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 process that involved communities, interest groups, property owners, and the public in an extensive participation process, resulting in a draft rule package. Due to the length of this process, the complexity of issues, and the timing of the draft rule completion coinciding with a change in administration, the DNR's rulemaking authority expired and the effort was put on hold early in 2011.

The 2013 Legislature renewed the DNR's authority and appropriated $100,000 to complete rulemaking for the MRCCA over the next biennium. The legislation improved a number of factors that will make it easier to move forward with the rulemaking. (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 Critical Area, 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.

Does the 2013 legislation change anything?

The legislation includes 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.
  • 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 and is not a big change.
  • The rulemaking effort has been exempted from the time restrictions in Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 14; however, the DNR hopes to complete rulemaking well within these timeframes. The DNR must report on its progress to the Legislature in January 2014.

What is the "draft rule package" shown on the DNR website?

The draft rule package is the result of the 2009-2011 rulemaking effort. Keep in mind that it's a preliminary draft – that is, a starting point for discussion going forward. We expect it to be revised based on public and stakeholder input.

What is the schedule for completing the rules?

The DNR plans to complete the rulemaking by fall of 2014. We anticipate issuing a Notice of Intent to adopt a rule, which will begin the formal public comment period, in the winter of 2014. 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 is a high priority for the DNR. The DNR will meet with all local governments early in the process to review the draft rules to find ways to streamline administration, simplify language, and ensure the standards are reasonable and practical. We will look to local governments for advice and innovation to develop reasonable regulations that are workable and balance resource protection with the interests of property owners.

Will the public have an opportunity to provide input?

Yes, there will be numerous opportunities for the public to provide input. The DNR intends to re-publish a Request for Comments on the draft rules this fall, which will kick off an informal comment period. All property owners within the MRCCA will be notified of the renewed rulemaking effort at this time. The DNR will also gather 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 final set of draft rules for adoption. Once submitted, the DNR intends to hold a public hearing on the draft rules, which will provide the public with 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 modestly strengthen existing regulations.

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

The project webpage will be updated with current status of MRCCA rulemaking. The DNR is posting all preliminary rule content on the project website and welcomes public comment at any time. In addition, you can sign up to receive e-mail updates and meeting announcements by using the form on this webpage.

 

The Critical Area

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 MRCCA is the only critical area ever designated under the Act. The original designation order determined that coordinated planning under the Critical Areas Act would achieve development and protection of 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 Draft Rules

What do the draft rules include?

The major topics included in the draft rules include:

  • Responsibilities and duties of state, regional and local government
  • Preparation, review, approval and adoption of local plans and ordinance
  • Requirements for site plans for development in the MRCCA
  • How nonconformities, conditional and interim uses and variances are addressed
  • Establishment of seven districts, each with its own dimensional and design standards
  • General development standards for roads and other transportation facilities, recreational facilities, stairways, and signs
  • Standards for protecting bluffs and steep slopes
  • Vegetation management standards
  • Standards for protecting key resources as part of new development

See the annotated rules for more information.

What don't the rules include?

The following topics are not included in the draft rules:

  • Any regulation of water surface use, such as no wake zones or boating restrictions
  • 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 draft rules identify parts of the MRCCA that have similar characteristics and group them into common districts. Each district will have a combination of unique and MRCCA-wide 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 legislature 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, land use 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. 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, reviewed and approved by the DNR, and then adopted by the community before they take effect (as is currently the case).

Will these rules take away 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, local governments 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 MRCCA rules change how non-conforming structures are regulated?

No. The MRCCA rules will comply with the current state statutes regarding nonconformities. The non-conformity laws for cities are in Minnesota Statutes Section 462.357, and in Minnesota Statutes Section 394.36 for unincorporated areas.

What is a nonconformity?

Nonconformity relates to whether a structure or use complies with current zoning and other land use controls. 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.

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 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 property 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 property?

State law does not restrict the sale of non-conforming properties or require any type of deed restriction if a property is non-conforming. In general, the law allows non-conformities to continue, including through repair, replacement, improvement, restoration, and maintenance, even if the structure is extensively damaged (MS Sections 462.357 and 394.36), with some exceptions. The DNR is not aware of any limitations on the ability to obtain a mortgage or loan due to a property's legal non-conforming status.

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 ordinances.

What about vegetation on my property?

The rules will not affect what type of vegetation a property owner can plant. The rules do not require any restoration of native vegetation. The rules do regulate removal of existing natural vegetation.

Are there some benefits to landowners and future development?

The DNR recognizes the state's shoreland and river-related regulations are confusing and sometimes conflict. 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 legislation directing the rulemaking both 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."