Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Voters in Yankton County overwhelmingly approved a zoning measure that has stopped an attempt by a family of cattle feeders to build a 20,000 head facility near Utica.

We worry about the consequences of Yankton County's actions. When Heine Farms, which was seeking the appropriate permits with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, announced plans to build their feedlot, a group of county residents, formed under the name FREE, used a Hyde County initiated measure as a guide to draft the measure that would place limits on such animal confinement units.

While ordinance supporters claimed the measure is less restrictive than limits in some area counties, opponents argued that the proposed limits are too strict and would hamper the future of livestock farming in Yankton County.

Should any sort of similar zoning restriction be implemented in Clay County, we would have to say the same thing. Count us among those who believe that there is still room in rural areas like South Dakota for larger farms.

The ordinance approved by Yankton County voters Tuesday caps any livestock operation at 7,500 animal units and makes it illegal to locate a manure management system for a 1,000-1,499 animal unit operation within one-half mile of a dwelling and no closer than one mile for any operation of 1,500 animal units or more.

The people of FREE perhaps may feel happy with themselves right now.

They accomplished their goal. They stopped the Heines' farm.

What worries us is the way FREE stopped the cattle feeding venture, however.

You see, Yankton County has no comprehensive zoning plan in place. So the Heines' opponents used zoning (or rather the lack of it) as an effective, emotional weapon against the farming venture.

That, we believe, is wrong.

"The difference between a systematic approach to getting into zoning and a referred way of zoning that we're getting into in this (Yankton) county, is (with zoning) you have a process in place to deal with exceptions," District III Director Greg Henderson said in a recent news story. "This proposed ordinance just mandates limits. It limits your flexibility and takes away any wiggle room."

Yankton County voters, in effect, have taken the true purpose of zoning and turned it on its head. To the best of our knowledge, the measure approved by our neighbors to the west never bothered to address how best to make everyone who lives and works in rural areas of the county happy, whether they live on a small acreage or are ambitious and strive to develop a large farming unit.

The people of FREE instead designed a zoning ordinance that penalizes farmers who are ambitious. It then spearheaded an effective, at times emotional, campaign that successfully convinced a majority of those who voted Tuesday that their way of life would end if the Heines were allowed to pursue their dream.

We hope the citizens of Clay County will always remember the true reason that zoning plans are developed in the first place. Fortunately, in recent years the Clay County Commission has worked on developing zoning regulations that will stand the test of time.

Back in 1999, local commissioners agreed to entirely eliminate one section of regulations dealing with separation distance exemptions.

It worked on zoning regulations that set in place the minimum distances that concentrated animal feeding operations can be constructed from dwellings, churches, schools, businesses, cemetery and public use areas and other existing entities in the county.

Zoning itself recognizes that there is a whole range of legitimate land uses. One purpose of zoning is to arrange land uses to minimize the conflict. Zoning aims to minimize those points of friction among land use and the very purpose of zoning is to encourage land development.

No one will argue that agriculture is a proper use for real estate zoned for that purpose. And we would never discourage non-farmers who love living in the great outdoors rather than in the city limits to set up housekeeping on an acreage.

People who choose to live in rural areas, however, must come to realize that there will be more than just people living on neighboring farms. There will be cattle, hogs and sheep. There will be dust, flies and manure.

It has been that way throughout the history of South Dakota, a history in which the leading industry has been agriculture.

It's unfortunate that the people of Yankton County have forgotten that, especially if their actions this week set a precendent that will have a negative effect on agriculture in Clay County and other regions of South Dakota.

Hopefully, the people of Clay County will always remember that agriculture is a changing industry that can't be burdened by overly-restrictive regulations.

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