs will need to update their plans and ordinances to be consistent with the guidelines and standards in the new rules. The authority of LGUs to oversee and enforce their MRCCA plans and ordinances will not change.
Will the new standards affect my property rights?
The rules will not result in a "taking" of private property. As with all land use regulation and zoning, including existing MRCCA plans and ordinances, future development on private and public property will be affected. The rules will limit how a property can be developed but will not prohibit its development or use. The Critical Area statute, section 116G.13, specifically addresses protection of property rights.
Who will enforce these rules?
Local governments will continue to administer and enforce the rules through local plans and ordinances.
What about vegetation on my property?
The rules will not affect what type of vegetation a property owner can plant and will not require restoration of natural vegetation on a property that does not currently have it. Activities such as lawn and garden maintenance and the removal of individual trees or shrubs are not restricted. The rules will, however, restrict intensive vegetation clearing (removal of all or a majority of trees or shrubs in a contiguous patch, strip, row or block) in sensitive areas, including along the shore of the river, on bluffs, and within native plant communities and other significant vegetative stands identified by local governments. Exceptions to these restrictions are allowed through local government permit in some situations. Only removal of native plant communities, failure to acquire a permit, or violation of permit conditions will require vegetation restoration.
Are there any benefits to landowners and future development?
The rules will bring greater consistency to how development is regulated. Cities, counties and townships have been administering ordinances that vary considerably for similar types of land uses and activities within the corridor. The rules will provide more consistent guidance for local plans and ordinances, but will also give local governments greater flexibility to address special circumstances. Finally, by protecting the MRCCA's natural and scenic resources, the rules will help to maintain property values and safeguard the character of the corridor into the future.
Will the new rules change the character of the MRCCA?
No. Executive Order 79-19 and the 2009/2013 legislation directing the rulemaking recognize that much of the MRCCA is developed and that the area must be managed for multiple uses and purposes including commercial, industrial, residential, and recreational development. Minnesota Statutes 116G.15 clearly states the MRCCA should be managed as a multipurpose resource that conserves the scenic, environmental, recreational, mineral, economic, cultural and historic resources and functions of the river corridor.
Will the MRCCA rules change how non-conforming structures are regulated?