The Northfield News fit my Guest Column in this week:

Rice County Admits Inconsistency

Notices went out late last week to landowners in the Interstate 35 rezoning area bounded by Minnesota Highway 19 on the north, and surrounding the Rice County Road 1 intersection in Forest Township.

The Rice County Planning Commission will “consider Amendments to the Rice County Comprehensive Plan. The three amendments are to maintain the consistency between the Rice County Comprehensive Plan and the Rice County Ordinance.” This will occur at a meeting of the Rice County Planning Commission at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11. So the notice says.

This hearing notice is a tacit admission that the changes rammed through last December for the I-35 rezoning are not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, which is what citizens have been saying since that time. Yes, it’s good Rice County has finally figured out that they’re acting contrary to their Comprehensive Plan, but what does it mean? It means that they need to start over at the beginning and do it right. And doing it right means that this time they must incorporate the views of the various constituencies in the county who were shut out the first time around.

Where the Comprehensive Plan does not allow the zoning that the county wants, their efforts toward that end are not legitimate. The resolution for the I-35 zoning change is not worth the paper it’s written on, and the county must start from scratch. Another impact of this admission is that the argument that a “no build” analysis is not required — that the Comprehensive Plan in effect at the time the Alternative Urban Areawide Review was ordered is consistent with this change –that argument goes right out the window along with the illegitimate zoning resolution.

What does this mean for the citizens and governments of Rice County that were shut out of this process? Northfield, Dundas, Lonsdale, Faribault, are you paying attention? Now there’s another opportunity to stand up and be heard. Maybe, finally, your positions will be taken into account by the county commissioners who are supposed to represent them.

Maybe the county commissioners will stop putting special interests above their constituents’ interests and put the brakes on 11.5 million feet of commercial development that has not been proven needed by any market analysis.

Maybe the county commissioners will put the brakes on development that requires over $17 million dollars of water and sewer infrastructure, plus unknown millions in road and electric infrastructure. Maybe the county commissioners will put the brakes on promotion of development where it has not been determined who will pay these millions.

Maybe the county commissioners will put the brakes on talk of “incentives” to businesses in the form of tax cuts which will not enrich the county’s tax base and which instead cost the county much needed tax revenue.

Is it a coincidence that this notice comes out at the same time that attorneys representing the county are preparing answers to interrogatories, digging through Rice County files as they prepare to defend the county against land-use lawsuits? If that’s what it takes to hold the county accountable, citizens are ready.

It’s time to step back and look at Rice County’s needs and require that any development be independently sustainable, paid for by those causing the development, and not the overburdened residential taxpayers. 11.5 million square feet of commercial development does not belong at the intersection of County Road 1 and Interstate 35. It wasn’t anticipated in the Comprehensive Plan for a reason: This is not where Rice County should put its commercial development. It’s that simple.

— Carol Overland is an attorney and a Northfield business owner.

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