County zoning is an issue that is attracting some attention this session. Governor Noem brought in a bill to make some changes to how counties implement the zoning process; however, it is being met with controversy because of fears of losing local control. Business and industry groups, as well as the Association of County Commissioners support the bill, SB 157, but what does it do?
State law sets out the basic purpose of planning and zoning. Title 11 of our codified laws gives each county commission and city commission the authority to develop comprehensive zoning plans and regulations to govern development of the territory under its jurisdiction. Currently, about two-thirds of South Dakota counties use some form of zoning.
The purpose of county zoning is to protect and guide the “physical, social, economic, and environmental development of the county, to protect the tax base, to encourage a distribution of population or mode of land utilization that will facilitate the economical and adequate provisions of transportation, roads, water supply, drainage, sanitation, education, recreation, or other public requirements, to lessen governmental expenditure, and to conserve and develop natural resources.”
Before adopting a zoning plan and associated regulations, there must be a public hearing, giving citizens an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed plan. In addition, plans are subject to referendum, giving citizens an opportunity to vote on the plan before it is adopted. This means that citizens residing in a county or municipality have the ultimate voice in directing the land use policies in their county or municipality.
Concerns that SB 157 will lead to loss of local control are unfounded. Nothing in this bill tells a county what type of land use it can regulate or how that land use is to be regulated.
The bill makes three basic changes to how counties implement the zoning process.
The first is to require any person appealing a zoning decision to have a direct interest in the outcome of the decision. This is to prevent costly and lengthy appeals from people who don’t even live in the county. The language in SB 157 is based on SD Supreme Court decisions that describe an affected party.
The second is to clarify that if a project meets all the criteria set out in the zoning ordinance, it should be allowed to proceed. Once a county has a zoning ordinance in place, then the county needs to follow the ordinance.
The third is to give project developers and county commissions a process for making a decision based on facts, hearing any appeals in a timely fashion, and allowing good projects to move forward without undue interference.
All of this depends on a county having a good zoning ordinance that protects the health and welfare of its citizens, yet provides a clear path forward for projects that will benefit the county and state.