Update: Johnson County Re-Zoning Application Goes Viral

by Eric Christianson

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 Thursday, September 14, 2017 to deny the rezoning of 63 acres from Agricultural to Agricultural Residential. The board’s primary reasoning was the potential impact of such a large rezoning in a rural part of the county and the impossibility of negotiating a conditional rezoning without approval of the current title-holder. The board encouraged another application after the applicant obtains full ownership of the property.

A video of the board meeting is available here, and read an updated Press Citizen article here.

The original post is below:

An Iowa City resident’s attempt to rezone 63 acres of rural Johnson County has attracted international attention. Grant Schultz manages a 143 acre farm he calls Versaland in northeastern Johnson County. He is seeking the zoning change to allow him to build rental cabins and worker housing in addition to other accessory uses. Staff recommended against the rezoning because of the potential impact of a large land use change in a rural part of the county and the infrastructural improvements that would be needed to support the potential new uses. On August 14 the planning and zoning commission voted 5-0 to recommend to the board of supervisors that the rezoning be denied.

In response on September 8, Schultz created a 25 minute video with the headline “Johnson County Assaults Local Foods“. The video has, as of today, been viewed over 80,000 times and received comments of support from all over the world.

Johnson County has since published a memo refuting many of the points made in the video.

Additionally, Paul Durrenberger and Suzan Erem, founders of the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, and owners of the property in question have published a blog post of their own entitled, “Grant Schultz: Facts to Consider”. They are opposed to the proposed rezoning.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors will vote on the rezoning request Thursday September 14, 2017.

For more information read the Press Citizen article about the fight.

Iowa Law Limiting Occupancy Restrictions to go into Effect January 1, 2018

By Eric Christianson

House File 134 was signed into law on April 21 by Gov. Branstad limiting the ability of cities to set occupancy restrictions based on familial relationships. This law has appeared several times in various forms over the past few years in the Iowa legislature. It was opposed by many larger cities along with the Iowa League of Cities. It was supported by the Iowa ACLU as well as the Landlords of Iowa.

The bill amends Iowa Code 414.1 subsection 1, adding the bolded text:

a. For the purpose of promoting the health, safety, morals, or the general welfare of the community or for the purpose of preserving historically significant areas of the community, any city is hereby empowered to regulate and restrict the height, number of stories, and size of buildings and other structures, the percentage of lot that may be occupied, the size of yards, courts, and other open spaces, the density of population, and the location and use of buildings, structures, and land for trade, industry, residence, or other purposes.

b. A city shall not, after January 1, 2018, adopt or enforce any regulation or restriction related to the occupancy of residential rental property that is based upon the existence of familial or non familial relationships between the occupants of such rental property.

This change will mostly impact college towns which were actively trying to limit the number of students moving into historically single-family neighborhoods.

See coverage of the bill’s passage in the Des Moines Register and the Ames Tribune and Little Village to read more about how some communities have responded.

You can find a copy of the bill as well as its history here.

 

 

North Dakota county fights for zoning control over oil and gas development

Dunn County will ask the North Dakota Supreme Court to uphold its authority to apply zoning to oil and gas development.

The county decided to appeal a district court judge’s decision that the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) has sole jurisdiction over an oil waste treatment facility in the county.

The dispute started in 2013, when Environmental Driven Solutions sued the county for denying zoning for storage tanks on property adjacent to the treatment facility. EDS said state law gives NDIC authority that preempts local zoning. In this case, the NDIC had issued a permit for the treatment plant.  The district court agreed, saying that state law gives the commission control over drilling, all operations for oil and gas production, and, since 2013, the disposal of saltwater and oilfield wastes.

The North Dakota Attorney General filed in support of EDS’s case.

The full story is here, courtesy of the Bismark Tribune.

ACLU of Nebraska urges Lexington City Council to grant CUP for Islamic Center

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska announced Tuesday that it sent a letter to the City of Lexington, urging the City to grant the Islamic Center of Lexington’s request for a conditional use zoning permit. The Center applied for the permit in 2015 so they could expand in their location at 401 N. Grant, but the Lexington City Council denied the request, stating that the expansion would harm the development of that area of downtown, as well as expressing concerns over parking. The Center, which has occupied a portion of the building in question for several years, actually expanded into the contested area in March 2015 without making a conditional use request.

The full story from the Lexington Exchange is here.

Bill allowing Wisconsin towns in Dane County to opt out of county zoning passes in State Assembly

The Wisconsin Assembly voted Tuesday, 62-35, to approve a bill that would allow Dane County towns to opt out of county zoning. Under current law, cities and villages control zoning development, while most towns share authority with the county, which has veto power.

Members of the Dane County Towns Association pushed for the changes, arguing they will offer more local autonomy to grow tax bases. But county, city and village officials lobbied heavily against it, arguing it would fragment decision-making and could erode the current balance of farmland and development in the county.

As written, the bill would only apply to Dane County.

The full story from the Capital Times is here.

Judge rules MN township must allow Islamic cemetery

A follow up to a story posted here in November: A Dakota County District Court Judge has ordered Castle Rock Township to issue a conditional use permit for an Islamic cemetery.

Agstar Financial Services submitted an application to the township in March 2014 for a proposed Islamic cemetery and funeral home on property it owned.  In June 2014, Castle Rock Township’s planning commission recommended the approval of the application without the plan to build a funeral home on the property; however, the Castle Rock Township board rejected the application in August 2014, expressing concerns of potential loss of a “lot of tax base” and that the property “would not be open to the public for burials.”

When Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association closed on the sale of the property with Agstar, it submitted its own conditional use permit to the township on Nov. 17, 2014, and agreed not to build a funeral home on the property, but three days later, the board of Castle Rock Township denied Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association’s application.

The Dakota County District Court Judge wrote that he wrote that Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association “is entitled to free use of its property, subject to reasonable zoning restrictions….That right was denied to them by the arbitrary decision of the Castle Rock Township Board of Supervisors, which was later framed as a concern over the loss of tax base.”

The full Minnesota Public Radio article is here

Marquette, IA mayor and council member resign over zoning dispute

A man in Marquette has been living in a mobile home on his property while constructing a brand new house on the same property.  But it’s illegal, according to city ordinance, to have a mobile home on that property, because it isn’t properly zoned for it.  After refusing to issue a variance, the city was taken to court, where a magistrate judge ruled the city must issue the variance.

Although the Mayor received legal advice that the city would most likely win if they appealed the decision, Marquette’s City Council voted 3-1 to not pursue any more legal action.  That didn’t sit will with the Mayor, a City Council Member or a member of the city’s board of adjustment, all of whom resigned last week.

Full story here courtesy of KWWL.com

Wishing you all a Happy Zombie Christmas

A “zombie nativity” that spurred complaints and zoning violation notices last year is on display again in a suburban Cincinnati, Ohio yard, with a change to avoid fines.  The change?  The owner has removed its roof.  (“The stars in the sky look down where the zombies lay….”)  The Sycamore Township zoning administrator said the issue was always about the structure and zoning rules, not the zombie figures.

Happy holidays to all – walkers and humans alike – from the BLUZ.

News from around Minnesota: Islamic group alleges RLUIPA violation in denial of conditional use permit for cemetery

Castle Rock Township, in Dakota County Minnesota (a portion of St. Paul, and south) rejected an application submitted by the original property owner, and a subsequent owner, for a proposed Islamic cemetery to be located in the Township. The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) has asked the US Department of Justice to investigate whether the township acted with an anti-Muslim bias in rejecting the application; specifically, whether the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) was violated when the Castle Rock Township Board rejected the application for a conditional use permit after the Planning Commission had recommended that the board approve it. At the time the application was filed cemeteries were allowed as conditional uses in the zoning district where the land is located. After the denial, however, the Castle Rock Township Board changed the zoning ordinance so that cemeteries were no longer a permissible use in that district.  More on the story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune here.

News from around Minnesota: St. Cloud MN rezones land for solar garden

The St. Cloud City Council recently voted to rezone land to create a place for a solar garden.  Solar gardens are essentially tracts of land on which solar panels are built. The panels are then connected to the power grid. Garden “subscribers” buy into the project and receive a credit on their electric bill.

Minnesota passed a law in 2013 that requires utilities to get at least 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar by 2020.  The law has put Minnesota on the front lines of solar garden development nationwide.

A good article on solar gardens and the zoning issues associated with them is here.

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