County leaning toward smaller acreage for housing

During a two-hour work session set aside at the Feb. 28, Marion County Commission payday meeting, Commissioners appeared to favor a shift to smaller acreages to encourage more rural residential development in the Marion County Comprehensive Plan.

The comprehensive plan, as approved in the past by the planning and zoning board, limited building permits for rural residential development to 40 acres or more.

Special consideration is given for breaking 10 acres out of an existing farmstead or allowing 10-acre plots along hard-surface roads or by special permission.

The plan’s philosophy is to preserve the agriculture and open spaces of the county.

Rather than rubber-stamping their appointed board’s planning, commissioners have chosen to review the plan over time. They have made statements to the effect that they want to see more people in the countryside rather than a county landscape totally dominated by a larger agriculture and centralized towns.

Commissioners have shown some leaning toward the plan favored by David Brazil, county zoning director, that would allow building housing on more five-acre plots with a housing density of no more than one per 40 acres both for sanitation and preserving open country.

Among members of the public participating, Charles Kannady, Marion real estate agent, said he agreed with the plan’s purpose in attempting to preserve agricultural land for production of food and raw materials.

But, he said, most of that production is on the best bottom lands, cultivated upland or best pastures, and buyers of small acreages typically like the productively marginal lands such as a rocky hill with trees.

Kannady contended the county could increase its tax base following this desire with a new home on as little as two acres formerly considered “waste land” bringing in as much tax money as an entire section of agricultural land.

Kannady said he hears planners talking in terms of 10 to 20 acres for a house while in his experience most non-farming rural residents don’t actually want to take care of more than two acres.

What they really want, he said, is space around them, “they don’t want to set next to each other,” although he thought there was room for more small-plot rural developments next to each other where there are water lines and provision for sewage.

Kannady said the commission needs to take actions that will promote population growth.

“The population in Marion County has been around 13,000, but it’s declining.”

Kannady criticized some of the development philosophy represented by members of the planning board, saying they seem to want to stop future growth and development.

“Some people on the board don’t want to own all the land, but they want to control it all,” he said.

Commission Chairman Howard Collett replied that some of Kannady’s concerns represent why the commission wanted to review the recommendations for a county plan made to it by the planning committee Nov. 8.

Collett said that in the plan being considered, a rural residential owner may have an agricultural disclaimer attached to the deed recognizing the legitimacy of agricultural operations around the property that might be considered nuisances in a city such as machine noise, dust, odors, storage and disposal of manure, and applications of chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides that might involve large machines or airplanes.

Commissioner Leroy Wetta said several times that he wanted it emphasized that farmers will have to be “good neighbors” to rural residents, too, considering keeping space between their practices and homes, and not doing careless chemical applications.

In reference to five-acre plots only being allowed next to paved corridor roads, Collett said he would like a disclaimer about the county being responsible to upgrade roads for persons who choose to locate in more remote locations. But he also liked changing language about the small plots being on hard surface roads to just being on all-weather roads.

Kannady said he thought the higher taxes paid by homeowners would justify the county putting extra rock on roads anyplace somebody wanted to build.

Vincent Nikkel, real estate agent from Hillsboro, said he didn’t think allowing five-acre residential plots along good rock roads would overcrowd the countryside because the natural lay of the land would prevent that.

Nikkel said: “I favor stimulating growth. I have children, and unless we stimulate growth, they probably won’t even have a choice to live here because we don’t have a lot of opportunities.

“We also need to have good standards for housing, and not allow substandard construction or mobile homes in. We need homes that will still be here in 40 years. We are selling 30 to 40-year-old homes now that are worth more than when they were built.”

Wetta pointed out that it would be possible to put homes on five-acre plots around the circumference of a section, and still leave the section two-thirds open in the center.

Steve Garrett, Hillsboro city manager, and Susan Cooper, Marion city development director, were concerned about development in the three-mile influence zones around cities.

Cooper said, “We don’t want to control the area, but we do want to be a part of the decision process in an advisory capacity to the board of zoning.”

Garrett said Hillsboro isn’t necessarily concerned about its influence extending for three miles, “but we would like to see proper development that would have building codes apply in areas that might become annexed.”

Garrett noted that a major cost to Hillsboro in bringing the old AMPI plant into the city was bringing previous construction to code.

Cooper said Marion’s concerns would extend south and east to Marion County Lake because that appears to be a natural corridor of expansion for the city. She said Marion is cut off from expansion to the west because of the Cottonwood flood plain.

Collett said the cities might share in developing housing inspections and approvals in areas of urban influence, especially in any rural subdivisions that might parallel a city.

Brazil said city codes might be applied in areas of urban influence, but he didn’t favor extending them to agricultural areas.

Kannady said when it came to homes that were going to deteriorate because of their construction, or to old houses and buildings that are deteriorating, he didn’t think the county should have “double standards” for farm and non-farm structures.

Commissioner Bob Hein noted that rural water lines are changing the direction of development in the county.

The commissioners said that classification may need to be done for rural subdivisions where both water lines and sewer lines become available. They said current examples may be the area around Pilsen, Eastshore at the reservoir and the county lake.

Brazil acknowledged that variances have been made for second homes on farms, commonly known as “mother-in-law houses,” which usually become permanent, and set a double standard in planning.

Commissioners noted a need for the plan to address commerce in rural areas. For instance, Hein noted that wind farms will be a coming thing.

Collett said, “We don’t want to stand in the way of progress if it’s beneficial to us and our state.”

Wetta said the plan devotes attention to agriculture “as if no other interest, business or commerce is open to us.”

Commissioners said they wanted to clarify language in the plan, use Department of Agriculture soil classifications in protecting agriculture, and weigh rural residential development toward where the county has road and bridge assets to handle it.

There were even suggestions that defining future agriculture could become difficult, and perhaps there should be language developed toward providing “enjoyment of the rural atmosphere” for everybody.

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