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St. Johns discusses creating zoning authority

WILLMAR -- St. Johns Township is considering creating its own zoning administration and is inviting neighboring Kandiyohi County townships to join them.

Duane Hultgren, chairman of the St. Johns Township board of supervisors, said township residents approved a resolution this week to authorize the town board to continue researching whether the township should remove itself from the zoning governance of the county. He said a final decision could be made by July or August.

The ac-tion st-ems, in part, from some lo-ng-standing differences of opinion between the town board and county zoning department on how the county's zoning ordinance is interpreted.

One of those disputes involved a large dairy operation proposed to be built in the township.

Hultgren, who has had some personal, legal issues with the zoning department in recent years, said he believes the township could provide zoning services in a less complicated, cheaper and "friendlier" process than the county.

During a presentation Thursday during the annual meeting of the Kandiyohi County Township Association, Hultgren didn't mince words about his negative opinion of the county's zoning process, administration and even some of the county commissioners.

When asked to respond to the criticisms in a brief interview following the meeting, Kandiyohi County Commissioner Harlan Madsen, who also serves on the zoning board, said there are "two or three sides to every story."

He said the county makes sure to follow procedures so that "everything is administrated in a fair and equitable manner."

But Madsen said the town board has every right to take on the zoning administration of their own township, "so as long as they go through the proper steps to do so."

He also said the township's zoning ordinance cannot be less restrictive than county or state rules.

Hultgren said the town board would likely adopt the county ordinance, which he said is "well thought out and written." He said the county's interpretation of the rules is "detrimental and expensive to everyone in the county" and that the township can "follow all of the ordinances and do a better and cheaper job of zoning."

Madsen said Dovre Township had maintained its own zoning administration for many years before turning it over to the county because of the challenges of administering the program.

But Hultgren said he believes the township could reduce costs and "lots of meaningless" inspections and paperwork by taking over the zoning process.

Hultgren said the township will be meeting with legal counsel to determine what paperwork and committees need to be formed as part of the process before making a decision.

He's convinced that if St. Johns Township goes its own way, "other townships will follow us or the people and policies of the county will change to become a service to the county, not a kingdom we serve."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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