7.1.1 Use of Local Land Use and Land Acquisition Authorities

Regulation of land use through zoning and subdivision codes traditionally has been the dominion of cities, towns and counties.  Although watershed districts within the metropolitan area are authorized to ?regulate the use and development of land,? the District has deferred to the local land use authority to regulate the uses to which land is put and how those uses are sited.  The focus of the District rules is not on how the land is used, but on ensuring that however it is used, water resources are protected from the impacts of that use.  The District recognizes the most efficient way to achieve measurable benefits to water resources is to collaborate with Cities and Townships, in the exercise of their land use planning and zoning authority

There is overlap in District and local land use regulation in areas such as erosion control requirements during construction; limiting stormwater pollution or flow increases from development; floodplain protection; and wetland setbacks or vegetated buffers.  But there is a growing recognition that the most effective and least costly way to protect water resources is during land use planning and siting.

This recognition can create a tendency for watershed districts to extend regulatory authority further into the land use realm.  Rather than doing so, the District prefers to work with, and provide technical resources to, traditional land use authorities to assist in their integrating water resource considerations prominently into land use planning activities and development codes.

Under the Metropolitan Land Planning Act (MLPA), land use authorities within the watershed are required by December 31, 2008 to complete revisions of their local land use comprehensive plans.  The law requires that once a comprehensive plan is approved by the Metropolitan Council and adopted by a land use authority, the land use authority must amend its development code to be consistent with its plan.  Further, the MLPA requires that in order for the Metropolitan Council to approve a local comprehensive land use plan for a land use authority wholly or partly within the Minnehaha Creek watershed, the land use plan must contain a local water plan approved by the District.

Accordingly, it is very timely for local government units (LGUs) within the watershed to carefully examine how water resource management and protection can be integrated into their land use planning and development functions.  As a part of local water plan development, LGUs should engage in review of their land use activities from a water resource perspective and identify opportunities to enhance water resource protection without compromising other local development goals.  The District will look for each local plan to do the following:

Examine city- or township-wide land use needs, both within the planning period and beyond, in the context of resource maps and inventories; and describe how land use and regional water resource needs are being reconciled to secure the greatest degree of long-term water resource protection.

  1. Describe efforts to integrate Safe Drinking Water Act and other wellhead protection plans, as well as the protection of sensitive surface- and groundwater resources, into the local zoning code.
  2. Describe how water resource protection priorities have been integrated into local parks, open space, recreation and land acquisition plans;
  3. Describe how local authority to require land or easement dedication or protective covenants as a part of subdivision regulation is being used for water resource protection purposes;
  4. Consult with District staff on approaches to low-impact site design that preserve natural hydrological systems and capability to assimilate development impacts; examine how those approaches can be integrated into local land use regulations; describe constraints or competing concerns that prevent further integration; and describe how the  LGU will integrate such approaches into its development code;
  5. Identify how conflicts between (i) development code setbacks and (ii) water resource requirements in local ordinances or District rules will be reconciled to give due weight to water resource protection goals;
  6. Show that the local development code requires stormwater facilities and wetlands in residential subdivisions that are subject to future maintenance obligations under local ordinance or District rule to be located entirely on outlots, and justify exceptions to this requirement; and

State that the local subdivision ordinance requires, or within 180 days will be amended to require, that a copy of each proposed preliminary plat, and iterations thereof, be provided to the District for informational purposes at the time it is submitted to the locality.