Clay law may zone farmland for housing
Clay County officials tweaked proposed changes in county zoning law Tuesday to allow housing projects up to 16 lots on farmland. The revisions crafted at a Tuesday morning county board meeting would allow subdivisions of up to eight lots on prime...
Clay County officials tweaked proposed changes in county zoning law Tuesday to allow housing projects up to 16 lots on farmland.
The revisions crafted at a Tuesday morning county board meeting would allow subdivisions of up to eight lots on prime farmland and 16 lots on marginal or wooded agricultural land.
Developers also could build projects up to 16 lots on prime farmland if the county board approves a conditional use permit to do so.
"What I'm trying to do is make things as reasonable as possible for developers to develop in the county," said Commissioner Mike McCarthy. "Otherwise, we're going to be deviating from it time and time again."
Tuesday night, county board members discussed the changes - as well as other proposed revisions to county zoning law - in a joint meeting with the Planning Commission.
The two boards have been of two minds on rural housing. Four straight subdivisions, three on farmland, have been recommended for denial by the Planning Commission before receiving initial county board approval.
Ben Brunsvold, chairman of the county board, said he hoped the zoning revisions would help ease the tension between the two boards.
"We've got to find a way to avoid these hog wrassles," he said.
Commissioner Jon Evert, who represents the county board on the Planning Commission, said the County Commission's string of overturning the planning board's recommendations has frustrated some.
"They really feel like they have no function," he said.
The reaction from planning commissioners after the joint meeting was split.
Gary Kuck said he hopes the revisions proposed Tuesday give the Planning Commission better direction.
"We have a guide now. That's what we needed," he said.
Andrea Koczur, a planning board member who has supported the county board's decisions, said she also thinks the suggested zoning changes would make the consideration of housing projects clearer.
"Personal feelings have come into it more than they should sometimes," she said.
Other planning commissioners were less enthused with the proposal.
Two planning board members, Evelyn Leach and Carol Schoff, said they oppose allowing subdivisions on prime farmland because they fear too much agricultural land will be lost.
"Once you've constructed houses on it, you can't convert it back," Schoff said.
Now, the county permits four nonfarm houses per 160-acre quarter section in agricultural preservation districts, though subdivisions are allowed on marginal land.
"That's enough," Leach said.
Under the proposed revisions, the distinction between nonfarm homes and farmsteads would be dropped.
Density would still be limited to four homes per quarter section, but subdivisions of up to eight lots - with a maximum lot size of two acres - would be allowed if the lots are clustered.
If the land is deemed marginal, subdivisions of up to 16 lots would be allowed with no restriction on lot size. Even if property is productive farmland, the county board could approve a conditional use permit to allow a project of up to 16 lots.
Schoff said she is not comfortable with the county board having that capability. Right now, the Planning Commission has final say on all conditional use permits.
County Commissioner Kevin Campbell said the county board should consider those requests because they are responsible for final approval of subdivision plats.
"That's where the buck stops," he said.
The county has been studying possible changes to its zoning law since last fall. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed revisions next month, making a recommendation to the county board, which has the final say.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535