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Grey Cloud residents renew concerns over DNR land-use rules

A proposed set of land-use rules along the Mississippi River hit rough waters when it reached Grey Cloud Island Township.

Township residents, proud of their river conservation and worried about future land sale and development prospects, are strongly questioning the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources land-use rules project.

Township leaders claim proposed land classifications for the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area will leave many residents with property deemed nonconforming, making it difficult to sell or finance. Additionally, they said, sufficient regulations to protect the river already exist and in some cases are stricter than what is proposed by the DNR.

"We're asking you not to place any more boundaries on us," Town Board Chairman Dick Adams told DNR officials at a recent meeting. "We haven't done anything to wreck the river and we're not about to."

The DNR is meeting with local governments to get input on the proposed rules that classify corridor land in different districts based on proximity to the river, the amount of existing and future development and other characteristics. Those district classifications would carry different land-use rules.

The 72-mile river corridor affected by the rule-making process stretches from Denmark Township through St. Paul and Minneapolis and further northwest to Dayton and Ramsey. For 34 years a gubernatorial executive order meant to protect the Mississippi has guided land use along the river, but there were no corridor-wide standards in the order, said Jenny Shillcox of the DNR's Ecological and Water Resources Division.

The current process is intended to create standards that apply across the corridor.

An earlier proposal to develop and adopt land-use rules met resistance, including from Grey Cloud Township officials, and eventually faltered. The Legislature earlier this year directed the DNR to resume the project.

However, Grey Cloud officials insist nothing needs to change in their backyard.

"I guess we feel like we're getting beat up and we don't feel any need for it," Adams said.

One proposal would place a number of properties into a district in which property width along river shoreline must be at least 200 feet and lots at least 2 acres. Grey Cloud officials said many existing properties don't come close to meeting the 200-foot minimum and they would not conform to the new district classification. That would leave them with a legal nonconforming designation.

Banks won't finance mortgages on nonconforming property, said Dennis Hanna, a Grey Cloud Island resident and member of the South Washington Watershed District Board.

"It amounts to a partial taking without compensation," he said.

Township residents said the DNR should change some of the district classifications to better reflect the properties' characteristics. And doing so, they said, would not make the land-use rules any more lax.

The DNR left the Sept. 4 Grey Cloud meeting with possible changes to the rules that address some of the township residents' concerns. They will meet again in the coming months to further discuss the proposed rules, which following a lengthy review process will require approval from the governor and DNR commissioner.

"It's not a done deal by any means," Shillcox said of the proposed rules.

If approved, the rules would not be adopted until September 2014, according to the DNR schedule, and then cities, townships and counties would have to make any changes to their own ordinances to comply with the corridor rules.

DNR officials already have met with other area cities -- Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park and Newport -- and there were no major concerns with the proposed rules for their stretches of the river, Shillcox said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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