Zoning battle: Townships will decide fate of 2-mile zone around Detroit Lakes

There are about 10,000 acres inside city limits, and about 37,000 acres within the two-mile zone, so it’s a significant area, said County Surveyor Roy Smith.

Map of Detroit Lakes with a 2-mile (light purple) and 3-mile (dark purple) overlaid rings.

The six townships that surround the city of Detroit Lakes have some planning and zoning decisions to make.

Some are unhappy with the current system, in which the city of Detroit Lakes sets the rules for subdivisions within a 2-mile radius of city limits.

Townships lack representation, said Lakeview Township Supervisor Phil Hansen.

If townships don’t like the city’s decision, there is nowhere to appeal it to except district court, said County Surveyor Roy Smith, who has been spearheading the issue for the county. And there’s no political repercussions, because township residents can’t vote in city elections, he added.

“We’ve had several meetings on this 2-mile extraterritorial thing,” Hansen said. At the most recent meeting, on Tuesday, Dec. 8, at the Becker County Courthouse, “we had an attorney online who deals with this who could answer some of our specific questions,” he said.


The meeting was attended by three county commissioners and three city representatives, as well as representatives from Audubon, Detroit, Erie, Burlington, Lakeview and Lake Eunice townships, said Commissioner John Okeson. After the meeting was adjourned, county and city representatives left, and the township supervisors stayed to talk, Okeson said.

“It’s up to the townships to decide what they want to do,” he said.

They have several options, including:

  • Each township would adopt the same subdivision ordinance, which would be administered by the county’s planning and zoning office.
  • A joint planning and zoning board would be established, with representatives from the townships, county and city. This board would have sole responsibility for all planning and zoning issues within the two-mile zone, not just subdivisions, said Smith.
  • Stay with the city, which has offered to amend some of its more objectionable practices.

Smith believes the townships are leaning towards the option of adopting their own subdivision ordinances, administered by the county, which would “do sort of the nuts and bolts of it,” Smith said. But nothing has been decided yet.
“As townships, we talked about what’s important to us,” said Hansen. “I can’t talk for the other townships, but we want representation, I think I can speak for everyone on that. If things are happening in the townships, we should have representation within our town lines.”

Townships now are “trying to figure out the best way for all involved,” Hansen said. The township supervisors at the Dec. 8 meeting will now discuss options with their township boards to try to come up with a consensus for action, Smith said.

DL officials feel shut out

Detroit Lakes officials have tried to make compromises, but have met with little response, and feel shut-out of the process. No one told the city about the Tuesday meeting, for example, and the city had to scramble to send guest representatives after being alerted by Commissioner Ben Grimsley, who represents part of the city on the County Board.

Currently, Detroit Lakes requires plats for parcel-splits under 5 acres within the 2-mile extra territorial area extending outward from the city limits.

It's important for the city to have a say in the 2-mile zone, because it's necessary to plan for growth many years in advance, said City Administrator Kelcey Klemm.


"The city needs to have involvement in what happens around our borders," said Klemm. "That's what allows the ability for the city to ultimately grow, to do planning, and to do orderly development of the city."

He said the city's land subdivision controls are extended 2-miles out from the city to provide those administrative features for smaller government units that may not be able to administer them due to their small size.

"It only comes into play when someone wants to split their property," said Klemm. "The county has, and always will, maintain zoning authority in that 2-mile area … but the city can have a say in how the property is subdivided, and how it is split."

City's ability to plan ahead is critical

If the city does not have a say, or control, over land splits along its borders, it can "stifle our future expansion," Klemm said, and make it difficult to extend future water and sewer services.

"If they are doing large residential tracks, the cost to extend services to them when you don't have that density becomes cost prohibitive," Klemm said. "Especially close to the border, a large 30-acre tract of land today, we don't want that to be subdivided into 2-acre parcels because we could subdivide that into a third of an acre parcels and run water and sewer to it, get better density, more growth, and more effective use of our infrastructure."

Klemm said the townships have had "numerous" meetings with the county, without the city present, and city officials always find out about the meetings after the fact. The last meeting the city was invited to was in March. A main issue for the townships, Klemm said, is with the city's park dedication fee.

Park fees and parcel-splits

Within the 2-mile area outside the city, a 6% fee is charged on a land split and that fee goes into the city's park fund. The fee can be waived if a portion of the land being split is set aside for a park. Developers have complained to the county that park fees paid to the city are not regularly being used to build parks in the development area.

The city is willing to waive the park dedication fee in the outer half of the 2-mile zone, but within one mile of the city, it's important to continue that fee structure because many of those township residents use the city's parks, Klemm said.


Additional criticism from the county is that the city is too strict with its plat requirements, which can make zoning in the townships more difficult and time consuming. For simple land splits, townships should be able to use the less expensive and less complicated “metes and bounds” system, Smith said.

"It gets a little complicated," said Klemm. "It's more process, requires more approvals, and with that comes more cost,” but Klemm believes it's good to require that platting process because it requires everyone to review the split to make sure it "makes sense."

The city offered a compromise to the townships, stating that, within the first mile from city limits, any parcel split under 5 acres needs to be platted, but in the outer half of the 2-mile zone, the city will lower the parcel-split requirement to under 2.5 acres before triggering the platting process. So in that half of the zone, a 5-acre parcel could be split in half using the metes and bounds method.

Rural areas need rural zoning

Smith, the county surveyor, says the city offer doesn’t go far enough to allow for rural zoning in rural areas.

“There are about 10,000 acres inside city limits, and about 37,000 acres in the 2-mile zone, so it’s a significant area,” he said. “Trying to apply all these municipal practices to a 2-mile ring is kind of hard. There needs to be some changes made to address the needs of the rural area.”

Townships taking a go-slow approach

Hansen said the townships want to avoid any unforeseen negative consequences of making a change. “It’s going to take time no matter what happens,” Hansen said. “We don’t want to jump into this -- it’s pretty foreign to a lot of the townships. We want to take the time to do the right thing, not only for current supervisors, but for supervisors that come after us.”

That cautious approach is in keeping with the effort since the beginning, Smith said. “We started things in 2019,” he said. “We’re getting close, and the townships are getting close to deciding on an option.”


Detroit Lakes City Administrator Kelcey Klemm, members of the city council and municipal staff workers watch a presentation during the December city council meeting. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

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