County denies land use change; focuses on pending large energy projects

By Jim Magdefrau

VINTON – Wind, solar, and access concerns were the main topics for the Benton County Board of Supervisors at their meeting Tuesday, May 11, at the service center in Vinton.

Land use

A land use hearing was held for Tatiana R. Messerole, for land in Section 15, Taylor Township. Land Use Administrator Marc Greenlee explained they plan an airbnb for the property. It has an existing house, is by the Cedar River, and has been used as an airbnb. He stressed any new non-agricultural use has to be reviewed, according to the land use policy established in 1985, and said the property had to stop being advertised as an airbnb. In his review, he said the septic system design is too small. It has also been flooded in the past. Greenlee said he has received negative comments on the use of the property as an airbnb. Greenlee read a letter from John Tuthill of the neighboring Wendling Quarries, who asked the change be denied, with traffic concerns on an access road that goes through the Wendling property. It is used for private residences in the area. Tuthill also had safety concerns about the hazards that come with running a quarry, as well as trespassing and illegal parking concerns.

Greenlee stressed the stability of land use patterns in the area. He felt this new use would alter that stability.

Messerole was at the meeting and stressed it was never her intention to disrupt their lives.

Supervisor Richard Primmer asked if Messerole wanted to withdraw the request. She asked if this would get her in trouble if she still had family and friends visit. She asked what she can and can’t do without disturbing their neighbors.

Primmer felt no one had an issue with friends and family. They had an issue with an airbnb. Greenlee added the ordinance does not prevent anyone from renting the property on a longterm basis. Primmer felt short-term rental would make it almost a commercial use.

Messerole stressed she has the right to see who visits or stays at her place.

The board voted, 3-0, to deny the application.

In other land use action, a land use hearing was set for Tuesday, June 8, at 9:15 a.m. for Corey Krienert, for land in Parcel D, Section 7, Bruce Township.

The board approved the final plat for the re-plat of Terrace Green Estates.

Ag preservation

Benton Supervisors listen to a presentation on large-scale energy projects.

Samantha Petersen, Atkins, was at the meeting to address ag preservation and the impact of energy projects. She said it was important for the county to uphold the land preservation ordinance as pressure grows for the large-scale energy projects. She said she wants to be sure large-scale energy projects are properly placed.

The ordinance protects land with corn suitability rating of 70 or above on a 1-100 scale. She outlined the ordinance, in preserving land for production food, fiber and livestock. She said, “We have a beautiful county. We have been blessed with productive land. We feed the world here. I think that’s something we should be proud of and uphold in our county.”

She explained property owned by her family is being targeted. She is worried that if it is approved, how much more land will be affected. She also gave concerns about wind and solar projects, such as having no decommissioning plan, recycling of solar panels, language of the contract, health and noise concerns, ruining the rural character of the land, decline in property values, water runoff, wildlife concerns, and road damage.

She stressed that a project of this magnitude should not be rushed into.

Greenlee said he has been approached by NextEra Energy, and related they are not submitting land use change applications in Benton County. He also had contact with another energy firm, and they are working on 14 leases in Benton County.

Supervisor Chairman Tracy Seeman said he has read that the energy firm plans to go through the Iowa Utilities Board. Seeman said he personally will fight this. He also related concerns from the landfill commission on solar and panel waste. Supervisor Gary Bierschenk said the board has not seen or heard anything on this, but that if something comes up to let the board know, especially if the state tries to override what is done in Benton County.

Petersen asked if the land use ordinance is enough to protect the county from these types of projects. Greenlee felt it is enough and it is covered.

Protection

Sheriff Ron Tippett updated the board on the plan to add 22 hours of protection per week for the City of Atkins. The hourly rate would be $28.67. He also explained insurance and IPERS costs. These increase the wage to $40.37 per hour. This does not include vehicle costs. The current contract is $25 per hour for 18 hours. Primmer said he had concerns about what the county will do if Belle Plaine, Shellsburg and Urbana want additional protection from the county. He felt the county can’t afford to have a countywide police department.

Benton County Attorney David Thompson stressed the county is responsible for enforcement in unincorporated areas. Cities are responsible for enforcement within the city limits.

Bierschenk stressed the city needs to have a plan for an officer in the future.

Tippett said he would take the proposal back to the city of Atkins. Seeman said he would also meet with the council.

Other business

The board approved a change in medical examiner fees from $35 to $100, for jurisdiction decline cases.

Toni Parizek, veterans affairs director, said a new director has been hired. She is Cara Martin. The board approved the veterans commission’s recommendation to hire Martin.

The board planned to reappoint Kirk Beason to the Veterans Commission. Thompson stressed the need to have gender balance on the commission. To address this, supervisors considered adding two new members to the commission. They now have three members on the commission. No action was taken. They are looking for a female commission member to help balance the board.

The board approved a utility permit for USA Communications for south of Belle Plaine.

County Engineer Myron Parizek updated the board on a pioneer cemetery in county right-of-way north of Blairstown, which could impact plans to widen the road.

Seeman asked about continuing mask requirements in county facilities. After discussion with officials, no action was taken. They plan to take this up next week after getting a recommendation from the county public health director.

The board approved a 28E agreement for the Sexual Abuse Response Team (SART) for the rest of this fiscal year.

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