Bill Opens Door to Millions in Home Building Projects

Just-signed legislation essentially reversed a June 2010 ruling that severely limited the ability of municipalities to grant variance requests for projects like deck additions and home remodels.

On Thursday, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill that's expected to open the door to millions of dollars in stalled home construction and renovation projects.

The legislation, known as Chapter 19, essentially reversed a June 2010 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that severely limited the ability of municipalities to grant variance requests for projects like deck additions and home remodels.

The Builders Association of the Twin Cities (BATC) pushed for the new legislation. The organization said Friday that a recent survey of builders and remodelers throughout the state found that $45 million in stalled projects were awaiting the legislation.

“This is a very important day for homebuilders and remodelers and their customers,” Rich Riemersma, a homebuilder and president of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, said in a statement. “Any project requiring a variance was ground to a halt last summer, leaving property owners with no options to improve their property, and builders and remodelers on the sidelines. These projects can now move forward. This action by the legislature and governor will generate jobs.”

Until last summer, state law gave cities the authority to grant variances to property owners who wanted to depart from city ordinance in cases when the ordinance caused “undue hardship.”

Minnesota cities for years interpreted the law to mean that they could grant property owners exceptions in cases when they wanted to use their property in a reasonable manner that was prohibited by a city ordinance. But the June 2010 Supreme Court decision provided a much narrower interpretation of the law: Variance applicants had to show that their property couldn't be put to “reasonable use” without the variance-which was difficult to do.

The new legislation broadened the law. It allows municipalities to grant variances when applicants establish that there are “practical difficulties” or “particular hardships” in complying with a specific ordinance.