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Planning Commission approves Sumner Township subdivision


Fri, Feb 28th, 2003
Posted in Features

The Fillmore County Planning Commission voted to recommend approval for the Bruce Bucknell subdivision in Sumner Township, sending the application on to the County Board for the final approval.

In a crowded room of interested citizens, Chairman Mike Tuohy conducted a public hearing on the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for the proposed subdivision of eight lots in section 25. All public testimony given was in opposition to the subdivision application.

The Bucknell subdivision, called Washington Country Estates, was originally submitted with 12 lots in 2002, but was rejected at the Board of Adjustment level when the owner applied for a variance to place the subdivision within 1,000 feet of a feedlot.

After the variance was disapproved, the owner modified the subdivision so that the current eight lots are now outside of the required 1,000-foot radius of the neighbor’s feedlot. However, two lots within that 1,000-foot radius remain on the plat as "out lots," or non-buildable lots that will remain such until the neighbor’s feedlot is moved to bring it in compliance with current state feedlot regulations.

During the public hearing, the owners of the neighboring feedlot, Penny and Randy Ness, testified against the subdivision application. Mr. Ness stated that he was concerned that the new neighbors would object to farming noises, smells and other activities. Ness was also concerned that the subdivision would now use all legally allowed building lots in the quarter-quarter section, prohibiting him from ever building another home on his farm.

Mr. Ness’s wife, Penny, also testified against the subdivision and presented the planning commission with a petition signed by 59 residents who are opposed to the subdivision and are requesting the county perform an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW), and possibly an Environmental Impact Statement.

Mrs. Ness was informed by Commissioner Duane Bakke that the request for the EAW and the petition would have to be submitted to the state Environmental Quality Board, and that it must be submitted before the Fillmore County Commissioners give final approval on the subdivision. The subdivision will be on the County Board’s agenda at their March 11 meeting.

Several other neighbors also testified against the subdivision application, citing potential impact on the quality of rural life, potential contamination of groundwater from septic systems, and the long response time for fire departments to a subdivision located 9 miles from town.

"Subdivisions belong where there is infrastructure to support them," stated neighboring property owner Ron Schmidt.

Neighbor Leonard Gehrking stated that he was concerned that runoff from the site would end up in his basement, as water from the site now drains onto his property.

Paul Ness of Spring Valley, who grew up on the neighboring Ness farm, read a letter from University of Minnesota’s geologist E. Calvin Alexander, Jr. that warned of the high susceptibility of groundwater contamination on the site due to the extreme Karst geology, disappearing streams, and sinkholes that are prevalent in the area.

To the comments, Bruce Bucknell responded that the new residents of the subdivision would have no right to complain about the agriculture activities in the area because their deeds will warn them they are moving into an agriculture district.

"You’re not going to have the right to go whine about it," he said in speaking of the people who will buy his lots if they try to complain about farming activities.

Mr. Bucknell also commented that he did not expect there would be any problems with his application now that the feedlot setback had been addressed in the newly revised subdivision plat. To the Calvin Alexander letter, Mr. Bucknell indicated that he could easily produce a letter from another expert that would state the subdivision site was suitable.

Despite the public comments and the 59-name petition in opposition to the subdivision, the planning commission’s newest member, Sumner Township Board Supervisor Keith Culver, made the motion to approve the subdivision. Chairman Tuohy was just about to declare the motion dead for lack of a second, when, after a brief pause, Commissioner Duane Bakke made the second.

When the vote was taken, only three of the six members who were present could be heard to vote, but Chairman Mike Tuohy announced approval of the motion, signifying his affirmative vote.

In other business

• The planning commission also approved a CUP renewal for John Ackerman to be allowed to conduct blasting in sinkholes at his Cave Farm in Spring Valley Township. The application generated some concerns from Spring Valley Township Clerk, Donna Cooper, who requested that county have Mr. Ackerman supply evidence of liability insurance and proof of easements.

• The commission also approved the rezoning of 4 acres from agriculture to commercial for Fred O’Conner. The property, located next to the ethanol plant on Highway 52 north of Preston, will be used for an auto parts store.

• During discussions on proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance, the commission approved a draft ordinance on Country Inns, scheduling a public hearing on the new amendment for April 10.

• Fillmore County Water Planning Coordinator, Donna Rasmussen, presented the commission with a map and draft ordinance for a Decorah Shale Overlay District. The commission held a discussion on the proposed District, but took no action.

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