The Supreme Court released its opinion today on the St. Mary’s Point variance case, a close companion to the Lakeland variance case decided in February. By reversing the DNR’s final decision, the Court restricts the DNR from overriding local ordinances that the DNR previously approved.
As in the Lakeland case, this matter involved local approval of a variance which the DNR refused to “certify.” It possibly could have been resolved on the same grounds as the Lakeland case (no authority to certify). The Court majority, citing procedural reasons, focuses instead on the DNR’s role in approving local ordinances. In this case, the dispute arose when the DNR determined its current rules differed from the local ordinance, and the agency chose to apply its rules. Under the local ordinance text, a variance wouldn’t be needed (it’s not really explained in the opinion why the variance was sought, or granted). The Court again looks at the text of the Lower St. Croix act, and concludes that the DNR’s authority ends when the local ordinance is approved, and the local ordinances govern over DNR rules. Without DNR approval required, the project can go forward.
So through combination of these two decisions, there is no longer a DNR review requirement for local land use decisions in the lower St. Croix river valley. Local governments must still send ordinance amendments to the DNR for review, but variances and CUPs are now effective on city council approval.