Zoning change for rural housing development recommended by David Lias Members of the Clay County Planning/Zoning Commission found themselves in a difficult position Monday night.
For approximately 90 minutes, they heard comments from several members of a 30-person audience who gathered in the basement of the Clay County Courthouse for a public hearing on a proposed zoning change.
Bob Emmick is requesting that a 170 acre parcel of land he owns located approximately five miles north of Meckling be rezoned from agricultural to residential.
Emmick wants to build a 28-home housing development on the property.
Most of the people who spoke up at Monday's meeting objected to the development, citing a variety of concerns, ranging from increased traffic and noise to negative impacts on the environment and their lifestyle.
Leo Powell, chairman of the zoning commission, noted, however, that the county's comprehensive plan indicates a preference to rural residential housing developments in Clay County along Highways 50 and 19 and, as in the case of Emmick's proposal, along Bluff Road.
He also read a memo from Clay County State's Attorney Tami Bern that contains findings from her research on spot zoning, which had been brought up as an issue in earlier discussions related to this housing proposal.
It was a night in which factual information � preliminary plans of the housing development, legal memos, the county's zoning and comprehensive plans � butted heads with what was often described as "sentiment" � the joy of country living, the peace and serenity of the quiet countryside, the stability one feels when life isn't disrupted by change.
The factual information won. The planning commission voted unanimously to recommend the zoning change.
The issue now moves into the realm of the Clay County Commission, which will schedule more hearings and ultimately decide whether to rezone the ag land for residential use.
Sharon Morris, Volin, told the planning commission that her land is right next to Emmick's property.
Better places to build
"I bought it with the idea that I could do anything I wanted ? I could bring in my dogs, I could have horses, and my children could be brought up in a neighborhood that's basically rural," she said. "That's the way I would like to keep it."
Morris said there were areas in the county that would be more suitable for this type of housing development.
Michael Hill, Volin, lives directly east of the proposed development.
"From the beginning, we have not been opposed to someone wanting to put a home or two out there," he said. "Our opposition is not about growth, it's not about wanting to see Clay County prosper in any way.
"It's been from the standpoint that that the number of homes in that small of an area that far away from anyplace else is just inconsistent with the population density area, and will create a strain on the homeowners and the landowners and the farmers," he said. "That is our complaint."
Hill said Clay County should pursue development that more closely "fits into what everyone else has invested in out there. We've made investments in anywhere from the last 13 years to the last 30 years in our properties and our lives and they represent a huge amount of our income."
He said that Emmick's proposed housing development would be the equivalent of having a small community dropped into the back yards of people who currently live in that area of Clay County.
"That's a huge change of lifestyle for everyone out there, and it's that what we're against," he said. "It's not about growth ? it's about being consistent and using the comprehensive plan as a guideline so that it's fair for everybody."
John Davidson, a rural resident of Clay County, told the planning commission that he believes some sound arguments have been raised by citizens as
this issue has been discussed in recent months.
"It was a little disappointing when at the last meeting these sound arguments were cast aside as mere sentiment," he said. "That statement was unfair. These are real issues."
Davidson asked the commission to closely examine the costs of what he termed "leapfrog" housing development.
"By managing our growth efficiently, which we do when we prevent growth from sprawling across the working agricultural landscape, we hold down the costs of municipal services which are, after all, paid by all taxpayers not just rural residents," he said.
Saving land from leapfrog development, he said, is often the best way to reduce government spending and avoid increased property taxes.
Many people believe a new subdivision would allow school districts and local government to make more money through additional property taxes, Davidson said.
"This ignores the true cost of roads, schools, police, emergency services, congestion, and something dear to my heart, drainage, water and energy," he said.
Davidson said studies show that it costs from $1.04 to $2 for every dollar of new tax revenue to provide services to a typical subdivision. That means that current taxpayers end up subsidizing outsiders.
"For this reason I urge the commission to affirmatively work with this developer to find some land close to either Vermillion or Wakonda where growth can be served efficiently ? without throwing an extra dollar onto my tax burden."
Clay County Planning and Zoning Director Ray Hofman shared the results of his research of zoning practices in other counties in the region.
"Many of the counties require 40 acres to build a site on, to build a house on," he said. He added that most of the counties he contacted also allowed hobby farms, in which a residence could be built on approximately two acres, and gardening and other farm operations are allowed.
"Most of them are 40 acres and above, and everything seemed to be as if it was zoned right around a lake, it would have a lake-park area zoned, where you would get down to one acre sized lots or smaller," he said.
Hill said Minnehaha County, which is among those that require housing developments on the smaller, 40 acre tracts, have adopted that approach "to stick their finger in the dike" and better control rural residential development.
"We have a chance now to set a higher standard so we don't have to plug any holes," he said. "We can maybe set a standard that is better for the community from the beginning instead of having to look back and say, 'if we had done this 10 years ago, we'd be in better shape than we are now.' "
Powell read a portion of the county's comprehensive plan in response to a question from Jerry Wilson, a rural Clay County resident, about future development.
The comprehensive plan
"Rural areas in Clay County are dominated by agricultural uses. In order to best preserve this agricultural land, a common goal of the Clay County Commission all the Clay County cities have been devised whereby future development in the county will primarily focus on the boundaries of three incorporated municipalities.
"However, encouragement of future growth along major highway corridors coupled with the transplanting of rural residential will all affect planned use within Clay County," Powell continued, reading from the comprehensive plan.
The comprehensive plan, he said, also addresses "clustering" of residential units. It states the residential density should not exceed more than one building site per two acres. In addition, every effort should be made, when reasonable, to cluster the residential uses and preserve the remaining area to agricultural activities and open spaces, states the comprehensive plan.
Wilson noted that a portion of the comprehensive plan requires new housing developments be compatible with existing housing.
Powell said through personal research he's attempted to find whether Emmick's proposal would not be compatible.
"I've tried to get a little drift of what was out there as far as homes and what exactly everybody's occupation was � whether they were involved in agricultural, whether they were acreages, whether they hobby farms or whether they were rural residences," he said.
Powell discovered that some residents in the area farm. Some people own farmland and rent it to other people to farm. Some of those people own several rural homes near the site, and some live near the site.
Other people who live in the vicinity of the proposed housing development could be termed as rural residents who live on acreages but aren't active in agriculture.
Leapfrog vs. clustering
Hill noted that Powell's research includes approximately a dozen homes located in a three square mile area.
"Again, the whole point is ? the number of homes that he (Emmick) wants to put out there," Hill said. "By putting in that many homes, he's creating a community as opposed to a couple of houses."
He said scattered and haphazard housing developments should be avoided, and limitations of future urban and rural conflicts are important.
Such conflicts that should be mitigated, Hill said, include increased noise, traffic, flooding, erosion, road maintenance and groundwater pollution.
Powell said some of the information being received by the planning commission from the audience is in conflict with the county's comprehensive plan.
"We've been told we shouldn't advocate leapfrog development, where we have a house here and another here and so on," he said, "but then our comprehensive plan says if we're going to have rural residences we should try to concentrate them in a cluster," Powell said. "So now we're trying to follow the comprehensive plan and not leapfrog. We're going to a specific, defined area. That's what the plan calls for, and that's not leapfrog development, but (we're being told) that's not right either."
A "precious" thing
Hill said Emmick's plans do constitute leapfrog housing development.
"It's just going to create more problems for the county than it's going to solve," Hill said.
"We're sitting here with people who want to preserve their privacy, and we have other people in the county that want to see development," Powell said. "They want to see growth. It's kind of hard to make everyone happy."
"I think that today, in this particular time that we are living in, country living is becoming increasingly difficult and it is one of the most precious things that we have here in the state of South Dakota," said Norma Wilson, whose home is near Bluff Road. "I can look out my window, if I am very fortunate, and see and doe and two fawns walking across the valley."
Being able to interact with wildlife in this way, she said, has rarely been discussed at the zoning commission meetings.
"It's not sentiment if you worry about the impact of two dogs per dwelling of a 28 unit subdivision," she said. "That is going to have an impact on those animals that have lived here long before we came here. It's going to have an impact on the country living of the people surrounding those places. It's going to make a difference, and it's not just sentiment. It could reduce the quality of life not just for the people surrounding the development, but for the entire county."