Joint session questionedSupervisors meet with Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday
Members of both the Washington County Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission and the Washington County Board of Supervisors at times wondered why they were even discussing the fate of the zoning ordinance during a joint work session Thursday evening.
The supervisors asked the commission to submit a report on the ramifications of rescinding zoning with a deadline of two months after the commission’s April 2 meeting. At that meeting, the commissioners decided they needed more information from the supervisors, so the commissioners decided to ask the supervisors to hold a joint work session with them on April 18. During their April 9 meeting, the supervisors agreed to the work session.
P&Z chairman Don Kline conducted the joint work session. He said that the joint work session gave the commissioners the opportunity to find out what information the supervisors want to read in the report. He asked each commissioner and supervisor to introduce themselves to each other. About 23 people were in the audience.
Zoning administrator Steve Lafaurie gave a summary of the history of the planning and land use commissions dating back to 1961.
Lafaurie introduced Gary Taylor, an associate professor and community and regional planning extension specialist from the Iowa State University. He answered questions from the commissioners and supervisors.
In response to a question from supervisor Stan Stoops, Taylor spoke about the county’s zoning authority established in Chapter 335 of the Iowa Code and what kinds of ordinances could “stand alone.” He said the county could establish a stand-alone floodplain ordinance and a stand-alone subdivision ordinance, which the county now has, because they are covered in other sections of Iowa Code.
However, because of an Iowa Supreme Court ruling, local governments cannot regulate adult entertainment unless they also have zoning ordinances. He said there is legislation in the Iowa Legislature that seeks to fix that. The House has approved the legislation but the Senate has not. The court ruling will stand if the legislation is not completed.
Supervisor Stan Stoops has led the fight against the zoning ordinance. He said the majority of Washington County voters oppose zoning and he was elected to represent the majority. While he can “see the point” of some of the zoning regulations, he said he will vote to rescind zoning no matter what the P&Z put in its report.
Supervisors Jack Seward Jr. and Bob Yoder both said Thursday evening they favor rescinding zoning. Seward was absent from the work session because of health reasons. He did send a three-page, handwritten statement to the county auditor’s office earlier in the day about the zoning ordinance, which Stoops read aloud during the work session.
Yoder spoke for himself, saying he intends to vote to rescind zoning. Zoning, he said, is not for Washington County. He also said that the zoning ordinance pits one group of county residents against another. Iowa doesn’t allow local governments to zone agricultural operations, but the county can enact zoning for residents who do not farm.
Kline said that if one would ask farmers if they have restrictions, they would say they have lots of restrictions. He said the zoning ordinance protects the county’s land resources and that zoning will make a big difference in the long run.
Some commissioners said they don’t understand why they should spend the time to create a rescinding zoning report if the majority of the supervisors were going to vote to rescind the ordinance.
County attorney Larry Brock spoke to that issue. He said the supervisors could make a decision or they could make an informed decision. He said he preferred they make an informed decision so that they will have some understanding of what things might be like in the county without zoning.
Supervisors Steve Davis said that he has voted against zoning in the past. He is the longest-serving supervisor, with five years of experience. He was re-elected to a second term. He said he is interested in knowing what’s good about zoning and what’s bad. He said that he thinks some portions of the zoning ordinance are needed.
Supervisor Ron Bennett has been a supervisor for three years. He said he favors a reverse setback and a floodplain ordinance.
Taylor said that a reverse setback ordinance is essentially a zoning ordinance under Iowa law. A reverse setback would require a new home be built a certain distance from an established farming operation. He also said the county would need a planning and zoning commission and a board of adjustment if there is an ordinance that includes any of the zoning powers in Chapter 335.
Commissioner Rebecca Bush said she thought the amount of time the supervisors gave the commission to produce a report was short. She also said that the commission is in place to serve the county and the commissioners would prepare the report to the best of their ability.
“We need to try to protect the people of the county,” she said.
Commissioner Julie Mangold said that if zoning is rescinded, she will no longer be protected from what her neighbors might do to the neighbor’s property.
Mangold asked Taylor what some of the advantages of zoning are.
Taylor said that zoning addresses incompatible land uses. So, for example, zoning could prevent a landfill, an adult entertainment business or a fertilizer plant going up near a residence.
When Mangold asked him what some negative effects come with zoning, he said, “I don’t know.”
He then said that zoning began about 100 years ago in large urban areas. He said that zoning ordinances haven’t done a good job of adapting to rural areas. He thinks some of the regulations zoning opponents object to may come from this problem.
Stoops referred to some of these zoning regulations as “a bunch of stinking little rules.”
Kline said that some of those rules were in the supplemental regulation and that he didn’t think they were too severe.
Commissioner Randy Billips said P&Z should give a report that would retain zoning.
“I don’t think it matters what we tell them,” he said of the supervisors.
The meeting drew to a close when Kline asked if everyone was getting tired. He said he thought the meeting was good even though the discussion didn’t change anyone’s mind.
The commission is scheduled for another work session at 6 p.m. April 30 at the Washington Public Library. The board of supervisors meet at 9:30 a.m. every Tuesday morning in the county courthouse.