Project Statement

St. Louis County’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan will guide development in the county for the next 10-20 years, with the goal of fostering a vibrant and healthy county. The plan will provide a vision and road map for the county’s future policy decisions on land use, public investment, infrastructure improvements and intergovernmental cooperation. The plan will be developed with substantial participation from residents, local government officials and a broad range of other stakeholders.

St. Louis County currently has adopted land use plans for most of the areas where the county has land use authority. These plans were originally adopted in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. There have been updates to the plans, but they remain cumbersome, outdated and in many cases obsolete.

Land Use Plan

What is the Comprehensive Land Use Plan?

It is a blueprint that guides the future development, growth and protection of resources in the communities across the county. It takes into account the vision, aspirations, values and needs of residents, businesses and visitors and relates those to the appropriate uses of land by those who live, work, recreate and visit St. Louis County.

Why is it important to me?

It is used as a guide to decide:

  • where residential and business growth may occur
  • what types of businesses and jobs may be encouraged
  • what types of housing may be built in the community
  • how to protect the environmentally sensitive areas
  • what values should be reflected in the character of the community

How is it used?

The Plan sets the framework for:

  • the county’s land use pattern
  • where development may occur
  • what types of uses are allowed

It provides for:

  • the basis of building set backs
  • height
  • land alterations
  • screening
  • sign standards
  • protection of lakes, streams and wetlands
  • other development regulations

It is the foundation for:

  • the county’s zoning
  • development review
  • policy
  • other county ordinances

Who decides what the plan says?

  1. St. Louis County residents (the community), through a comprehensive participation process, decide what goes into a plan
  2. The Planning Commission, which represents county residents, will review the plan, hold public hearings, and make recommendations to the County Board
  3. The County Board will review the plan, hold public hearings, and make the final decision on the adoption of a plan

Statute Requirements

Minnesota Chapter 394.23 promote:

  • the health, safety and general welfare of the community
  • provide guidelines for the timing and sequence of the adoption of official controls to ensure planned, orderly and staged development and redevelopment consistent with the comprehensive plan
  • shall apply to the use of land for both private and public purposes

Township Zoning Administration

  • Townships that administer zoning regulations must be consistent with county controls and administration
  • Townships that administer their zoning, may adopt a comprehensive land use plan for their township, but must demonstrate that the township plan is as restrictive as the county’s plan
  • These plans will be recognized by reference in the county’s comprehensive land use plan

Why Plan

As communities experience change, planning offers a way to envision and build communities that are livable, healthy and sustainable. Planning is a key process and tool to achieve that vision. Residents, businesses and visitors alike enjoy the outcomes of a well crafted and actively implemented plan.

Major Goals

  • One Unified Consistent Plan – One unified and consistent plan would enable or improve land use and zoning management. There are currently 27 individual land use plans that make up the county’s comprehensive land use plan. There are 27 townships that have no plan at all.
  • Update Old Plans Adopted Back to 1978 – Much has changed demographically, socially and economically in the county in the past decades and an updated plan would reflect current trends and needs. Original studies were undertaken in the 1960’s that served the basis for the 1968 zoning ordinance and map. The oldest land use plan was approved in 1978. The most recent plan was approved in 2009.
  • Capitalize on our Natural Resources – The county is rich in natural resources that provide employment and recreation opportunities to residents, businesses and visitors. The Plan would address land use related to mining, timber, agriculture, recreation, lakes, rivers, streams and the environment.
  • Accommodate Future Growth and Development Needs – An updated Plan provides the ability to analyze trends and set aside potential areas to accommodate growth and development needs in all areas of the county.
  • City and Rural Land Use Compatibility – Improved coordination and compatibility between county land uses and municipality land uses is needed. A Plan can identify land use conflicts that could be resolved through coordination. A compatible blending of land uses and zoning by the county and municipalities can be achieved.
  • Address Demographic, Market and Social Change – The Plan will provide an increased understanding about the past and present demographics, market and social change. The Plan will collect useful information about the county and surrounding areas, such as historical trends and present conditions. A data analysis can provide clues about where trends are headed.
  • Intergovernmental Cooperation – The Plan can improve intergovernmental cooperation among federal, state and local governments to strengthen community growth and development. This can reduce conflicts and combine resources in shared efforts.

Use Plan vs Zoning

Difference between a Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Zoning

A Comprehensive Land Use Plan provides a set of broad policies that establish the basis for future land use development patterns and regulations in the county. The County’s Zoning Ordinance and Maps provide specific regulations about how property owners may use and develop their land consistent with the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, while complying with federal, state, regional, and local laws and regulations.


Comprehensive Land Use Planning (Blueprint) – A Comprehensive Land Use Plan is reflection of what is important to a community by guiding the future direction and priorities related to the use of land. A thoughtful planning process will document the interests of the community within a broad framework, help govern public investment, and manage change. The land use plan is carried out by many methods including policy changes, ordinances and by capital improvements. A land use plan may be used for the following efforts:

  • Balance what a community is, with what it wants to become
  • Provide a county wide perspective and policies on development patterns, land uses and densities to accommodate growth
  • Identify where and what type of future development should occur
  • Identify areas for preservation and protection due to the environmental and other concerns
  • Create a framework for decision making
  • Encourage coordination of decisions and actions so that development projects complement rather than detract from one another
  • Solve long-standing problems by coming up with fresh ideas and approaches
  • Develop policies that allow for industrial and extractive and other uses


Zoning and Map Update (Tools) – The zoning ordinance and zoning maps are regulatory tools that help implement the direction and policies of the comprehensive land use plan. By state statute, zoning must be consistent with the Plan and future land use maps. Zoning spells out the allowable uses for each piece of property within a county.

QUESTION: Why update the Zoning Ordinance and Maps after the Plan is complete?

Answer: Zoning is an administrative tool to implement and comply with the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. The current zoning ordinance and maps are reviewed for potential changes only after the shared vision is adopted by the County Board of Commissioners. The Comprehensive Land Use Plan comes first to set the direction, then zoning comes second to the administer that direction.

Scope of Plan

A traditional comprehensive plan encompasses many plan elements that work together to provide a road map for a shared vision. Each plan element focuses on a targeted area of interest as identified below. For the purposes of the county’s current planning effort, it will focus only on updating the land use element. However, the land use element will take into consideration the trends and activities in each topic area since land use impacts other comprehensive planning elements.

Comprehensive Plan Elements

  • Housing – Plan element that identifies an adequate housing supply that meets existing and forecasted housing demand and a range of housing choices that meet the needs of persons of all income levels and of all age groups.
  • Transportation – Plan element that identifies future development of multiple modes of transportation such as highways, roads, bicycles, walking, railroads, air, trucking and water transportation.
  • Public Utilities – Plan element that identifies future development of utilities such as sanitary sewer service, storm water management, water supply, solid waste disposal, electric and gas supply.
  • Land Use – Plan element that guides the future development, growth and protection of resources in the communities across the county. It takes into account the vision, aspirations, values and needs of residents, businesses and visitors and relates those to the appropriate uses of land by those who live, work, recreate and visit St. Louis County.
  • Parks, Trails, Open Space – Plan elements that identifies future development of parks, trails, open spaces and recreation opportunities.
  • Natural Resources – Plan element that identifies future goals related to forests, lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands, ground water, minerals, habitat, air and landscapes.
  • Economic Development – Plan element that identifies the stabilization, retention or expansion of the economic base and quality employment opportunities for all.
  • Community Facilities and Cultural Resources – Plan element that identifies historical and cultural resources and facilities used by a community such as libraries, school, police and fire departments, rescue facilities, cemeteries and other governmental facilities.
  • Active Living – Plan element that identifies an active lifestyle that influences public areas for people to visit, play or exercise that requires accessible sidewalks and paths, safe streets and trails.
  • Resiliency – Plan element that identifies the ares ability to anticipate risk, limit impact and bounce back from turbulent change or disaster.
  • Inter-Governmental Cooperation – Plan element that identifies joint planning and decision making with other jurisdictions including school districts, tribal entities, fire protection districts, lake management districts, soil and water conservation districts, and state and federal agencies.

Process Road Map

The development of a land use plan is an orderly process with six distinct phases that will bring the Plan from start to finish as indentified below. The estimated timeline below is a general guide on the length of time it will take to update the Plan.

  • Phase 1: Inventory – Inventory of data, trends, plans, maps, models and reports in order to attain baseline information to assist in planning discussion and provide information for informed direction and decisions.
  • Phase 2: Analysis, Issues and Opportunities – Conduct analysis of data and trends while identifying issues and opportunities. Public and stakeholder participation is a key component of identifying issues and opportunities.
  • Phase 3: Visioning – Focuses on developing and articulating the shared vision through public participation.
  • Phase 4: Develop Guiding Principles, Policies, Goals – Focuses on drafting and developing guiding principles, policies, goals, actions and implementation strategies, where appropriate.
  • Phase 5: Plan Development – Focuses on formulating and developing a comprehensive land use plan draft.
  • Phase 6: Adoption and Implementation – Attain final approval and adoption, then commence with implementation.


Learn more about the St. Louis County Comprehensive Land Use Plan.


View report appendices.


Contact us with questions or for more information.

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