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Zoning Permits: What You Need to Know as a Designer

Rachel Elsen


Zoning and permits are required for many landscaping jobs. This report will cover some of the zoning regulations and permits designers need to be aware of. It will look closely at Minneapolis and St. Paul as well as general DNR regulations. The Minneapolis and St. Paul categories covered are the same for most of the metro area. Contact your municipality, before beginning your project, for specific information pertaining to your area.

Why do you need a permit and how long does it last?

Permits are needed for any modification, exterior remodeling, or repairs to single and multi-family dwellings. All work on the given site must be completed in one year from the permit issue date. If work is not completed in one year, a penalty of $25 per day is charged. The site is considered a nuisance after the year deadline. The Director of Inspections may either complete the work or return the site back to the original condition. If the Director of Inspection takes action, the permitee must repay the charges in one sum or in ten equal annual payments.

Permits and Zoning Regulations, Minneapolis and St. Paul:

Erosion Control: The goal of erosion control is to keep soil on the excavation site and prevent it from entering any storm drain system on either private or public property.
What this means to you as a designer:
Be aware of erosion before, during, and after installation. Design with erosion in mind: choose plants with firm root systems that will stabilize and reinforce the soil, incorporate plenty of organic matter to improve soil structure, reduce tillage, and maintain plant cover year-round.



St. Paul
Fees for building a fence:
First 200 feet or less, $22.00
Each additional 100 feet or less, $8.00
What this means to you as a designer:
Design fences with regulations in mind to prevent future questioning and structure adjustments. Be aware of the lot location and the specific requirements for that area.
For more information:


Minneapolis and St. Paul (effective January 1, 2004)

Phosphorus is found in decaying plant debris, animal waste, eroding soil particles, and fertilizers containing phosphorus. Phosphorus runoff comes from farmland in rural areas. In urban landscapes, phosphorus enters waterways through hard surface runoff. Organic matter left on hard surfaces and fertilizer spilled on hard surfaces will run into nearby drains that lead a body of water. Phosphorus can be extremely damaging to bodies of water. < 10 ppb of soluble phosphorus causes no problems, 10 - 20 ppb of soluble phosphorus accelerates eutrophication, and > 20 ppb soluble phosphorus causes lakes to become eutrophic. A eutrophic body of water is rich in minerals and organic nutrients. These conditions promote plant growth, especially algae. The increased plant life decreases the dissolved oxygen and causes other organisms to vanish. Phosphorus in the soil is considered immobile. Therefore, fertilizer containing phosphorus will rarely need to be applied since it leaches very slowly. For more information on eutrophication and other water quality topics, visit

What this means to you as a designer:
Always test the soil before applying fertilizer containing phosphorus. It is important to remember that most soils in Minnesota do not require additional phosphorus. Also, educate your clients about possible phosphorus damages to bodies of water and the regulations for their area.
For more information:

Property Line Location:

Do not assume hardscaped regions such as sidewalks and alleys dictate property line. Always determine exact property line before building a structure, even if neighbors are in agreement.

Locate pins on corners of property. If pins are not found, a surveyor can be hired to survey and reinstall new pins.

Property line location can be obtained from the City of St. Paul.
Property line location can be obtained from the City of Minneapolis:

GIS Printroom
309 2nd Ave. S.
Room 301
Minneapolis 55401-2268
What this means to you as a designer:
Begin designing property only after property line has been verified. Make sure your lot and plot plans are correct. Inspect any plans that are provided by the clients to verify accuracy and double-check your own work.
For more information:

Stormwater Management: the control of runoff that is discharged into bodies of water, reduction of nutrients from water, and reduction of suspended solids discharged. (Regulations vary per body of water)

What this means to you as a designer:
It may be helpful to direct the stormwater into a raingarden. Raingardens allow stormwater and melting snow to seep back into the ground naturally. They are beneficial because polluted runoff is prevented. Three simple steps should be followed to make a raingarden: 1) create any size dip in the landscape, 2) place it next to a hard surface, 3) plant native, hardy plants that do not need fertilizers and pesticides (Friends of Bassett Creek).
For more information:

Wood Decks:


St. Paul
What this means to you as a designer:
Design wood decks with regulations in mind to eliminate injuries, law suits, and unsatisfied clients.

For more information:

City and DNR permits are required for different reasons. City permits are required for public safety, to ensure structures are built correctly, maintain a good impression, protect the environment, and many other reasons. The DNR requires permits to protect natural resources. They concentrate on waterways, forestry, trails, wildlife, parks and recreation, fisheries, minerals, land, and many other resources. This section will look at some permits that are needed when designing on a lakeshore property.

DNR Permits:

Aquatic Vegetation Removal: Clearance of certain aquatic vegetation that would otherwise reduce waves, prevent erosion, and house fish and wildlife

What this means to you as a designer:
The aforementioned aquatic vegetation is beneficial because it reduces waves, therefore reduces erosion. It also provides fish and wildlife habitats.
For more information:

Beach Sand Blanket:

A sand beach may be installed without a permit if:

What this means to you as a designer:
Notify the zoning office and observe area for emerging vegetation and fish spawning area. Apply up to allotted amount or obtain a permit for greater coverage.
For more information:

Boat Ramps:

Private boat ramps may be installed without a permit if:

Public boat ramps may be installed without a permit if:
What this means to you as a designer:
Design boat ramps, or ramp placement, with regulations in mind for use without a permit.
For more information:


A permit is needed when more than 10,000 gallons are used per day or 1 million gallons are used per year

Water may be either pumped or allowed to flow freely onto property

What this means to you as a designer:
Determine the amount of water needed for irrigation and obtain a permit if necessary. You may consider modifying the irrigation schedule to stay below the given gallon amounts, if needed.
For more information:

Retaining Walls:

A permit is needed to build retaining walls below the ordinary high water level.
Retaining wall construction is discouraged by the DNR

What this means to you as a designer:
Communicate to your client that rock riprap is desired over retaining walls by the DNR. Retaining walls cause waves that disturb sediment on the bottom and result in a sterile environment. Many walls on one body of water will reduce habitat for fish and wildlife. They will also reduce food that fish and wildlife depend on to survive. Structurally, retaining walls require high maintenance due to freezing and thawing and waves. Discuss the pros and cons of retaining walls vs. riprap with your client.
For more information:

Riprap: Riprap is created by placing coarse rocks randomly along a shoreline. Riprap may be installed without a permit if:

What this means to you as a designer:
Riprap is only used when there is a need to control erosion. Consider planting between rocks to create a more natural shoreline and stabilize the riprap. Remember to build soil upwards on the land-side of riprap to reduce runoff.
For more information:

Structure Removal:

What this means to you as a designer:
Consider structure removal and design with restoration in mind. Remove structure only if it meets the above regulations.
For more information:


It is important to remember zoning and permit requirements when designing both residential and commercial landscapes. Permits are required for any modification, exterior remodeling, or repairs to single and multi-family dwellings. Requirements are made to ensure public safety, preserve natural resources, ensure proper building of structures, and many other reasons. All projects must be complete within one year of the permit issue date.

Lakeshore properties require many permits to protect fish and wildlife, control runoff, and prevent erosion. It is the designers responsibility to honor all permits and regulations as well as educate their clients.

This report was written to specify zoning regulations for Minneapolis and St. Paul, but most information will be the same for the surrounding metro area. Please contact your municipality for specific regulations in your area before beginning your project.


City of Minneapolis. Information Sheets. 12 Feb. 2003. Minneapolis Information and Technology Services. 2001.

City of St. Paul. LIEP Library. 12 Feb. 2003. City of St. Paul.

Friends of Bassett Creek. Raingardens. 17 April 2003. Friends of Bassett Creek. 27 March 2003.

Metropolitan Council / Barr Engineering Co. Appendix A Local Regulations. 10 Feb. 2003. Minnesota Urban Small Sites BMP Manual.

Minnesota DNR. Permit Requirements. 10 Feb. 2003. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2003.

Minnesota Statutes 2002. Phosphorus Turf Fertilizer Use Restrictions. 12 Feb. 2003. Minnesota Statutes 2002. 2002.

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