The St. Cloud City Council recently voted to rezone land to create a place for a solar garden. Solar gardens are essentially tracts of land on which solar panels are built. The panels are then connected to the power grid. Garden “subscribers” buy into the project and receive a credit on their electric bill.
Minnesota passed a law in 2013 that requires utilities to get at least 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar by 2020. The law has put Minnesota on the front lines of solar garden development nationwide.
A good article on solar gardens and the zoning issues associated with them is here.
by Gary Taylor
In the 2010 decision Krummenacher v. City of Minnetonka (our post on the decision can be found here) the Minnesota Supreme Court adopted a restrictive interpretation of “undue hardship” for city boards of adjustment to apply when deciding on variance applications, similar to the interpretation of unnecessary hardship applied by the Iowa courts throughout the years. Unlike Iowa, however, the Minnesota Legislature quickly remedied the situation by passing legislation that put a “practical difficulties” standard into Minnesota state code (Minnesota House File 52 can be found here). Under the new law, practical difficulties means (1) the property owner proposes to use the property in a reasonable manner permitted by the ordinance, (2) the owner’s plight is due to circumstances unique to the property not created by the owner, and (3) the variance will not alter the locality’s essential character. If the variance is granted with conditions, those conditions must be directly related to, and bear a rough proportionality to the impact of the variance.
The difference between “undue hardship” as applied by the court, and “practical difficulties” as passed by the legislature, is the absence of the requirement that the landowner show the property cannot be put to a reasonable use but for the variance. Again, this is nearly identical to the challenge facing landowners and boards of adjustment in Iowa. There was a bill introduced in the last Iowa legislative session to put “practical difficulties” in the Iowa Code, but it did not make it out of committee.