Zoning & Environmental Services        
      Frequently asked Questions

Common Planning and Zoning Questions

Authority and Jurisdiction

The Ordinance is enacted to establish land use regulations for the unincorporated areas of Carlton County pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 394.21 - 394.37, as may be amended from time to time, that authorizes certain counties to carry on planning and zoning activities. The Ordinance does not apply to lands owned or leased by the federal or state government in accordance with Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 394.24, and Subd. 3.


The Ordinance is enacted to promote the public health, safety, morals and general welfare throughout Carlton County through the following:

A. Promoting orderly and compatible development of
    the residential, commercial, industrial, recreational
    and public areas within the County in a manner
    consistent with the Carlton County Community-
    based Comprehensive Plan.

B. Lessening congestion in the public rights-of-way.

C. Providing adequate light, air and convenience of
    access to property.

D. Facilitating the provision of adequate water,
    sewage disposal and other public requirements to

E. Protecting the population and property from fire,
    and other items pertaining to public safety.

F. Maintaining to a reasonable extent, property values
    through encouraging the most appropriate use of

G. Protecting water sources and water quality in
    accordance with the provisions of this Ordinance
    and the Carlton County Water Plan 2002 Update.

H. Protecting and enhancing significant natural
    resources in the County in a manner consistent
    with state and federal laws and regulations;

I. Allowing for the implementation of the Carlton
   County Community-Based Comprehensive Plan,
   adopted August 2001, the Carlton County Water
   Plan 2002 Update, and the St. Louis River
   Management Plan, adopted February 1994, as
   hereafter amended.

What is the Planning Commission?

The Planning Commission is a citizens board appointed by the Carlton County Board of Commissioners. The Planning Commission recommends approval or denial of Conditional Use Permits, Ordinance Amendments including changes to the zoning maps and major and minor subdivision requests.

The Planning Commission also prepares and recommends to the County Board,
Comprehensive Plan and Ordinance updates.

What is the Board of Adjustment?

The Board of Adjustment is a citizens board appointed by the County Board. The Board of Adjustment hears and decides on the following issues:

1. Order the issuance of variances.

2. Hear and decide appeals from and review any
    order, requirement, decision or determination
    made by any administrative official charged with
    enforcing any ordinance adopted pursuant to the
    provision of Minnesota Statutes, 2001, Section
    394.21 to 394.37;

3. Order the issuance of permits for buildings in areas
    designated for future public use on the official

4. Interpret and clarify zoning district boundaries on
    the official Zoning Map.

What is a Conditional Use?

A conditional use is a land use or development that would not be appropriate generally, but may be allowed with appropriate restrictions as provided by official controls upon a finding that certain conditions exist, the use or development conforms to the Comprehensive Land use Plan and the use is compatible with the existing neighborhood.

What is a Variance?

A variance is a modification or variation of official controls where it is determined that by reason of exceptional circumstances, the strict enforcement of the official controls would cause unnecessary hardship.

Glossary of Terms:

Accessory use or structure. Any use or structure on the same lot with, and of a nature customarily incidental and subordinate to, the principal use or structure.

After-the-fact actions. Any instance where activities have occurred without permits or authority and a remedy or correction is required, including issuance of permits after the action has occurred along with any associated penalties.

Buildable area. An area of land excluding surface waters, wetlands, floodplains, exposed bedrock, or slopes in excess of 12%.

Building. Any structure used or intended for supporting or sheltering any use or occupancy.

Business. Any establishment, occupation, employment or enterprise where merchandise is manufactured, exhibited or sold, or where services are offered for compensation.

Comprehensive Plan. A compilation of policy statement, goals, standards and maps for guiding the physical, social and economic development of the County which has bee adopted by the Carlton County Board.

Deck. A horizontal, unenclosed platform with or without attached railings, seats, trellises, or other features, attached or functionally related to a dwelling unit and extending more than one foot above ground.

District. A section or sections of the County for which the regulations and provisions governing the use of buildings and lands are uniform for each class of use permitted therein.

Dwelling. A building or portion of a building, designated exclusively for residential occupancy, including one-family, two-family, and multiple family dwellings, but not including hotels, motels, boarding houses, motor homes, recreational vehicles, or other temporary dwellings.

Dwelling site. A designated location for residential use by one or more persons using permanent, temporary, or movable shelter, including camping and recreational vehicle sites.

Guest cottage. A structure used as a dwelling unit that may contain sleeping spaces or kitchen or bathroom facilities in addition to those provided in the primary dwelling unit on a lot.

Hardship. As used in connection with the granting of a variance means the property in question cannot be put to a reasonable use if used under the conditions allowed by the official controls of this Ordinance, the plight of the landowner is due to circumstances unique to his property not created by the landowner, and the variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the locality. Economic considerations alone shall not constitute a hardship if a reasonable use of the property exists under the terms of this Ordinance.

Lot. A parcel of land designated by plat, metes and bounds, registered land survey, auditors plot, or other accepted means, and separated from other parcels or portions by its description for the purpose of sale, lease, or separation.

Lot of record. A parcel of land whose legal description was established in the Carlton County property records by plat, subdivision, or as otherwise permitted by law prior to March 29, 1968.

Nonconforming use. A structure or use of land which does not conform to the regulations of the district or zone in which it is situated.

Nonconformity. Any legal use, structure, or parcel of land already in existence, recorded, or authorized before adoption of official controls or amendments thereto that would not have been permitted to become established under the terms of official controls as now written, if the official controls had been in effect prior to the date it was established, recorded, or authorized.

Ordinary High Water Level. The boundary of public waters and wetlands, and shall be an elevation delineating the highest water level which has been maintained for a sufficient period of time to leave evidence upon the landscape, commonly that point where the natural vegetation changes from predominantly aquatic to predominantly terrestrial. For watercourses, the ordinary high water level is the elevation of the top of the bank of the channel. For reservoirs and flowages, the ordinary high water level is the operating elevation of the normal summer pool.

Permitted use. A use which may be lawfully established in a particular district or districts, provided it conforms with all requirements, regulations, and performance standards (if any) of such districts.

Setback. The minimum horizontal distance between a structure or sewage treatment system or other facility and an ordinary high water level, sewage treatment system, top of a bluff, road, highway, property line or other facility.

Structure. Anything placed, constructed, or erected with a fixed location on the ground. Among other things, structures include buildings, portable buildings, manufactured homes, recreation vehicles, walls, fences, signs, billboards, and poster panels, playing courts (tennis, handball, etc.) swimming pools, patios, and barbecue pits; except that walls, fences, billboards, and poster panels shall not be considered structures for the purpose of lot width, lot area, front and rear yard setbacks.

Subdivision. Land that is divided for the purpose of sale, rent, or lease, including planned unit developments.

Wetland. A surface water feature classified as a wetland in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Circular No. 39 (1971 edition).

Zoning map.
The maps or map incorporated into the Ordinance as part thereof, and as amended, designating zoning districts.


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