Gary Aulik in Finance & Commerce

This article was originally written in 2010, when Gary Aulik was the President of the Builder's Association of the Twin Cities (BATC).

Municipal variance standard has received industry attention
Posted: 3:22 pm Thu, September 23, 2010

Gary Aulik
Association: Builders Association of the Twin Cities

Earlier this summer, the Minnesota Supreme Court rendered a decision that has had a dramatic effect on the homebuilding and remodeling industry. The decision, Krummenacher v. City of Minnetonka, alters the standard for municipalities approving variances.

Variances are sought by homebuilders and remodelers to approve projects and uses that aren’t specifically contemplated by local ordinances. Under the new standard handed down by the Minnesota Supreme Court, virtually no variance can be approved by a city if any reasonable use of the site is possible without the variance. This has created an extremely high threshold for the granting of a variance – one that most building and remodeling projects will not be able to meet.

Variances have always been difficult to obtain, and were considered on a city-by-city, case-by-case basis. This is for good reason – the underlying zoning and local controls are the basis for good planning in any city. However, there are circumstances where a property doesn’t fit the four corners of the ordinance and yet the project is reasonable use of one’s property and worthy of a closer look. The new interpretation by the Minnesota Supreme Court basically eliminates the consideration of any variance by a city. BATC has been contacted by numerous members who have confirmed that this decision is being incorporated across the metro. Basic remodeling projects, accessibility ramps, minor setback and height issues that aren’t specifically addressed in a city’s ordinance are all effectively stopped by this decision.

So what is the solution? BATC believes the solution lies with the Minnesota Legislature. The statute that was interpreted by the Minnesota Supreme Court needs to be revisited and changed to allow cities greater authority and discretion to grant zoning variances, thereby responding to the needs of particular communities. Preliminary discussions have begun with various stakeholders groups and will continue throughout the year leading up to the legislative session.

This issue impacts not only remodelers and builders, but also homeowners. Minnesota’s homebuilding market is showing signs of recovery, evidenced by comparatively strong unemployment rates and the top year-to-year increase in construction activity among major metropolitan areas. Now is not the time to impose another regulatory barrier that stands in the way of a recovery. BATC stands ready to find a reasonable legislative solution and looks forward to a positive outcome that will serve our state and our industry well.

Gary Aulik is 2010 president of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities.