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Questions asked, changes requested

P&Z gives input on county comprehensive plan
Mike Parker, the Chairman of the Johnson County Planning and Zoning Commission, expresses his outrage over a statement by Supervisor Mike Carberry in a campaign letter, and questioned the process undertaken to create the proposed comprehensive plan during a work session Thursday, April 5. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

IOWA CITY– They’ve had their say. The Johnson County Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) reviewed the final draft of a proposed comprehensive plan for the county during a Thursday, April 5, work session. The five-member commission requested several changes, which were dutifully noted by Planning, Development and Sustainability (PDS) staff. P&Z gave the plan one final review, with its changes in place, during a regular meeting on Monday, April 9, and approved the plan on a 5-0 vote, sending it to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors for adoption.


Work on the document, the first of its kind for Johnson County, began in November of 2016 with the forming of a Comprehensive Planning Committee (CPC). “Envision Meetings” were held between February and March of 2017 as was a public input survey. Several focus group sessions, based on topic areas (housing, agriculture, economic development, sustainability, local foods) were held during that same time frame. Also, five public input sessions were held around the county to solicit comments.
The CPC met at least six times between November 2016 and November 2017. Likewise the board of supervisors devoted several meetings to the plan through specific work sessions and hosted a listening post in October, that at times was more of a debate for and against Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in Johnson County.
A public comment period was opened for what was described as the “90 percent” draft from Nov. 28 through Dec. 15, 2017, with a public open house scheduled for Dec. 5, 2017.
P&Z held a public hearing on the final draft of the comprehensive plan appendices on Feb. 12 and Feb. 28. Additional public comment was received for the Feb. 28 meeting, prompting the commission to postpone making a recommendation and leading to the April 5 work session and the April 9 agenda item to approve the plan with changes stemming from discussion with PDS staff. Upon receiving the plan from P&Z, the supervisors are under no obligation to act upon their recommendations and are able to make changes of their own without having to resubmit the revised plan to the P&Z.
The supervisors will hold public hearings before their final approval of the document.

Questions and concerns about the process

Mike Parker, Chairman of the P&Z Commission, asked PDS Director Josh Busard about the removal of the North Corridor Development Area (NCDA) by the board of supervisors from the land use map, and relayed concerns from the public about how the change came to be.
“Someone had to decide, ‘Not this, not these acres (for development), this is OK, not that,’ and made that change,” Parker said. “You (Busard) said that the board of supervisors had come in and talked with you about that, which, as you can probably guess, the desire for every time the board of supervisors talks to anyone, for it to be in the public.”
Parker expressed concerns about Busard allegedly meeting with individual supervisors and making changes to the land use map in that format rather than in public meetings.
Busard rejected those concerns.
“I absolutely did not do that. Staff did not do that,” Busard said. “We sat down individually with each supervisor, said, ‘Here’s your maps, and then we brought back the results to the full board meeting. So I need to squash that right now. There was no violation of state code.”
Parker reiterated he was merely passing on concerns brought to him from the public.
“There are many people,” Parker said, “that are very curious of how we went about having what was in before, and it’s out now.” Parker said he could not find anything from anybody indicating a desire to remove the NCDA and added it was reasonable for the public to be curious how changes were made between the 2008 Land Use Plan and the proposed 2018 plan.
“We have a criteria that we use when we look at parcels,” Busard answered. “If you have changes, what do you want to change, Mike? I feel you’re talking about the process, which really has no bearing, so just tell us what you want to change and we’ll send those recommendations in to the board.” Busard added the criteria includes the goals of the comprehensive plan, existing infrastructure, existing zoning designations, existing development patterns, the potential for future connectivity and infill, and proximity to services and employment areas.
Parker said the commission could make a number of changes and approve recommendation to the board, only to have the board undo them.
“So there’s nothing we can do to eliminate that,” Parker said. “But, it does bother me.”
“This commission is giving a recommendation,” Busard said. “The supervisors can consider any or all of what comes in that recommendation.”
P&Z member Christine Rohret said the process for crafting the plan was not helpful. “We should have been at the table, in some way, instead of going back now and looking word-for-word, or what we should be changing. Instead it should have been bigger policy issues, or vision, that we should be talking about, in my mind.”
P&Z member Terry Dahms agreed. “What has happened here, we went from a land use plan to a comprehensive plan. And that’s why we’re dealing with all these things. One the one hand, yes, this is important. But when an application comes before us, what we’re going to compare that application against is the land use part. The rest of this, there’s a lot of nonsense in here. I really don’t know how you execute some of these things. It’s going to be difficult. I would rather just focus on the land use part of it. And there’s some serious issues there.”
Parker reiterated public perceptions the supervisors determined the content and noted the plan was drafted without P&Z’s input. “It’s not like they’re getting any information from us,” he said. “We weren’t there at the decision making of anything that was typed into these 281 pages. We had not one word to say about the 281 pages. Not one single paragraph, did my input determine what was in there, so the process, there is a question about the process, for sure.”

Reinstatement of NCDA

Parker asked if the supervisors voted to eliminate the NCDA, to which Busard replied, “They haven’t voted on anything yet, Mike.”
“I kinda thought that,” Parker said. “I received a mailing from the chairman of the board of supervisors (Mike Carberry), and it simply says, ‘My vote to eliminate the North Corridor Development Area was key to stopping urban sprawl.’ There are people that got that, that are wondering what that meant.”
Busard stated he could not speak for Carberry, but stressed, “Nothing has been decided or voted on officially yet. We’ve had work sessions, but this plan is still a draft plan.”
“The North Corridor Development Area has been there for 40 years. And it’s been in the last two land use plans for 20 years,” Dahms stated. “Now all of a sudden, some big circles are drawn that take a lot of it out. We’ve asked for the justification for that, and we haven’t heard any valid justification. We don’t even know where that (the proposed land use map) came from.”
Busard asked if Dahms was asking for the NCDA to be reinstated on the map. “It’s just that simple,” Busard said.
“Yes,” Dahms answered. Parker also agreed to recommend going back to the current land use map.
Rohret asked what input the Comprehensive Plan Committee had on the map.
Busard said roughly one-third wanted to make the NCDA smaller, one-third wanted the status quo and one-third called for expansion. “It was very varied, there was no consensus,” Busard said.
The proposed map, he said, was based on feedback from the CPC, the public (during open houses), input from the supervisors, input from a consultant and PDS staff. “That’s why this is a draft, nothing’s final, it has not been voted on,” Busard noted. “If this commission feels there should be changes, we will mark down what those changes are and carry them forward to the board.”
Busard offered two options for leaving the North Corridor Development Area, one simply reinstating the boundaries and leaving the area strictly for residential development, and the other reinstating the boundaries and designating portions for agricultural, residential and conservation.
Dahms pointed out the NCDA is ideal for residential development as much of it is poor for farming with low Corn Suitability Rating (CSR). “And it protects, like we’re talking about, the rest of the county from development.”
Another lengthy discussion ensued as the commission and PDS staff worked to define areas within the NCDA. PDS Assistant Planner Mitch Brouse promised the commission members he would have a revised map including the NCDA for their review at the Monday, April 9, meeting.

Assuming Risks and Personal Choice

Commission members struck language from a matrix for Future Land Use Development Guidelines requiring rural subdivisions to have access to “adequate” sheriff, fire department and emergency medical services protection.
The recommendation proposed by Swenka with support from Dahms centered around potential new residents in rural areas being made well aware of the increased response times and potential for disaster in the event of a structure fire or life-threatening medical emergency rather than having their choice of where to live restricted.
Busard cited the example of a volunteer fire department stating they would not be able to provide fire protection to a particular location as possible grounds for denial of a building permit or locating a new development.
Swenka took exception, pointing out the double standard of an existing farmhouse close by, and the county saying it is OK for it to be there, but not for somebody else to build a new house. She added instead of only checking the response capability of the first-due fire department the county should also contact neighboring fire departments, which may actually be closer and able to provide a faster response. Swenka and her family experienced a devastating fire eight years ago, which required units from 11 fire departments to battle.
“We all know that if we call for an ambulance, that it may be delayed,” Swenka said. “But that’s the choice we make as citizens in a free country, to live in that area. We’re making that decision for ourselves and for our family. And I think you’re taking that choice away from people.”
Busard suggested changing the criteria to “suggested” rather than “required.”
“Anybody moving into the county needs to understand that they accept the possibility that if there’s a fire, they’re gonna lose their residence. And, there’s nothing that can be done about it,” Dahms, a resident of Newport Township, said. “Nothing.”
Dahms added this discussion had come up previously in regards to cul-de-sacs and the challenge of getting fire apparatus down a long lane into one. “That’s irrelevant,” he said. “It’s not the last 1,000 feet, it’s the first 10 miles.” He said he opposed making “adequate access” a requirement as it becomes a justification to stop an application. “And that’s not right.”
With the Commission’s approval, the plan goes to the board of supervisors. Busard said PDS staff would present the recommended plan to the supervisors, followed by a public hearing and a final version capable of receiving at least three supervisors’ votes at which time the plan will be formally adopted.