MRCCA Rulemaking Project - FAQs

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 adopt rules for the MRCCA. 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, the complexity of issues, growing local concern, and lack of support from the previous administration, 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 and appropriated $100,000 to complete rulemaking for the MRCCA. The 2013 legislation addressed many of the local concerns. (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.

Does the 2013 legislation change anything?

The legislation included a number of improvements to the draft rules and rulemaking process:

  • Consultation with local governments prior to rule adoption is required.
  • All 2009 language pertaining to the creation of a bluff map and bluff-related definitions has been deleted; however, protection of bluffs and related features remains a priority.
  • Added redevelopment of a variety of urban uses and recreational uses to the existing list of multiple resources for which the corridor is to be managed.
  • Two of the factors for consideration in establishing new districts have been deleted, 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.
  • Protection of commercial, industrial, and residential uses has been added. Note that this is already required by the existing land use districts in Executive Order 79-19.
  • The rulemaking effort has been exempted from the time restrictions in Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 14.
  • The DNR was required to report on its progress to the Legislature in January 2014.

What are the "2011 draft rules" referred to in the rulemaking schedule and elsewhere on the DNR website?

The 2011 draft rules were the result of the 2009-2011 rulemaking effort. They served as the starting point for the 2013 rulemaking effort.

What are the "June 2014 working draft rules" referred to on the DNR website?

The June 2014 working draft rules show proposed revisions to the 2011 draft rules based on input from local governments and other interest groups received from July 2013 - April 2014. It serves as the basis for public comments, which will be accepted from June - September 2014. Following the public comment period, it will be refined to take forward to formal rulemaking.

What is the schedule for completing the rules?

The DNR plans to complete the rulemaking by spring of 2015 (Rulemaking schedule pdf). We have re-issued a Request for Comment on the working draft rules, and anticipate issuing a Notice of Intent to adopt the rules with a hearing, which will begin the formal public comment period, in the winter/spring of 2015. All comments received during this period will be part of the record reviewed by the Administrative Law Judge assigned to the rulemaking.

 

Will DNR consult with local governments?

Yes, consultation with local governments prior to rule adoption is required by the legislation guiding the rulemaking and has been a high priority for the DNR. From July 2013 - April 2014, the DNR met individually and in several group meetings with all local governments that currently have MRCCA plans and ordinances in place. We reviewed the draft rules to find ways to streamline administration, simplify language, and ensure the standards are reasonable and practical. We will continue to look to local governments for advice and innovation through the remainder of the rulemaking process.

 

Will the public have an opportunity to provide input?

Yes, there will be numerous opportunities for the public to provide input. The DNR has re-published a Request for Comments on the working draft rules in June 2014, which kicked off an informal comment period. All property owners within the MRCCA have been notified of the renewed rulemaking effort. The DNR is also gathering feedback from property owners and other interested parties through the DNR project website, public meetings/open houses, and other meetings (upon request). The DNR will consider feedback from all of these groups before refining a set of draft rules to propose for adoption. These refined rules will be published with the Notice of Intent to adopt rules. The DNR intends to hold a public hearing, which will give the public another opportunity to provide formal comments on the record for consideration by an Administrative Law Judge.

 

How will these rules affect property owners?

The impact on landowners and industry will be modest. The rules clarify existing regulations, which in many cases are ambiguous and cumbersome. In some locations, the rules will strengthen existing regulations, and will better address existing and planned future development.

 

How can I stay up-to-date on the rulemaking project?

The project webpage will be updated with the current status of MRCCA rulemaking and related materials. You can sign up online to receive e-mail updates and meeting announcements.

 

 

The MRCCA

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 for 72 miles along the Mississippi River from the cities of Ramsey and Dayton on the north to the cities of Hastings and Cottage Grove on the south. It includes 54,000 acres of land along both sides of the river. The State of Minnesota created the corridor and the 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 of use of land and water, preserve and enhance the area's natural, aesthetic, cultural and historic value for public use, and protect the corridor's environmentally sensitive areas.

How is the MRCCA currently managed?

The MRCCA regulations were established in 1976 by Executive Order, not by state rule. The regulations give general guidance to local governments, but by now have become outdated, ambiguous, and costly to administer. Local governments have adopted management plans and regulations based on the guidance in the Executive Order and administer the regulations as part of their local plans and zoning codes.

 

The Working Draft Rules

What do the draft 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 and interim uses and variances are addressed
  • Establishment of six districts, each with its own dimensional standards
  • 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

What don't the rules include?

The following topics are not included in the working draft 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

The legislation requires the DNR to establish districts. What is a district?

Districts are sections or segments of the MRCCA. The working draft 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 in Executive Order 79-19 which has provided standards and guidelines for MRCCA development since 1979. The 2009 and 2013 Legislatures directed the DNR to establish new districts for the MRCCA. While the DNR has considered the existing districts from Executive Order 79-19 when developing the new districts, we expect the existing districts will be eliminated when the new rules are adopted.

Will these rules affect local zoning?

Yes. The rules will provide minimum guidelines and standards for local governments to use in their comprehensive plans and regulations. The local controls must meet or exceed the standards established in the rules. Local governments are responsible for enforcing local zoning controls and regulations.

When will my city have to adopt new regulations?

The new rules will not take effect immediately. Once adopted by the state (anticipated in spring 2015), the DNR will notify communities that they must update their plans and ordinances to comply with the new rules, and the communities will be given adequate time to do so. 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 (as is currently the case).

Will these rules change local control?

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, future development on private as well as public property will be affected. The regulations may 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 new 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. The rules will, however, regulate the removal of existing natural vegetation in select areas. In some instances the rules will require a permit from the local government, which may require restoration within the area where vegetation is being removed.

Are there any benefits to landowners and future development?

The rules will bring consistency to how development is regulated. Cities, counties and townships administer rules that vary considerably for similar types of landscapes and land uses within the corridor. This creates inequity for property owners in how they can use their land and in measures available to protect key resources.

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, and residential 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."

 

Nonconformities

Will the MRCCA rules change how non-conforming structures are regulated?

No. The MRCCA rules will comply with state statutes regarding nonconformities. The non-conformity laws for cities and for townships that administer their own zoning are in Minnesota Statutes Section 462.357, and in Minnesota Statutes Section 394.36 for counties. These laws state that nonconformities may be continued, including through repair, replacement, restoration, maintenance, or improvement. These laws also allow local governments to permit the expansion of nonconformities. In general, local governments may only impose new conditions on a structure that is destroyed beyond 50% of its market value if a permit to rebuild it has not been applied for within 180 days. When local governments update their zoning ordinances consistent with the MRCCA rules, these protections for property owners will remain in effect.

What is a nonconformity?

Nonconformity relates to whether a structure or use complies with current zoning and other land use controls. When zoning standards change, any lawfully established lot, structure, or use that does not conform to the new standards becomes legally nonconforming. For example, if a home does not meet the required setback in a city's current zoning regulations, but was legal when it was constructed, it is considered a non-conforming structure. This applies to all zoning regulations, not only the MRCCA regulations. If a conforming property becomes non-conforming due to a new zoning regulation, the property is "grandfathered in." The prior lawful use of the land or structure may continue even though it no longer complies with the new restrictions.

Nonconformities are relatively commonplace, but the concept may not be completely understood. Cities routinely update their zoning standards, creating nonconforming properties, and most communities already have many such properties. Legal nonconformities are different from "illegal nonconformities" or violations of the zoning code, which occur when people make changes to the property that violate the zoning code in effect at the time.

What types of non-conformities are there?

There are many types of legal nonconformities, including:

  • Nonconforming lots of record. These lots were legal when they were subdivided but do not meet the current requirements for area, width, depth, access, or other requirements.
  • Nonconforming structures. These are buildings that met the standards at the time they were constructed, but now encroach into the current setback standards (such as from the water, bluff, side yard) or exceed the current height or area limitations.
  • Nonconforming characteristics of use. This catch-all category covers nonconformities to the parking, landscaping, signage or other requirements. Site characteristic nonconformities are very common because standards (landscaping, lighting, parking, trash, sidewalks etc.) are constantly evolving.
  • Nonconforming uses of land. A use becomes nonconforming when a new zoning district is applied to a property that does not allow a use that was legally established under the previous zoning district. Nonconforming uses of land are rare.

Will the MRCCA rules make my house or business non-conforming?

The rules will not prohibit any uses (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.) so no uses will become non-conforming. The rules also will not establish minimum lot sizes, so no lots will become non-conforming. The rules will, however, regulate the placement and height of structures. To minimize the number of new non-conforming structures, the DNR considered current community plans and ordinances while developing the districts and standards, and will continue to work closely with local planning and zoning staff as the draft rules are refined. However, it is possible some currently conforming structures may become legal non-conformities ("grandfathered in") when new rules and local regulations are adopted. On the other hand, some structures that are non-conforming under the present districts and local ordinances may actually become conforming under the new rules.

If my structure becomes non-conforming, will my ability to sell, rebuild or maintain it be affected? Can I get a loan or mortgage for a non-conforming structure?

There are no known instances where lenders have refused to finance a mortgage for a property that has a legal nonconforming (or "grandfathered") structure or nonconforming characteristic of use. Lenders may have some concerns with illegal nonconformities (in violation of the local ordinance) or with properties that are nonconforming uses of land. State law allows cities to require that the property come into conformance with the current zoning district if a property is abandoned for more than 12 months or it is destroyed by more than 50% and a building permit is not obtained within 180 days.

Many local planning and zoning staff in the MRCCA noted that in most cases when a lender contacts them about a nonconformity, they simply want verification of whether it is legal and can be rebuilt if destroyed.

If my property has nonconforming characteristics, such as a cleared Shore Impact Zone, how will that affect me?

Under state law and under the draft MRCCA rules, your site may remain as it is; however, any future clearing would have to comply with the local ordinance. A single nonconforming feature of a property does not mean that the entire property is "nonconforming."

What about nonconformities in a floodplain area?

Legal nonconformities in floodplain areas have more limited rights because federal rules for flood insurance are more stringent than state law.  Local governments must meet federal standards affecting nonconforming uses and structures in floodplain areas in order to maintain community eligibility for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).