Draft of county plan allows for smaller rural acreages

A draft that outlines ideas for more small-acreage residential development in Marion County as outlined by county commissioners over many sessions was presented by their consultant in a special meeting Thursday.

The draft, to be used by the Marion County Planning Commission in writing a final comprehensive plan for the county, also gives cities greater input into what happens just outside their borders in areas they may include in future annexations.

The draft may be used to change the comprehensive plan to include not only the 10- and 40-acre rural residential sites that have been allowed, but also allow 5-acre plots and even city-sized lots using a concept called Land Evaluation And Site Assessment, or LESA, with urban influence determinations.

Consultant Scott Michie of Bucher, Willis & Ratliff said areas of urban influence for planning may be determined by using a “natural features and cultural attributes map,” but usually include all territory within one mile of a city limit.

Five-acre plots allowed within these influence areas may be allowed with an on-site septic system, he said, but it may be that the acreage would be required to be “double platted” to show city lots also and a plan for future municipal sewer service.

County Commission Chairman Howard Collett said he didn’t see anything that would define the size of a city lot, but was assured it would probably include anything of less than one acre.

Collett and Commissioner Bob Hein, who were at the meeting, said they wanted to be careful not to arrive at decisions without Commissioner Leroy Wetta, who was unable to attend on short notice. All three men have had input in the shift toward greater rural housing development.

Michie said under the suggested scenario, the county planning commission might meet jointly with a city planning commission, and might wait on a city vote on a review and consent recommendation to the county body. The county planners would retain jurisdictional authority to make final recommendation to the county commission.

City building codes would be required to be adhered to in influence zones, and the county may adapt building codes for new rural residences in the entire county.

The county may determine urban influence zones in areas without city government for smaller plats where shared water and sanitary sewer services exist such as at Eastshore, the Marion County Lake, Pilsen and any other similar developments, according to the draft.

More small rural residential acreages may be allowed where they already exist with attention often called to some of the area around Goessel.

Michie said the direction the commissioners wanted to take toward more smaller acreages should use LESA to help protect areas of the best soils for farming use while turning such things as steeper, rocky, eroded, tree-covered hillsides to residential use.

Collett said the system should turn such sites as a small acreage tucked between two draws that is difficult to farm to possible residential use, or also include steeper more eroded land that “ought to have been in CRP (the federal conservation reserve program to cover land with native plants) but maybe didn’t get there.”

Hein said his constituents want to be able to sell eroded ground for rural residential that is within good soil cropland areas too.

Planning Director David Brazil said he thought LESA probably would downgrade all such areas to open them to rural residential development.

Collett noted that Marion County has gone from 600 miles of hard-surface county roads down to 268 miles over the last 20 years and new rural residents will have to acknowledge, probably in writing, the county’s right to oil roads or turn them back to gravel or dirt regardless of inconveniences or dust and mud nuisances.

Michie included in the draft an agricultural disclaimer that new rural residents will be required to sign when their new plats are deeded that is designed to increase their awareness and protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits.

It reads, “All lands within the agricultural zone are located in an area where land is used for commercial agricultural production. Owners, residents and other users of this property or neighboring property may be subjected to inconvenience, discomfort and the possibility of injury to property and health arising from normal and accepted agricultural practices and operations, including but not limited to noise, odors, dust, the operation of machinery of any kind, including aircraft, the storage and disposal of manure, the application of fertilizers, soil amendments, herbicides and pesticides.”

The commissioners, especially Wetta, repeatedly have said inclusion of such a clause does not mean that farmers shouldn’t try to be considerate and good neighbors.

Michie said the concept of requiring 40 acres to build on would be kept for the undeveloped portions of the county.

Brazil and Michie said the next steps will be to take this draft of what the county commission wishes to the planning commission for inclusion in the comprehensive plan followed by a public hearing.

Brazil said the planning commission must also finalize requirements for zoning and the application process for wind turbine electrical generation, or wind farms.

Michie said wind farming can be handled either with changing land to industrial zoning or leaving it as agricultural with a conditional use permit.

Brazil said he preferred the conditional use system, so that if the wind machines ever are taken down, the land still is agricultural, or so it retains agricultural usage even while the turbines operate.

Collett said the county’s objective isn’t to say yes or no to wind farm development, but only to develop the regulations necessary for its operation.

“We know we have to have some economic development. It’s just a fact of life. The wind has become a great natural resource,” Collett said.

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