In the last several months, the Supreme Court has eviscerated the DNR’s ability to directly manage shoreline property development. The DNR had exercised review authority over shoreline variances and insisted that its agency rules overrode local ordinances, even when local ordinances had been DNR-approved. Those powers have now vanished, and in March the DNR suggested that it was going to simply challenge “bad” local decisions in district court.
Today’s Star Tribune reports that the agency is following through on that plan. As it turns out, for all the Court has done to limit the DNR this year, the Krummenacher variance decision will likely give the agency its mojo back. The DNR has sued a township in western Minnesota to nullify a variance granted to allow a lake home within 15 feet of the shoreline. The news story, and the Star Tribune’s prior reporting, makes clear just how much of a seismic shift the Krummenacher holding creates; local officials in the area estimate that 70% – 90% of variance requests are approved by local officials. In the past, just about anybody who presented something out of line with zoning was simply advised to apply for a variance. Again, if the use made sense (or at least didn’t offend anyone), the variance was easy to get as long as the “problem” arguably creating the need for a variance wasn’t the owner’s fault. At this point, cities and towns should just stop suggesting that owners should seek variances, as the standard is now extremely difficult to satisfy. That, and if it involves a shoreline, bluffline, or scenic area, the DNR will sue you for approving it.