JOHNSON COUNTY– It’s just a guideline, really.
However, proposed changes to the North Corridor portion of the Johnson County Land Use Plan could impact a significant number of rural property owners, if they wish to develop land in the future.
Johnson County first created the Johnson County Land Use Plan for the North Corridor in 1996 to use as a guide for rezoning requests and growth-related policy decisions, a plan that was revised over the years to eventually include a 2-phased concept of development, adopted in 2003, introduced to help define the North Corridor’s boundaries and designate land prime for infill development.
When a board-appointed committee updated the county’s Land Use Plan in May, 2008, it recommended the Board of Supervisors re-evaluate the 2-phased plan.
In response, Johnson County Planning & Zoning (P&Z) Department officials were directed to look closely at the corridor’s current plan; at least three members of the board hoped to reduce the amount of area targeted for residential development in the corridor.
This past Monday, Jan. 12, department officials were to recommend to the Johnson County P&Z Commission an amendment that reduces phase II of the plan from 19,333 total acres designated as potential residential growth areas to just 1,523 acres. Much of the impacted area includes land between Highway 1 and Sugar Bottom and Newport roads, and land near the city of Swisher.
Johnson County Supervisor Larry Meyers, who lives in the impacted area, said he feels the original phases were too large to effect orderly growth.
“When you open up a large area like that, instead of on-the-edges growth near cities where they can extend services like water, sewer or road infrastructure to new construction areas, there is no direction as to where it stops.”
That puts stresses on the land, neighboring farm operations, the roads and taxpayers’ budgets, he reasoned.
“If anybody can file an application and build, you potentially have thousands of homes with no community services, all on private wells and private septic systems and putting pressure on road infrastructure. It can create problems that have to be addressed, with the cost being borne by the county as opposed to developers.”
If the Supervisors accept the commission’s recommendations, rezoning of agricultural property outside those 1,500+ acres will not likely be supported.
This concerns Supervisor Pat Harney.
“If people know they can’t develop land in the future, it devalues it, up to a point,” Harney said.
Harney, who also owns property in the affected area, emphasized he has no intention of developing his land, but he is not comfortable with the impact the scaled-back version of the plan will have on others.
“I think it says to property owners, ‘You are not good stewards of the land, so we are going to take control and tell you what you can do with it.’ I think we are imposing government restrictions when we don’t really have a reason to do so. Each rezoning request should be considered on its own merit,” said Harney.
Supervisor Rod Sullivan pointed out the reduction does not change the board’s procedures for considering each rezoning request individually, but the Land Use Plan serves to inform the board’s decisions on each application. The changes won’t make everyone happy, he acknowledged.
“There is simply no way to please everyone, so you try lay out guidelines, and apply them uniformly so you have something you can point to,” said Sullivan.
Assistant Planning and Zoning Director R.J. Moore pointed out that current zoning will not be changed, even if the supervisors approve the amendment.
“If you have ground already zoned for residential development, the new map does not change your rights to develop,” he said.
Since the proposed amount of acreage in the second phase of development is so small, P&Z officials will suggest eliminating the “phasing” concept all together.
“It will help us define the growth areas even better,” explained Moore, though phasing has been an effective tool in directing development over the last 10 years.
“Our position is that the phasing was working,” he said. “We saw an increase in infill development after 1998, and we weren’t rezoning in phase II. We were able to keep development concentrated to ensure our ability to service those areas.”
Harney also feels the current plan has been effective for the short amount of time it has been in place, and there are other county policies to keep rural development in check, such as traffic count regulations, farmstead split ordinances and wetland restrictions. He is concerned the new revisions would overly restrict development when it is needed most.
“In these economic times, we would be shutting off additional growth when we need the tax base to support county services,” Harney said.
According to a document prepared by the P&Z department, even though the total growth area is reduced to resemble the mass zoning areas of the 1960s, there is still enough acreage included in the proposal– as indicated by building trends of the last decade– to support growth in the North Corridor area for the next 73 years.
When the amended plan returns to the supervisors for public hearing and approval, likely in February, Meyers said he will support it.
“I have always felt the 1960 mass rezoning of over 15,000 acres was a mistake in its proportions,” he said. “Once you rezone ground like that, you can’t get that zoning back. When our Land Use Plan says we are supposed to preserve agricultural ground, mass rezoning works against that. Back then, land use considerations were different, and it left our lands open to a lot of repercussions they didn’t foresee in 1960.”
And Sullivan said everyone should care about that. He wishes people would become involved in land use decision-making before it hits a crisis point, and before it visits their own back yards.
“People are really passionate about where they live. The County (Board of Supervisors), by what we do or don’t do, directly impact those places where people live,” said Sullivan. “We need to have a plan that reflects what people want, and what makes sense in terms of growth.”