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Paynesville Press - February 04, 2004

County board makes changes to agricultural zoning

By Michael Jacobson

The Stearns County Board of Commissioners took the following actions at their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 27.

*The commissioners approved changes to its zoning ordinance.

The commissioners held two public hearings on the ordinance changes, one in November and the second in January. Numerous people attended both meetings.

The main issue of concern was the amount of residential development currently allowed in agriculturally-zoned districts. Under the new ordinance, farmers can apply manure up to the property line, unless they irrigate. Previously, the setback was 50 or 400 feet, depending on how the manure was applied. This will allow feedlot operators to have sufficient manure management areas.

The new ordinance adds some restrictions on development. If the area is zoned Ag-40, only one residential dwelling will be allowed on that 40 acres; if it's R-10, only one house will be allowed for every 10 acres. Currently in Ag-40 zoning, it's possible for someone to take a 40-acre piece of land and split it, allowing for a home on each piece of the split. Then, if they decide to use cluster development, they could add one more home to that lot, for a total of three homes on that 40 acres.

For all future plats or developments where one acre or more of soil will be disturbed, the ordinance now requires the county to keep in compliance with new federal storm water regulations.

When wetlands or land under the ordinary high water level are involved with an area of development, land under the ordinary high water level and wetlands, whether drained or undrained, cannot be figured as part of the total acreage for development purposes. For example, if someone has a 40-acre parcel of land in R-10 and 30 acres is wetland, only one residence will be allowed on that piece of property, since only 10 acres are above the ordinary high water level.

This section of the ordinance has a sunset clause, set to expire in one year. The board agreed to the sunset clause to encourage the Stearns County Environmental Services Department to re-work this part of the ordinance.

Along with the ordinance changes, the board also adopted a one-year moratorium on cluster development in agricultural zones and on the transfer of development rights in all zones. A moratorium is a temporary halt to a particular activity while the county studies that activity and comes up with new ordinance language to adequately address issues of concern.

*The commissioners voted to make the Lake Koronis Trail as their top trail priority. The board's action will allow the Lake Koronis Trail to pursue T-21 federal grant dollars for the project.

Paynesville Township has built two sections of pedestrian trail around Lake Koronis during recent road projects - along Old Lake Road and along Crestridge Road and NW Koronis Road.

The federal grant money would be used to connect the city of Paynesville to the city beach on Lake Koronis. The long-range goal for this trail is to have it run 12 miles around the lake and to connect it to the Glacial Lakes Trail.

Also on the county trail priority list is a pedestrian/bikeway trail in downtown Rockville and an addition to the Lake Wobegon Trail that would connect Sauk Centre to the Todd County line. All three projects will be submitted for possible federal funding.

*The commissioners agreed to move ahead with a project that would update communication tools for the county's emergency responders. Stearns County accepted a $3 million state grant that would begin the process of preparing the county for hook-up to the state's 800 MHz telecommunications network.

Currently, emergency personnel use phones or radio systems that can be unreliable during an emergency and don't allow responders to communicate with others outside their agency. For example, there isn't the capability for Stearns County Sheriff Deputies to talk with the St. Cloud Fire Department. This often is the single most important problem during a disaster or emergency.

In Stearns County, there are five radio communications towers that serve 15 police departments, 26 fire departments, and four ambulance services. The state's system allows all responders statewide to talk with each other.

This $3 million grant will cover some initial costs to build the basic infrastructure and upgrade the 9-1-1 equipment at the dispatch center. There will be additional costs as the county continues to switch over to this system.

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