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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Rezoning Request

At the last meeting of the Planning Commission, on March 3rd, one agenda item was a request for rezoning a parcel in south Maplewood. A developer has applied for a change from R-1R (rural residential) to R-1S (small lot). Staff recommended against the zoning change, and the planning commission voted (unanimously, if memory serves) to recommend that the city council deny the request.

When the council considers this matter, what kind of decision will it be? How much discretion does the council have?

The answer is, whether or not to rezone a parcel is a legislative decision and a city council is given considerable latitude in deciding what to do. (In contrast, at issue in the CoPar development was a quasi-judicial matter of whether or not the developer's conditional use permit application could be denied on the basis of a zoning ordinance that, at the time, was in conflict with our comp plan.)

The League of Minnesota Cities publishes the Zoning Guide for Cities on its website. The guide explains (p. 32):
An application for a rezoning is a request for an amendment to the zoning ordinance. When reviewing applications for re-zoning, the court has ruled that the city continues to act in a legislative capacity, even though the re-zoning application may only relate to one specific parcel owned by one individual. The existing zoning ordinance is presumed to be constitutional, and an applicant is only entitled to a change if they can demonstrate that the existing zoning is unsupported by any rational basis related to the public health, safety and welfare.
In other words, unless there is no rational basis for the existing zoning, no one is entitled to a change of zoning. All else being equal, it's up to the council to decide what best serves the interests of the community, to rezone or not to rezone.

In this specific case, however, there is a second thing that we must keep in mind. The Zoning Guide for Cities (p. 40) states that a decision on a zoning question should be accompanied by findings of fact to support the decision, and, "If the city has followed a comprehensive planning process, the findings of fact should also indicate that the decision is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan."

The problem is, this requested rezoning is not consistent with our comp plan. R-1S zoning allows for lots as small as 7,500 square feet; the current comp plan guides this land with parcels no smaller than 10,000 square feet. The pending changes to the comp plan, which came out of a lengthy process of study and public involvement over the past three years, will enact even larger minimum sizes (0.5 to 1.5 units per net acre).

Minnesota Statute 473.865 Subd. 2 decrees, "A local governmental unit shall not adopt any official control or fiscal device which is in conflict with its comprehensive plan or which permits activity in conflict with metropolitan system plans." It appears to me that to do what the developer requests would violate state law, which tells us not to adopt any official control (such as this zoning map change) that conflicts with our comp plan.

Clearly the Planning Commission was right to recommend denial of this proposed zoning change.


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