County mulls clustering homes, hogs

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

A 'good neighbor' policy

The Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors Tuesday discussed who should live where - people and animals alike - as a way of grappling with the ongoing conflict between rural residential development and animal confinements.

As it turns out, the Board may have something to say about rural subdivisions. As far as livestock confinements are concerned, though, the county's hands may remain tied.

The Iowa Supreme Court several years ago ruled that counties cannot make their own policies governing livestock confinements. That jurisdiction has fallen upon the Iowa Department of Natural Resources which allows counties to evaluate livestock confinements of 1,000 animal units according to a 44-point checklist. A cow comprises one animal unit while a hog is .4 animal unit and a turkey is .018 animal unit.

The breakdown according to the type of animal is based on full-grown livestock. Younger animals comprise more animal units to reach the levels where livestock producers must undergo a matrix evaluation.

At a smaller level of production, operations of 500 animal units go through a public hearing on a manure management plan. The public hearing is intended to allow any interested parties to weigh in for or against a proposed livestock feeding operation.

While the county has no authority to turn down a manure management plan based upon neighbor comments alone, there are such aspects as road setbacks and distances from residences that apply to both manure management plans and larger operations assessed under the matrix.

Feeder operations of fewer than 500 animal units have no setback requirements from a residence. Those falling under Manure Management Plan guidelines, or 500 to 999 animal units, have a minimum setback of 1,250 feet from a residence. Those with 1,000 or more animal units, and falling under the matrix evaluation, must have a setback of 1,875 feet.

Setback requirements are one of the few criteria over which the county has control as far as county control of livestock feeder operations is concerned. Setbacks are set by the DNR with the county purview as merely a pass-through assessment with the DNR having ultimate authority.

While there may be rules for where confinements are located, and those basically set by the state, Buena Vista County is currently grappling with where rural subdivisions should occur. The county is just starting to redraft its Comprehensive Plan with guidance of a Wahoo, Neb., company that will hold a series of public meetings to gather information to determine the pattern for future county growth. The county received a $60,000 grant and $20,000 loan to help in developing the plan, with communities throughout Buena Vista County contributing financially toward the plan.

Current county zoning sets a minimum of 25 acres for a rural residential development. However, the county Board of Supervisors has granted permission for much smaller developments, even recently subdividing one existing three-acre lot into two parcels.

"First of all, we don't have anything to say about livestock," Supervisor Jim Gustafson said Tuesday, expressing a common concern among board members.

"Or houses," reflected Board Chair Lorna Burnside, stating the Board's equal frustration with the current limbo status of rural subdivision requests that crop up between versions of the county Comprehensive Plan.

"Well we do but we haven't been enforcing it very well," Gustafson said of the 25-acre rural subdivision cap.

Burnside noted one subdivision developing northeast of Storm Lake.

"It happens without us," Burnside said. "It sort of happened out there." She asked how a county Comprehensive Plan might address such future developments.

County Environmental Health and Zoning Director Kim Johnson said a new Comprehensive Plan will include public comment that will determine the nature of rural subdivisions.

"If I was going to build out in the country I would want to build on my own land," said Burnside, who currently lives in Storm Lake but lived in rural Buena Vista County for many years.

Supervisor Herb Crampton asked whether an acre requirement for rural residences will be addressed in the new Comprehensive Plan.

"Whatever the public says they want will come up on the Comprehensive Plan," Johnson said.

As far as confinements are concerned, said Johnson, "We have no authority to keep animal units out."

"We can ask as a good neighbor policy to do something," said Gustafson. "We've got to have somebody out there," Gustafson said of rural residents. "We can't abandon the entire countryside."

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