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Good Neighbor Policy’s Usefulness Questioned

By Staff | Jun 5, 2008

A week after a proposal to increase fees for conditional use permits, the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors gave its approval to four applications, but questioned if there was any point in approving or denying the permits for livestock confinement operations. One area of question was the county’s Good Neighbor Policy involving the placement of livestock confinement operations.

Palo Alto County Zoning Administrator Joe Neary brought four conditional use permit applications before the supervisors on Tuesday, June 3, for consideration. The county’s Planning and Zoning Commission had recommended all four of the applications for approval in a meeting on May 27.

The first application, by George Bierstedt, was for two 71’x332′ finishing buildings in the northeast quarter of Section 14 of Independence Township. The site had received a distance waiver from a resident inside the half-mile as stated in the county’s Good Neighbor Policy, and also met the requirements of the state’s Master Matrix. The application was approved on a unanimous 5-0 vote.

The second application, by Hawkeye Gold Farms, LLC, was for a 51’x352′ finishing building to be added to an existing two-building site in the southeast quarter of Section nine of Ellington Township. The building met the Good Neighbor Policy requirements, and also met the Master Matrix requirements. The permit was approved on a 3-2 vote, with Supervisors Jerry Hofstad and Keith Wirtz voting against the request.

For the third application, Prestage Farms of Iowa, LLC, applied to build a 101’x202′ confinement building in the northeast quarter of Section six of Independence Township. The application met the requirements of the Good Neighbor Policy and was approved by the supervisors on a 4-1 vote, with Hofstad casting the nay vote.

The final application was also submitted by Prestage Farms of Iowa, LLC, for a 101’x202′ confinement building in the southeast quarter of Section 25 of Ellington Township. This site also met the Good Neighbor Policy requirements, and was approved on a 4-1 vote of the board, again with Hofstad casting the lone “nay” vote.

The board also approved a zoning change for a 9.5 acre parcel of land in the southwest quarter of Section 29 of Freedom Township for Dan Chism. The zoning was changed from Agricultural/Conservation to Commercial in order to allow for the construction of an 11’x62′ building that will house a commercial truck wash.

With the action out of the way, Neary was asked what he had learned in regards to the proposal a week earlier by Hofstad to raise the rates for building permits for out-of-county firms wanting to build livestock confinement operations in the county.

“I talked to David Sheridan at the Department of Natural Resources,” Neary began, “And he referred me to several sections of the Iowa Code and said there is a whole body of laws at the state level to govern livestock operations.”

“What was the answer?” Hofstad pressed.

“No.”

Neary explained that the Iowa Code sets out the county’s rights under County Zoning in Chapter 331, and then explains in chapters 335.1 and 335.2 that agriculture is pretty much exempt from county zoning.

“In talking with him, I learned that basically, the state doesn’t want to talk about our Good Neighbor Policy,” Neary said.

“Since we talked about this last week, several people have talked to me and told me we shouldn’t do anything to screw up the Good Neighbor Policy,” Board Chair Leo Goeders said. “I know there are other counties in the state that are jealous of our policy and how well it’s worked for us. We’ve had good success with the Good Neighbor Policy.”

“What happens if a person breaks the Good Neighbor Policy?” Supervisor Ed Noonan asked Neary. “Do they even need a building permit?”

“Well, the state code says agriculture is exempt from building permit fees,” Neary replied.

Hofstad found the whole concept aggravating. “We get all the blame for these deals and there’s nothing we can do about them. We vote against ’em and they go ahead and build them anyway. Why do you even bother to come in?”

“We’ve had 95-98 percent of the livestock sites that meet the Good Neighbor Policy,” Neary replied.

“There have only been a couple or so that didn’t meet the policy that went ahead and built anyway,” Supervisor Ron Graettinger said. “As far as why we vote and have the Good Neighbor Policy, at least people know we’re trying, and people do try to abide by it.”

Goeders pointed out that when the Good Neighbor Policy was first developed, it came about through negotiations between the builders of the facilities, producers and the public. “Really, it was the hog producers who helped make the Good Neighbor Policy. That’s what makes it unique in the state.”

Planning and Zoning commissioner Dean Gunderson, who was in attendance at the meeting, agreed with Goeders’ statement. “We know that the state law trumps it, but it’s just the idea of it. We know it’s not perfect, it takes a lot of work to keep it together, but it also creates for communication between the parties involved. We know it’s a whole lot better than what the state has.”

Gunderson continued. “I would tell you that if you’re going to change the policy, be careful that you don’t jeopardize it. It’s not perfect as it is, but it’s useable.”