Transitional Areas

Many cities within Stearns County, especially in the eastern areas, have adopted comprehensive plans that show substantial growth into the surrounding townships. Some cities and townships have negotiated orderly annexation agreements that match or partially match these urban growth boundaries.

It is important to recognize not every city or township has a locally approved comprehensive plan that identifies growth areas. The purpose of the Transitional Areas portrayed on the Future Land Use Plan map are described below.

"Good land use planning begins by recognizing areas of growth identified by a city and their planning documents (e.g., comprehensive plans or land use studies). Establishing growth boundaries provides cities and townships with a clear identification of where the urban/rural divide is planned to occur. Such a divide provides policy direction to local and county officials in making key land use decisions in areas of transition."


  1. The County will not dictate or advocate for growth at the community level. Growth boundaries should be established at the local level.
  2. Evaluate development proposals in the Transitional Areas using the Comprehensive Plan’s Future Land Use Factors.
  3. Future Land Use Plan map amendments that expand or change a Transitional Area must include a finding:
    • That insufficient land is available in areas that the Comprehensive Plan has already designated for that land use to respond to market demand.
    • That the expansion is consistent with City, County, and State infrastructure expansion plans, and with township staging plans where available.
    • That the resources in the area proposed for change have been adequately assessed, or will be assessed prior to any development proposal.

What We Heard

Stearns County held various public engagement efforts, including Township Listening Sessions to better understand how growth (i.e., Transitional Areas) should be best addressed in the Comprehensive Plan.

Key takeaways from these meetings include:

  • Growth is viewed as a “positive” attribute for the county; however, development must be balanced in a sustainable manner that separates development from farming operations (e.g., animal agriculture and row crops).
  • It is important to recognize that the term “urban growth” or “urban expansion” may imply annexation.
  • The Comprehensive Plan should incorporate design standards or guidelines to help better inform development decisions that occur along the urban fringe.
  • The Comprehensive Plan should build in greater flexibility for the property owner to choose how they want to use their land, if it is done in a sustainable manner.
  • Develop a Future Land Use Plan that supports property owner rights.
  • Recognize that every community (cities and townships) has different aspirations to grow over the next 20 years.

Purpose of the “Transitional Area” Land Use Category

  • To encourage cities and townships to evaluate their own growth potential and plan accordingly within a quarter-mile to half-mile buffer from their city limits. This effort should be locally driven and adopted as part of their own local comprehensive plan
  • to guide future local lot rural development within the Transitional Areas and prevent the encroachment of non-farm uses into agricultural lands
  • To provide property owners greater flexibility in developing their land when located in proximity to an urban center
  • To guide potential growth and prevent the encroachment of non-farm uses into agricultural lands

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