The Rochester Township board unanimously approved a zoning change Thursday for development on land containing a great blue heron nest colony west of Rochester.
The board also unanimously delayed decision on accepting a general development plan for the land until Nov. 11. Despite recommendation from the township planning commission not to change the zoning, the Township Board agreed to designate the suburban land residential from agricultural.
Steve Connelly, owner of the 17-acre site, has agreed to sell the land for development by International Properties LLC into 10 housing lots. The land contains dozens of heron nests, known as a rookery, which neighboring landowners and environmental advocates say should be preserved.
For them, the delay on the development plan approval was welcome news.
"The fact that they didn't was surprising and very good," said Vicki Morris, a member of the "Save the Rookery" group advocating preserving the land and heron nests. "We live to fight again another day."
The nonprofit group has also filed an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals of the Township Board's acceptance of an Environmental Assessment Worksheet of the site, saying the work was incomplete. The group argues in the appeal that the site should have a more thorough Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the development's effect on the environment.
Connelly expressed frustration at the meeting for the ongoing delays. Work on the site was halted earlier this year when an injunction was filed in Olmsted County District Court against Connelly and the developers. After a judge ruled against the request in June, herons had begun nesting on the site. The federal migratory bird treaty act prohibits destroying or disturbing heron nests while birds are occupying them.
Board members said the extra time could give both sides to come up with a compromise.
"We're all smart people," said township board member Brian Zmolek. "We should be able to come up with a win-win situation."