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Supervisors approve Comprehensive Plan

Rettig casts lone no vote

IOWA CITY– The job is finally done.
After 18 months of committee meetings, work sessions, public input meetings and other input, the Johnson County’s Board of Supervisors approved the county’s first-ever Comprehensive Plan on a 4-1 vote Thursday, May 17.
The plan, which encompasses a look at the future of nearly all aspects of life in Johnson County, has been controversial at times. Agricultural producers disputed what they saw as an environment hostile to farming due to the “40-acre rule,” which defines a farm in Johnson County as having at least 40 acres, and language discouraging Animal Feeding Operations. also known as Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Animal rights activists championed for inclusion of a moratorium on new confined operations in the county and supported a legislative push for local control over such facilities. Young farmers lobbied for removal of the 40-acre rule, telling the supervisors on numerous occasions of the impossibility of being able to purchase that much land. Some, such as “Farmer Kate,” Kate Edwards, have been successful on much smaller tracts with vegetable farms.
“I’m considered a farmer almost everywhere else but in Johnson County,” Kate (Edwards) told the board during public forums.
Another point of contention was land use for housing developments, particularly in what is known as the North Corridor Development Area (NCDA). A Future Land Use Map (FLUM), drawn up by the Johnson County Planning, Development and Sustainability (PDS) Department, with input from the supervisors, removed some land from the area in a bid to preserve it for farming while halting urban sprawl. The county’s Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission recommended restoring a significant portion of the NCDA citing demand for housing and a low Corn Suitability Rating (CSR) in the area which, while scenic, is not the most productive for row crops. Disagreement over the FLUM came to a head during a P&Z meeting with Chairman Mike Parker, who vented frustration over the process used to create the map, including a campaign flyer from Supervisor Mike Carberry, stating Carberry voted in favor of the reduced development area, when no formal vote occurred to that point in time.
Twenty-seven Johnson County residents addressed the supervisors during a May 10 public hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, Supervisor Janelle Rettig requested the hearing be continued on May 17, prior to the board’s vote with the option of postponing voting on the final draft of the plan to Thursday, May 24.
The board held a work session on Wednesday, May 16, with final changes determined and charged to PDS for incorporation into the final draft plan. Supervisor Rod Sullivan, by his rough math, noted the supervisors adopted 14 of P&Z’s recommendations and portions of three more.
“We agreed with them on most of the things,” Sullivan said. “But not everything.”
Supervisor Rettig stated due to a number of factors, she had not been able to read the full final draft.
“Between midnight and 6 a.m., I didn’t have time to read 125 pages,” Rettig said. “And I bet no one in the public has either.”
The final draft, as with the Jan. 29 draft, consists of two volumes. Volume One is the plan itself, incorporating the aforementioned changes, while Volume Two is an appendices. All documents are available on the county’s website, www.jocoplan.com or at www.johnson-county.com along with current and historic documents.
PDS Director Josh Busard assured the Supervisors the final draft was complete, minus perhaps some typographical errors. “As far as I know, we’ve (PDS staff) all gone through it, we feel we’ve made all of the changes that the board directed us to make.”
P&Z Commission member (and incoming Chair) Christine Rohret addressed the board, noting P&Z does not support residential development on prime agricultural land. Rohret was addressing the decision to restore portions of the NCDA.
“Instead it’s been in marginal areas,” she said.
Homebuilders in the NCDA, Rohret said, are often planting trees and bushes in their developments. “You can see they’ve improved the landscape, preventing a lot of the erosion.”
She added some agricultural plots in the area are not as beneficial to the environment as these developments are. Rohret clarified for Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass the area P&Z added to the FLUM was land with low CSR, slopes and other factors non-conducive to agriculture, but meeting the demands of developers with the aforementioned benefits.
A motion was made by Sullivan and seconded by Supervisor Kurt Friese to approve the plan as presented. Rettig noted the main body (Volume One) is 125 pages in length and was significantly revised the day before.
“Voting on it today is just like state government where you throw out a gigantic document, and you don’t give people the chance to review it,” she said. “I’ve read the plan multiple times, but there were significant revisions, and there just wasn’t adequate time to read them all. Not by my schedule.”
Rettig added she felt it was unfortunate the vote was being pushed through.
“We’re not under any timeline,” she said. “Adequate time for us and the public to read it should be a minimum expectation.”
Sullivan said all of the proposed changes have been out in the public domain for five weeks.

“I just am never going to vote on anything that I don’t get a chance to read, and I wasn’t given a chance to read this,” she responded.
Sullivan was unswayed. “It’s time the public deserves us to move forward. It’s time to move,” he said.
Green-Douglass agreed with Sullivan saying, “Five weeks is ample time, because you knew yesterday which ones were going in and which ones weren’t.”
“Just for the record,” she added, “we were all busy, I read it last night.”
“Process matters,” Rettig said, “And actually reading documents matters. We did not know the revisions until yesterday, and we weren’t given the document until almost five o’clock last night.”
“You can throw this out and pretend it’s somehow looking out for the public,” Sullivan said, “But as a matter of fact, what the public wants is action. The public doesn’t want more meetings and more discussion. It’s time to act.”
Friese and Carberry also called for taking action, with Friese noting getting the plan in place meant they could address multiple ordinances.
Carberry called the plan a visionary document and agreed with Friese. “It puts us in a direction, but we really need to change some of those ordinances that are holding us back in certain areas (local foods, definition of a farm, Ag tourism as examples). I have very red, bloodshot eyes this morning because I stayed up until three this morning looking at this stuff. It is time, I think, to take action.”
Sullivan, Carberry, Friese and Green-Douglas voted to approve the plan with Rettig voting against on a roll call vote.