Newburg Township considers interim ordinance to study zoning

By : 
LISSA BLAKE
NEWS LEADER

Should Newburg Township enact an interim ordinance to explore planning and zoning?

That’s what the Board currently is trying to decide.

It was standing-room-only Thursday evening at the Newburg Township garage during a special meeting, where the Board received advice from Minneapolis attorney Troy Gilchrist of Kennedy and Graven.

More than 80 people attended the meeting, with attendees overflowing the room — many listening through the open windows from outside.

Gilchrist explained to the Board the process that would be involved in implementing an interim ordinance, which would place a moratorium on the building and expansion of feedlots containing more than 500 animal units and on the construction of new non-farm dwellings.

History

The issue of implementing zoning in Newburg Township recently has surfaced following the request for a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency permit by Catalpa, LLC, to build a new 4,890-head farrowing facility about 10 miles east of Harmony in Newburg Township. It would include two barns, an animal mortality composting building, a storm water basin and a livestock watering well. The proposed site would be built on land owned by Alvin Hein.

The proposed facility would generate an estimated 7.3 million gallons of liquid manure annually that would be stored in reinforced concrete pits below the barns, with a total capacity of nearly 8.9 million gallons.

Catalpa would remove the manure in the fall and inject it into cropland as fertilizer following an MPCA-approved manure management plan requiring at least 732 acres of cropland. More than 1,781 acres of cropland are available for land application among 24 manure application sites in the county.

Public hearing

The meeting, which originally had been set up as a public hearing, had been changed in format, due to a new lawsuit filed against the Newburg Township Board by Al and Merilee Hein. (See related story in this issue.)

The Board first met in closed session Thursday to discuss the lawsuit, then opened the meeting to hear from Gilchrist and decide whether or not to set a hearing on the matter of setting an interim ordinance.

Following Gilchrist’s presentation, the Board set a public hearing for Thursday, Aug. 23, at 6 p.m. at the Mabel Community Center in order to hear comments regarding whether or not the Township Board should adopt an interim ordinance to study planning and zoning and impose a moratorium on feedlots and non-farm dwellings.

The process

Gilchrist, who has been involved in these types of agricultural matters since 1991, said a 12-month interim ordinance would give the township the opportunity to undertake a planning process and study for the purpose of considering the adoption of a comprehensive plan and land-use controls (zoning) as defined by Minnesota Statute. Minnesota Statute authorizes the Newburg Township Board to adopt interim ordinances to regulate, restrict or prohibit any use, development or subdivision within the town. Provisions of the law provide for a 12-month extension, should the initial 12-month study period not be sufficient.

Because Fillmore County already has zoning in place, any new township ordinance would have to be as strict or stricter than county guidelines.

A sample ordinance provided by Gilchrist said, “Based on the Town Board’s own experiences and the information it has received from town residents, the county’s regulations may not be sufficient to meet the needs of the Town and it may be necessary for the Town Board to exercise its authority under Minnesota Statutes, sections 462.351 to 462.364 to enact its own official controls regarding feedlots and other land uses.”

Other considerations

During the discussion, Gilchrist made it clear there are two sides to the issue.

The sample ordinance alluded to creating a balance: “The town recognizes animal agriculture as an important component to the local economy, but is also aware a balance must be maintained to avoid the growth of animal agricultural operations negatively impacting area residents, their home values and the environment … The Town also recognizes that part of the balancing may include imposing greater restrictions on non-farm residential development within agricultural areas to reduce conflicts between feedlots and non-farm dwellings, or to establish different agricultural districts that create different balances between feedlots and residential developments depending on the conditions found within the particular areas of the town.”

A bigger question

Gilchrist emphasized that although the issue deals with a conflict of residential development and animal agriculture, there are many factors to be considered.

“You have the right to enact an interim ordinance . . . the bigger question is: Should you engage in zoning at all?” asked Gilchrist.

Gilchrist said there is a lot to consider before engaging in zoning.

“If you enact an interim ordinance, that is the start of a lot of work and a lot of research,” he said, adding, after zoning is implemented, there comes the work of enforcing it.

“The interim ordinance would authorize a study. You immediately have to appoint a committee. My recommendation would be a balance . . . a view of this issue from different perspectives. Look at other communities: What are the costs? Who administers it? Who manages the permitting process? What type of fees are involved?” he said.

Study required

Gilchrist said while adoption of an interim ordinance does not compel the eventual adoption of a zoning ordinance, it does compel study of the matter.

“It is not my job to talk you in or out of this. You guys have to make a decision . . . Even adopting an interim ordnance is a big step,” he said. “An interim ordinance is not just a delay . . . the (study) group has to be committed, and the committee is going to produce a much better result if it has people from all perspectives.”

What’s next?

The public is invited to submit written comments until Wednesday, Aug. 22, at 5 p.m.

Comments should be directed in writing to Genette Halverson, Newburg Township Clerk, c/o Newburg Township Garage, 43769 County 34, Mabel, MN 55954 or by email to newburgclerk@mabeltel.coop.

Attendees also will be able to comment in person during the public hearing on Aug. 23.