Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Traci LeBrun
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Countywide zoning raises concerns


A public hearing was held Tuesday, February 21, on the adoption of the Pine County Comprehensive plan which is meant to be a roadmap for the county until 2030. Concerns over the county’s recommendation to implement countywide zoning in the areas of agriculture, recreation and natural resources were expressed from a handful of citizens.

Representatives from southern, central and northern Pine County were there to voice their concerns. One Hinckley resident stated that township officials have expressed concerns prior to this meeting. “It is a matter of record that concerns have been voiced from clerks and supervisors,” said Ailene Croup, clerk of Sandstone Township. “People don’t want county-wide zoning. Each township wants to control their own zoning.”

A Sturgeon Lake resident and Windemere Township board member, Abe Mach, stated, “As a board, we unanimously desire to keep our own zoning and to determine the way our township is developed. We want to protect and keep a sense of what comes into our community so people have that sense of self-determination and not giving that up. Once that ability is given up, it is difficult to get back. Every resident and board member feels this way.”

A Pine City resident and Pine City Township board member, Richard Linde, expressed similar concerns. “I concur with what has been said already,” said Linde. “It (having local control over zoning) is important to us at the local level. There is quite a bit of difference between southern Pine and northern Pine.”

The language recommending countywide zoning in the agriculture section states:

“Adopt a countywide zoning ordinance to address scattered residential development and incompatible uses in agricultural areas. The ordinance shall support maintaining agricultural areas as shown in Future Land Use Map.” The overarching goals for the county’s agricultural land, as stated in the comprehensive plan, are to foster a diverse, productive, and sustainable agricultural industry including crops, livestock, forestry, agricultural support services, small to large farms, value-added producers, and opportunities for new farmers.

Concerns over money brought into the county from the farming industry ($65,444,000 worth of agricultural products in a 2012 study) and the availability of affordable farming land were the main drivers behind the county’s zoning recommendations. The comprehensive plan states that the total number of farms in Pine County from 1978 to 2012 decreased by 32.7 percent, and that conversion of land to non-agricultural use raises the value of surrounding agricultural land resulting in an economic difficulty for farms to expand.

Another future zoning recommendation from the county came in the way of recreation. The recommendation states:

“Consider adoption of a countywide zoning ordinance to address scattered residential development, incompatible uses, and orderly development supported by existing infrastructure to ensure opportunities for tourism and recreation.” The overarching goals are to identify, support, and promote existing recreational assets for tourism development and resident education.

The concerns, as stated in the comprehensive plan, are that tourism is an important source of revenue from public lands and that leisure/hospitality is the largest industry within Pine County. The county has approximately 243,000 acres of public land with numerous recreational opportunities.

In regard to natural resources, the countywide zoning recommendation states:

“Adopt countywide zoning ordinance to facilitate wise development of renewable energy production sites.” The county goal listed in the comprehensive plan is to manage natural resources to optimize environmental and economic benefits in perpetuity.

Pine County’s annual timber harvest brings approximately $4 million to landowners and generates approximately $180 million in economic development to the area. Solar energy may also be on the radar for Pine County as several solar development companies proposed solar farms to be sited in the county in 2016. There is also a significant amount of speculative aggregate resources identified within the county which is currently not monitored and may pose a threat to groundwater quality.

In response to the concerns brought by the public, County Commissioner Matt Ludwig responded, “This is not a zoning plan but just a guide for the county. We understand that the south end of the county is nothing like other parts of the county. It will not be a one size fits all.”

Kelly Schroeder, county assessor/recorder and land services director, added, “The comprehensive plan does not implement countywide zoning. It does recommend it; however, that will be another several-year-long process with significant public input. It is also important to note that, similar to the sewer ordinance, townships will still have the opportunity to do their own zoning if they choose to.”


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