Township residents may want to rethink their plans for extra-territorial subdivision independence from the city of Detroit Lakes after reading a legal memo drafted by the city's attorney.

Charles Ramstad, city attorney for Detroit Lakes, drafted a six-page legal memo concerning the city's ongoing dispute involving the 2-mile extra territorial subdivision controls with neighboring townships and presented the findings to city council members on Tuesday, April 13.

"I think that it would be unfortunate for the residents of, not only the towns, but the city itself because these always have the potential for litigation, and litigation is expensive, and litigation requires the taxpayers of both the city and the townships to finance that," said Ramstad. "It seems to me that it's worth it to try to avoid that and while we may not be optimistic based on the responses from the townships in the past, I think it's worth another try."

In the memo, Ramstad outlines the beginnings of the city's subdivision controls, and corresponding city ordinances, in the extra-territorial area, which date back to the 1960s when only two townships were directly adjacent to Detroit Lakes. He also included excerpts from the Municipal Planning Act, adopted by Minnesota in 1966, which, "provided municipalities with the authority to adopt subdivision regulations and 'by resolution extend the application of its subdivision regulations to unincorporated territory located within two miles of its limits in any direction, but not in a town which has adopted subdivision regulations.'"

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Because those neighboring townships did not have their own subdivision controls at the time the city began implementing theirs, the city's subdivision controls would also be implemented outside the city limits in the 2-mile extra territorial area. The process hasn't changed in more than 60 years, according to Ramstad.

He also included a Minnesota Attorney General opinion on a case from 1967 in which the city of Benson, Minn., had a similar dispute with its neighboring township. The opinion stated that since the town did not elect to approve plats under the statute prior to the exercised authority by the city of Benson, then the town is 'without the power to do so,' meaning they would have to still use the city's subdivision process within their 2-mile extra territorial zone.

Ramstad requested a new opinion from the Minnesota Attorney General in February to try to answer the question of: Would newly enacted subdivision controls by a township supersede the controls already in place from a city within the 2-mile zone? The attorney general's office declined to issue a new opinion, which, Ramstad wrote, confirms the validity of the 1967 opinion.

Ramstad writes, "No town elected to adopt subdivision regulations prior to the exercise of the City of that authority in 1967, nor has any town done so to date … the validly enacted City subdivision regulations must be regarded as continuing in effect until amended, or repealed."

"I think the law, and so does the attorney general, says they can pass their own subdivision ordinance, but it does not supersede the city's control," said Ramstad. "At least from what law is out there, it looks to us like the land owners within that two-mile zone could end up having to deal with subdivision ordinances from the city and with township and, I telling you, those people aren't going to be too happy with that."

There are two possible outcomes, he writes, either a township, county or city authority could request a joint planning board, which would be made up of one member of each governing body and would implement their own land-use controls for subdivisions, and zoning as well, or the city could consider making changes to its subdivision ordinance that could be accepted by the township residents.

In February, Detroit Lakes City Administrator Kelcey Klemm and Ramstad put together a draft subdivision ordinance proposal in order to address some of the township's issues with the current process.

"This draft has not received any formal review or public hearing by the Planning Commission or City Council yet," said Klemm, in an email. "It was intended to be a proposal to keep open the dialogue."

Klemm described some of the notable changes as:

  • The provision for a Technical Review Panel consisting of members from the city, county, and township to hold a pre-application meeting with the applicant. The purpose is to involve the other entities of the township and county to ensure their requirements are being met for subdivisions within the extraterritorial area. It also provides checks and balances on the application process to make sure the applicant is receiving all of the necessary information.

  • Plats are required for tracts less than 5 acres within 1 mile of the city and 2.5 acres within 1 mile to 2 miles from the city.

  • Proposal for no park dedication fee in the 1 to 2 mile area outside of the city.

Read the draft subdivision proposal with potential changes here:

"I think the proposals that we put together in February of this year are a good start," said Ramstad. "This is probably never going to be resolved until the city council and the townships sit down and can actually talk to each other, and I'm just hopeful that with this knowledge they might see that point and come to engage in a discussion."