Democracy in actionFuture of county zoning discussed
In speaking about county zoning, Washington County Supervisor Jack Seward of District 1 told the audience at Tuesday morning’s weekly board of supervisors’ meeting that, in his personal opinion, the ordinance gives too much authority to the government.
“I think there is a strong feeling in the county yet that the zoning ordinance that was passed and that we currently have is an overreach and is more than what’s needed and more than what was expected when the comprehensive plan was being talked about,” Seward said.
Seward then said he wanted to talk about not enforcing the zoning ordinance and to cease any enforcement actions in court. He also said that he did not intend to make any motions Tuesday.
“I just wanted this on the agenda to start having a conversation,” he said.
Seward then called on county zoning administrator Steve Lafaurie and asked Lafaurie for a brief summary about any enforcement actions taken recently. He later asked about actions taken in the last three months. Seward said he and Lafaurie had a conversation the previous week about county zoning.
Tuesday morning, Lafaurie said, “We didn’t talk about this, though, in our discussion. I think you weren’t certain the ordinance could be rescinded. You were looking to open up a discussion about the ordinance in general. Yeah, I can address questions and I may need a little more time, if there’s specific questions I’m not prepared for or I could come back next week.”
Seward then asked, “How many citations did you issue in the last, say, three months?”
Lafaurie said that he had told the former board of supervisors in late July or August that he has worked with more than 300 zoning applications.
“For me, it’s a little hard to have all the emphasis on the enforcement when that becomes a really minor part of working with the zoning ordinance,” Lafaurie said.
As for not enforcing the ordinance, Lafaurie said, “I think it would be the same as telling a deputy to quit writing speeding tickets.”
Seward responded, “In that particular case, a speeding ticket is a state code. It’s a state law. This particular case is a county ordinance that we have authority over.”
Lafaurie suggested Seward talk to the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
“They have many years of experience on matters pertaining to land use and the two ordinances,” Lafaurie said.
As the conversation continued, Seward again asked for Lafaurie’s opinion on the ramifications of not having a zoning ordinance.
“I’m going to assume you’re going to tell me there are bad things that would result,” Seward said.
Lafaurie said that was right and that he wasn’t prepared to give Seward a list of what the ramifications might be.
“It’s not a five-minute discussion,” Lafaurie said. “Without county zoning, the quality of life, value of homes and property can be affected.”
One example Lafaurie gave was that of an adult nightclub becoming someone’s neighbor.
“There is an ordinance in place when you were referring to adult entertainment,” Seward said.
At the end of their conversation, Lafaurie said it would be very good for Seward to have a discussion about zoning with the public.”
Planning and Zoning Commission chairman Don Kline was present at the meeting. He said there were problems in the county with land use before the zoning ordinance was adopted.
“We had many public meetings and brought together as many people as we could and everybody had a discussion about it and we made a comprehensive plan from that that addressed agriculture, open spaces, cultural. During that time we gathered a lot of facts from people.”
County resident Dave Skubal said he had a question “for you Free County people.” He was referring to Seward.
“First of all, I’m not a spokesperson for Free County,” Seward said.
“Well, you were, you represent them,” Skubal said. “OK, you’re supervisors.”
Skubal wanted to know if the supervisors would try to rescind the subdivision ordinance, too. Skubal said the supervisors couldn’t pick one without the other.
“The subdivision ordinance was passed before the zoning ordinance, “ Seward said. “It’s a stand-alone ordinance. It was in response to something that needed to be done so I don’t see the need to deal with them in the same way.”
Supervisors Stan Stoops and Bob Yoder also said the subdivision ordinance isn’t the same as the zoning ordinance and that people who live in subdivisions know the rules before they move in.
Yoder said there was something Skubal wasn’t thinking about and that is that subdivisions are increasing the county’s property tax base and the county needs the addition revenue.
Seward hopes county residents will contact the supervisors. He prefers written comments, which can be mailed to PO Box 889 - 222 West Main Street Washington, IA 52353 or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.