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Normandale Expansion Raises Land Use Issues

Conflicts between institutions of higher education and the cities or towns where they are located have a long history. Perhaps inevitably, town and gown do not always get along amicably.

In Bloomington, Minnesota, however, tension between the city and Normandale Community College is a new thing. Since Normandale's founding in 1968, the college and the city had gotten along just fine.

Things changed in July as land use issues arose regarding the college's expansion plans. The city received a letter from the state attorney general's office asserting that Normandale is not required to comply with local zoning ordinances or the watershed district permitting process. Normandale is part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MnSCU), and MnSCU is an arm of the state.

Normandale wants to build a $14 million addition to its student center, as well as a new, 75,000-foot academic center. The college also has plans to build a $6 million parking ramp with 400 spaces.

The letter received by the city in July asked for the issuance of a building permit for the student center addition without going through the usual permitting process. This process would normally involve compliance not only with city parking regulations and other local ordinances, but also with stormwater requirements overseen by the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District.

Eventually, Normandale agreed to follow the established rules of the city and the watershed district. The district will let Normandale wait to construct a stormwater retention system until both its student center and academic center projects are done. In return, the district asked the college to sign a surety bond, in the event that the academic center is not built and a separate system is needed for the student center addition.

Despite this resolution, the episode raises the prospect that MnSCU will again try to claim exemption from the local permitting process.

If you need to resolve land use issues, contact an experienced real estate attorney.

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