The Future Land Use Decision Factors provide a greater degree of flexibility when reviewing rezoning requests, subdivisions, and applications for other land use changes.
If a proposed project is generally consistent with the factors, then the proposed project could be considered to be in conformance with the Comprehensive Plan. For example, the County is largely guided for agricultural uses, but does not designate areas for rural residential uses or to some degree, commercial and light industrial uses. Using these factors, a developer is able to propose a development (e.g., subdivision or new land use) in an agricultural/rural area if it meets the six factors. The final determination if a project is consistent with these factors should be made by the County Board and advisory commissions, based on a review from County planning staff.
This factor builds on an existing process used by decision makers to determine if a proposed project aligns with the County’s Comprehensive Plan. This factor places a stronger ownership on the Townships, property owner or applicant to determine how the proposed project fits within the overall context of the Comprehensive Plan.
The location of the proposed project should be identified on the Future Land Use Plan map to determine its future land use category (more than one may apply). The following provides general descriptions of the land use categories (or typologies) contained within Stearns County’s Future Land Use Plan map. These descriptions provide the general guidelines for land use planning by category in Stearns County through 2040. The land use categories provide guidance for the application of the County’s zoning ordinances and specific districts that regulate land development.
Factor Three integrates soil data into the decision making process in an effort to promote agricultural preservation and manage non-farm rural residential development. The Land Evaluation Site Assessment (LESA) rating system is currently used as a tool to assist decision makers in assessing agricultural land in Stearns County. The LESA system was designed specifically to assess where the best farmlands are located locally. The system provides an objective and consistent tool for evaluating the relative importance of specific sites for continued agricultural uses.
The LESA score is based on soils and their characteristics, and the site’s relative importance for agricultural use. A LESA score of 65 points or greater (out of 100) is considered to be a site that is better suited for agricultural use. A score of less than 65 points is considered to be a site better suited for other land uses, if developed in a sustainable manner. Historically, the LESA score has highly influenced land use decisions. Projects have been denied if it has received a score of 65 points or greater.
Moving forward, the LESA score should be used as a resource to educate the property owner about their lands potential significance it may play in long-term agricultural activities. Scores of agricultural significance should not limit a property owner’s ability to develop as long as they adequately address the other factors, specifically those identified under Factor 4:
Future Land Use Criteria.
This factor applies development standards and criteria to the Future Land Use
categories. This approach helps convey preferred land use patterns and expectations to minimize conflicts between adjacent land uses and natural resources. Depending on the location of the proposed project, it may be required to address more than one land use criteria. For example, a proposed project may be located in an Agricultural/Rural Area and along a Major Transportation Corridor.
This factor builds on an existing process that requires a Town Board’s review or signature on certain proposed projects (e.g., construction permits, development applications, rezoning requests, and subdivisions). Input received from the Town Board is carefully considered as part of the County’s Official Application Process. Embracing this factor will continue to emphasize the importance of intergovernmental cooperation in the decision making process. This is also an opportunity for when a project falls within a “Transitional Area” to determine if it aligns with the Townships values and/or aspirations for growth.
Findings from the other factors will help identify if a proposed project has any perceived risks before advancing through the County’s development review process. It is important to recognize this process is separate from the County’s official application process. Proposed projects will still need to comply with the Stearns County Zoning Ordinance and application process for permits, construction activities, zoning amendments, etc.