Solar debate heats up in Linn County

The Linn County Board of Supervisors voted in a moratorium on accepting rezoning applications for the county’s Renewable Energy Overlay District to allow planning staff to study the ordinance in light of recent applications. The moratorium is in place initially for three months, but can be extended to a maximum of twelve months.

On a related note, residents near two utility-scale solar projects are suing the Linn County supervisors, challenging the supervisors’ zoning decision that will allow construction of the facilities. The residents argue that the rezonings under the Renewable Energy Overlay District constitute spot zoning.

What is spot zoning? Well, since you asked you can click on the drop down “Categories” menu to the right and find cases from Iowa and beyond that address spot zoning.

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.



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

Des Moines IA Water Works votes to sue 3 counties over nitrate levels in Raccoon River

On Thursday the Des Moines Water Works board moved forward with its plans to sue the supervisors in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties over the nitrate levels in the North Raccoon River.  The lawsuit targets several drainage districts that are managed by the three counties. Weekly samples taken from the river in Sac County since March have shown high concentrations of nitrates, which have triggered costly treatment operations downstream at the Des Moines Water Works facility.  Nitrates occur naturally in the soil, but can spike in water when manure and other fertilizers drain into waterways. The Water Works has been running its denitrification facility since early December to reduce the nitrate levels to EPA-permissible levels, at a cost of $4,000 per day.

The lawsuit would be filed in federal court under the U.S. Clean Water Act, which grants regulatory exemptions to nonpoint source discharges, including field tile systems on individual farms.  Water Works officials contend that organized drainage districts shouldn’t be exempt from regulations.  This case could have far-reaching implications for the control of nonpoint source pollutants from agricultural lands.

The full Des Moines Register story is here.

News from around Iowa: Iowa City school district raises concerns about current zoning policies

From the Iowa City Press-Citizen (full article found here):  Grappling with how to address high concentrations of low-income students in some schools, the Iowa City Community School District is calling on cities to change their approach to housing and zoning.

The district is asking local governments to adopt inclusionary zoning policies — requiring that a certain percentage of new residential developments be set aside for affordable housing. District officials also are asking cities to re-invest in areas of “socio-economic isolation” and place restrictions on rental units and rental density.

“While we are cognizant of the fact that it is not within the scope of the District’s duties to instruct municipalities on housing patterns and zoning regulations, we do know that these decisions have a direct impact on our educational system,” Superintendent Steve Murley and School Board President Chris Lynch wrote in a letter to local mayors and the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.

The issue will be discussed at a meeting this afternoon (Monday) between school district and city officials.

News from around Iowa: More MidAmerican Energy wind investments

To conclude what I’ve come to think of as “wind week” here at the BLUZ, here is a story of MidAmerican Energy’s latest western Iowa project.  The Iowa-based utility company will add 67 wind turbines at two western Iowa locations:  64 in Adams County in southwest Iowa, and three in O’Brien County northwest Iowa.  The turbines have the potential to generate 162 megawatts of energy, enough to power 48,000 homes.

More than 27 percent of Iowa’s energy comes from wind, the highest state percentage in the nation. Iowa also has the seventh-best wind resource, or potential for wind energy generation, in the U.S. (in other words, the wind blows a lot here).  Wind energy production in Iowa has received little of the resistance experienced in other locations around the country.  The western Iowa counties where the wind farms are locating – in addition to being the windiest parts of the state – are also some of the most sparsely populated.  Few of the rural residents are non-agland holders, meaning that the landowners affected by the turbines are also the people that gain the most financially from the industry’s growth.

The Des Moines Register article is here.  It includes a good summary of the investments in the wind industry in Iowa.

News from around Iowa: Pella amends zoning to allow outdoor seating downtown

The Pella city council approved a zoning amendment that will allow outdoor seating for downtown Pella businesses.  The amendment puts in place an application process. Tables and chairs would be permitted in the Pella Central Business District from April 1 –October 31. Furniture would have to be removed during Tulip Time.  All outdoor seating areas would have to leave at least 5 feet of unobstructed pedestrian space on the public sidewalk.

A more detailed summary of the amendment can be found here.


News from around Iowa: Mayor of Davenport vetoes St. Ambrose athletic complex

An update on the post found here.  Mayor Bill Gluba vetoed the rezoning request by St. Ambrose University for a 2,500-seat stadium and sports complex.  The request won the Davenport Plan and Zoning Commission’s approval on a 7-3 vote, and the approval of the Davenport City Council by a 6-4 vote.  “My decision will be criticized by some,” said the Mayor, “but I believe as Mayor I must put neighborhoods ahead of private corporations.”  Neighbors opposing the sports complex are happy, St. Ambrose is not.  Read the article from here.

On the same night the Mayor vetoed a development agreement for “The Dock,” a three-story restaurant, retail and office complex on the riverfront.  This agreement was approved unanimously – 10 to 0 -by the council, but the Mayor expressed concern that “The agreements hand over too much control to the developer at the expense of the public.”

It takes a two-thirds vote to override a mayoral veto in Davenport.  More news to come.

News from around Iowa: St. Ambrose U. athletic complex given green light by Davenport planning and zoning commission

St. Ambrose University’s proposed sports complex – which includes a 2,500-seat football stadium, softball venue, other athletic fields and 410-space parking lot – won the Davenport Plan and Zoning Commission’s approval on a 7-3 vote. It goes to the Davenport City Council in June for further consideration.  Neighbors and opponents to the plan said they’re concerned about traffic and sewer issues that may come with the complex’s construction. The St. Ambrose vice president of finance says the university is willing to work with residents on their concerns.

The Quad City Times article can be found here. An article and video clip from KWQC is here.





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