Wright County Board nixes township planning, zoning

Wright County and Corinna Township have been at odds over planning and zoning authority for several years – often having a contentious relationship that has included legal action being taken.
In 2010, the county gave the township provisional planning and zoning autonomy, but had serious reservations about handing over shoreland authority to unilaterally approve zoning decisions that could potentially impact county lakes. Since then, the county has delayed making the provisional planning and zoning authority.
The board finally acted at its Nov. 27 meeting, but it voted to retain shoreland authority for itself – setting into motion a couple of board actions that were nearly unprecedented.
County Planning and Zoning Administrator Sean Riley explained that the county board has to give a township shoreleand authority. For the last two years, Corinna Township has handled building inspections, sewer inspections, building permits and other planning and zoning activities, but Riley said the shoreland issues is separate from other P&Z work.
“I think we’re doing a good job, considering where we were two years ago,” said Riley, noting the problems the county and township had prior to the 2010 provisional zoning authority being granted to the township. “The question today is whether the county wants to give that (shoreland zoning) authority to the township.”
Township Planning and Zoning Ben Oleson said the board should approve giving the township shoreland zoning domain because it has met all the standards set forth for the county to pass along zoning authority, adding it has met every statutory standard required to take over zoning authority and has created a more restrictive policy than the county has.
“The question is not to decide if this is the most efficient way or the best way, but whether the ordinance and administration of planning and zoning is equally or more restrictive than the county policy,” Oleson said. “The bottom line is that we, as the township, have met all the criteria in state rules for a township to do its own zoning. Whether that’s efficient or cost effective really isn’t the question.”
Those in attendance were allowed to voice their opinions and both sides of the debate were heard. Township resident Kathryn Jonsrud and Bill Arendt, representing the lake association for Cedar Lake, asked the board to deny the request to transfer. Charlotte Quiggle, a member of the township zoning commission, said the board should approve the request because the township has been more transparent with its decisions than the county, saying, “we’re an open book.”
After the input for those in attendance, Commissioner Elmer Eichelberg made a motion to approve. After the motion failed to get a second, Board Chair Rose Thelen passed the gavel to Eichelberg, the 2012 vice chairman of the county board, and seconded the motion. Asked after the meeting if he could remember in his 25 years working with the county if he could remember the board chair passing the gavel, County Coordinator Dick Norman said, “Not that I can recall. If it has happened, it was a long time ago, but I don’t remember it happening.”
Because the other three commissioners refused to the second the motion, the motion failed by a 3-2 vote. Thelen then asked if it was allowed in board protocol to get the commissioners that voted against the request to give their rationale for their “no” votes. Norman said it was up to the commissioners and all three gave their reasons. Pat Sawatzke said he didn’t believe the township had resources of support staff to rise to the requirements of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Jack Russek said he never heard from citizens in the township that were in favor of it, only the township board. Dick Mattson said that taxes are too high on lake properties and this would only add to that cost. He added that if the next county board wants to reverse the decision, it can do so.
Russek then made a countermotion to extend the current joint powers agreement with the township for up to five years at its current status, with Corinna Township handling most planning and zoning questions, but the county retaining shoreland jurisdiction. That motion passed 4-1 with Thelen voting against it.
“I don’t understand what more the township could have done,” Thelen said. “They met every criteria placed in front of them. The question now is whether the township wants to approve the agreement we (the county board) approved at today’s meeting. There’s no guarantee they will because they aren’t obligated to stick with an agreement they didn’t want in the first place two years ago. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what they decide.”
The current joint powers agreement between the county and the township expires Dec. 31.
In other items on the Nov. 27 agenda, the board:
• By a 3-2 vote, authorized local matching funds for the latest phase of the Bertram Chain of Lakes park acquisition. As has been the case on the last several requests for county funding for the project, Russek and Mattson voted against the county contributing more money to the project – which will be funded through the county’s capital improvement fund. The grant, which was secured by the city of Monticello, is an Outdoor Recreation Grant. Unlike several Legacy Grants obtained by the county, the local share match of the Outdoor Recreation Grants requires a much larger local match. The $1 million grant will require both the county and city pay $322,000 toward the grant award.
• Approved an agreement with all 18 Wright County townships as part of the Town Road Signing Project, which will replace all outdated signs in rural areas of the county. The sign replacement project is slated for completion next spring.
• Acknowledged receipt of the revenue/expenditure guidelines for October. Through 10 months (83 percent of the budget year), the county is at 80 percent of expenditures. While the county is running at 69 percent of revenues, the second half payment from the state for state aid is coming in December and will put the county’s revenue side of the budget ahead of projections.
• Announced the cancellation of the regular scheduled committee meetings for Wednesday, Jan. 9. The four new county commissioners won’t be sworn in until Jan. 8 and it was felt that they should have at least a week or two on the job before making committee decisions. The first regular committee day will be Wednesday, Jan. 23.
• Approved having the county serve as the fiscal agent for the Crow River Organization of Water (C.R.O.W.). Ongoing questions as to whether C.R.O.W. employees would be eligible for insurance and PERA as county employees was referred to the personnel committee to be resolved.
• Set a bid opening for the county’s rural street lighting program for 9:30 a.m. at the Jan. 15 board meeting.  The total cost of the project is $180,000, with just $18,000 required in local matching funds.

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