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Zoning amendments still plague planning commission

Fri, Oct 25th, 2002
Posted in Features

The Fillmore County Planning Commission just barely mustered a quorum at its last meeting on October 17, but that was better than the Board of Adjustment was able to do at their meeting scheduled right before the planning commission meeting. Items on the Board of Adjustment agenda, a board that is a sub-group of the planning commission, had to be postponed for lack of a quorum.

Following the approval of the Mervin Moen quarry and Ed Bunne sand pit, the commission began discussions on amendments to the zoning ordinance regarding abandoned mobile homes, building on prime agriculture soils, rock quarry blasting, and bed and breakfast establishments.

Abandoned mobile homes

On the mobile home issue, the commission has been trying to come up with a policy on how to deal with mobile homes that are no longer used for habitation. Recent discussions at other meetings questioned whether it is right to prohibit landowners from using old mobile homes for farm buildings.

During previous discussions in August, the commission asked the Zoning Administrator, Norm Craig, to come up with some new language in the amendment. Mr. Craigs response was to create language that defined an abandoned mobile home as a mobile home that is in such a state of disrepair so as not to be usable for any meaningful purpose.

County Commissioner Duane Bakke, who sits on the planning commission, wanted to add the language "as determined by the zoning administrator."

In seeking more input from those present, planning commission chairman, Mike Tuohy, asked the county attorneys, Matt Opat and Eric Herendeen, what they thought the language should say.

"Im not in favor of this," stated Mr. Opat, acknowledging that he did not favor an amendment that would allow mobile homes to be used for anything but a permanent residence.

Mr. Herendeen questioned why the language, "meaningful purpose." He stated that he thought the language should deal with habitation of the mobile home.

Further discussion brought no resolution to the matter, but it was generally agreed that a definition for abandoned mobile homes might be based on whether the assessors office is taxing the mobile home. It was decided to check with the county assessors office to determine how such mobile homes are taxed.

Mr. Bakke recommended that if the assessor is taxing the building, then it be considered in use. "Assessed, or out," commented Bakke.

Restricting building

on prime soils

This is an issue that has plagued the planning commission ever since the county board passed the new ordinance in May. It appears that few people are happy with the rule that restricts homes from being built on soils that have a crop equivalency rating (CER) of 65 or greater.

Each time the planning commission takes up the issue, Mr. Craig has a new example of someone who wants to build on the prime soils but is restricted. The latest example, according to Mr. Craig, is someone who wants to build on soils mapped as greater than CER 65, but the land is covered with trees.

"Trees may be a crop, too," mentioned Chairman Tuohy. "Maybe (we should) say, annual crops."

On this issue, Mr. Craig offered the commission a range of ideas based on different exemptions to the rule, all of which included exemptions for "current building sites." Several of the options also included building sites that were up to 50 years old.

This led to further discussion on what exactly is a building site. Does it have a well? Does it have buildings? Does it have evidence that someone once lived there?

All seemed to agree that if it has existing buildings, then it is a building site. However, since there is no restriction on building farm structures on the prime soils, one could build farm buildings first, claim an existing building site, then get a permit for a home.

"You can build a hog house (on prime soils), but you cant put up a home," explained a frustrated Mr. Tuohy.

"To build a hog house, you need deep soils," clarified Mr. Bakke. "A hog house is an ag-related thingits the ultimate recycling," stated Bakke in reference to the hog manure being applied to the adjacent prime agricultural soils.

"You could put the restriction in the performance standards (of the zoning ordinance) and give them a variance," offered Mr. Craig.

At this point, Mr. Opat offered a compromise on the issueallow homes to be built on the prime soils, but only near the roads, with perhaps a maximum setback of 300 feet from the road to deter builders from cutting swaths across tillable fields to make driveways for homes located a great distance from the road.

This idea seemed to generate support and will be the topic of further discussions.

On quarry blasting notification

The planners revisited this issue at the request of County Commissioner Helen Bicknese, who was not satisfied that the planning commission was willing to put the burden of requesting blasting notification on landowners who live within a mile of a quarry.

Quarry operators had recently protested the planning commissions mandate that quarry operators notify all neighbors within one mile of a blasting event, three days in advance. At the request of the operators, the planning commission had changed the requirement to allow the quarry operators to only notify those who have requested notification.

While most of the planning commission members favored the quarry operators argument, a compromise was drafted to require all those neighbors within a 1000-foot radius of the quarry be notified, and all those from 1000-feet to one-half mile must request notification.

This change will go to the county board for approval.

On Bed and Breakfasts

The issue of what to do with Bed and Breakfast (B & B) establishments who desire to offer a broader array of services was back on the table, again.

The source of this issue has been Berwood Hill Inn, near Preston. The Inn has operated under a B & B permit, but has also offered services for meetings, conferences, weddings and other private functions.

The Fillmore County Zoning Ordinance no longer permits resorts in the Agriculture District, so as to avoid what is known as "spot commercial zoning." However, offering the type of services that Berwood Hill has offered is beyond the scope of the B & B permit.

During discussion, County Commissioner Bakke offered that the planning commission could look into the creation of a "Country Inn" designation that would allow specific services such as weddings and private parties, but not public functions where people pay admission.

Chairman Tuohy thought Mr. Bakkes idea worthy of further discussion, and stated that the planning commission could "stir it around" for a while, since a resolution would not have to be found before next years tourist season.

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