View of northern half of I-35 site from Albers Park looking north.
Does this look like the place for office space and warehouses?

The acts of Rice County are under public scrutiny. It’s getting harder and harder for the County to pretend that nothing’s wrong! Before you read the latest Faribault Daily News article, take a second to look at the language from page two of the EQB AUAR guidelines so you know what the fuss is about — I’ve added the italics and underline for emphasis — the bold and CAPS are in the EQB original:

Important Note: Every AUAR document MUST review one or more development scenarios based on and consistent with the RGU?s Comprehensive Plan in effect when the AUAR is officially ordered. (This is equivalent to reviewing the ?no-build? alternative in an EIS.) If an RGU expects to amend its existing Comprehensive Plan, it has the options of deferring the start of the AUAR until after adopting the amended plan or reviewing developments based on both the existing and amended comprehensive plans; however, it cannot review only a development based on an expected amendment to the existing plan. Also, the rules require that one or more development scenarios analyzed must be consistent with known development plans of property owners within the AUAR area.

The language of the rezoning resolution specifically stated that the zoning change would not take effect until December 31, 2005. According to the EQB AUAR guidelines, the equivalent of a “no-build” analysis must be done, it’s not a choice. Also note the date of this EQB guideline, April, 2005, and that this is not the outdated 2004 guideline handed out by the RLK Kuusisto consultants! How dare they — do they think people of Rice County won’t know the difference?!?!?

Here’s the report from the Faribault News:

County committee says no to analysis

7/1/2005 5:00:00 AM

By Pauline Schreiber
Daily News Staff Writer

MILLERSBURG — A committee charged with drafting a master plan for Rice County’s new commercial zone, along Interstate 35 south of the Big Steer Truck Stop, voted Wednesday night not to do an analysis of a no-build alternative.

The vote was 13-to-3.

“Given the controversial nature of this project, I think if we don’t do a no-build alternative (analysis) it’s going to come back at us,” said Don Novak, a member of the committee from Lonsdale, one of three who supported the analysis.

Troy Zabinski, however, another member of the committee from Faribault, did not think it was necessary, as did most of the members of the committee.

“What people want to know is the environmental impact of changing this area to commercial. Doing a no-build alternative is not necessary,” Zabinski said.

“We know changing this to commercial is going to have a huge impact compared to not doing it. This is a significant project. There’s been nothing like it in the county,” said Tom McMahon, Dundas’ city engineer and a member of the committee. “I think this is all going too fast. The Dundas City Council opposes the rate this master plan and AUAR review is going.”

Rice County Commissioner Jessica Peterson and Leif Knecht of Bridgewater Township were the other two members of the committee who supported doing a no-build analysis.

Members of the committee met Wednesday night with consultants from RLK Kuusisto of Minnetonka to go over the elements in an Alternative Urban Areawide Review (AUAR), a analysis similar to an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) in cases where there is no specific developmental project. Rules for an AUAR are set by the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, as they are for an EAW and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), explained Steve Schwanke, principal consultant for RLK Kuusisto.

RLK Kuusisto is the firm hired by the Rice County Board to work with the committee on a master plan.

The AUAR involves 31 elements, including an extensive environmental and traffic review of the impact of converting the area to commercial development.

Same questions
A no-build alternative analysis would have applied the same questions, which are being asked in the AUAR on the master plan for the new commercial zone, to the existing land uses on the 1,080 acres, Schwanke explained.

“It would have been to our benefit to do a no-build alternative analysis because we could have charged the county more money,” Schwanke said. “However, we did not recommend to the committee one way or the other whether one should be done. We just asked them if they wanted one done.”

A draft master plan was approved by the committee at the end of May and approved by the county board on June 14. A preliminary master plan was needed in order to do an AUAR analysis of the environmental and traffic effects of converting the 1,080 acres from farmland to highway commercial.

A public hearing was held before the Rice County Planning Commission in May on the draft master plan for which the AUAR is being conducted. At that public hearing, the option of the county also doing a no-build alternative analysis came up. That is why Schwanke asked the committee whether its members wanted the firm to do a no-build alternative analysis.

“In our opinion, EQB rules do not require one be done because the county’s comprehensive land use plan is consistent with the county’s highway commercial zoning, and the proposed master plan is consistent with the county’s highway commercial rules,” Schwanke said.

Differing opinion
Carol Overland, a Northfield attorney and member of a group that has filed a lawsuit against the county concerning alleged violations of rules for EAWs, believes differently. Her opinion is that rules for AUAR require a no-build alternative review be done. She attended Wednesday’s meeting.

“I think they specifically and deliberately steered the committee away from doing a no-build alternative,” Overland said. “The key here is the zoning in effect at the time an AUAR is ordered. The highway commercial zoning does not go into effect until December.”

However, Rice County Board member Jim Brown pointed out at the meeting that the 1,080 acres “is rezoned. It was voted on last December.” The one year delay in enacting the rezoning in order to do a master plan for the area before opening it to commercial development does not mean the property isn’t rezoned to commercial.

The committee will meet again at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 13 at the Forest Town Hall west of Millersburg.

— Pauline Schreiber can be reached at 333-3127 or

Will someone please explain the meaning of the words “in effect when the AUAR is officially ordered” to Jim Brown? And remind him when this change takes effect!

Here’s the Co. Rd. 1 & Co. Rd. 46 Intersection. Does this look like the right place for retail and showroom development and warehouses?

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