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Can rural homeowners and farmers coexist peacefully in the countryside?

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[MAY 17, 2004]  Ever thought of owning a home in the country? There are a lot of people who would like to live out away from the city and neighbors. However, local officials responsible for setting regulations that protect the interests of the people have many considerations to address before permitting a residence to be built.

In our area the influence on agriculture, roads, sewage and preventing potential water contamination are some of the major components considered with a request to change an agricultural holding to residential. The Logan County Board updated these regulations just over a year ago. In the months that followed, numerous ag-to-residential rezoning requests came in, but the revision created too much confusion.

In September of 2003 the county board chairman, Dale Voyles, called a moratorium on further requests until the parameters of definition could be redefined. The original committee was asked to make the revisions. However the 14-member Regional Planning and Zoning Commission was unable to reach any agreements. So a subcommittee was appointed that included Walter "Bud" Miller, Phil Mahler, Dick Logan, Tom Hickman, Bill Glaze and Tom Martin.

The subcommittee met more than once, tossing increments of one-, two-, three- and five-acre private lot sizes against five-, 10-, 15- and 20-acre farm sizes, and still could not find any clear regulations that would fit every situation. "We just couldn't agree," Miller said.

"We realize we need to provide homes in the rural area and we need a mechanism to do that," board member Dick Logan said.

Miller said they finally approached it as, "What can we live with?" And they came up with the following recommendation:

Do away with "country homes" completely.

Go back to the original ordinance, and where it addresses minimum lot sizes get rid of the words "all farms" and insert "all lots." The reason behind the change in wording is that "farm" indicates that only farmers could live out in the country.

Section C stipulates that if a parcel is not well-suited for agriculture and will not adversely affect adjoining agriculture use, then it may be considered for other use.

A request for this type of zoning change, ag to residential, constitutes a conditional use. The approval will still be made one case at a time by the county board. A request will still go before the zoning board and the board of appeals, but they serve only as advisory committees. The Logan County Board remains the deciding body.

Terms for conditional use procedure on agricultural land

1. According to the new terms, land deemed appropriate to rezone must fit the parameters of "not suited for agriculture and will not adversely affect adjoining agricultural use." An example was given of having a corner that is cut off by a ditch. It might be prime farm ground, but it's really not suited for agriculture because it might be difficult to farm. This land could be seen as "not well-suited for agriculture." Wooded lots also fit those parameters.

2. One-acre requests can still be made to the board. "Nothing has really changed outside of the wording," board member Dick Logan said.

3. Any farmer can sell off five acres of land. But to build on it you have to have 200 feet of frontage access to a public road.

Farmers still have the right to sell parcels of one or two acres but will need to come to the county board for approval of smaller lots that are intended to be built on for residence.

The county board heard opinions from a number of individuals who attended last Thursday evening's work session. It was mostly farmers and realtors who turned out to address the issue.

Speakers included:

Dorothy Gleason: Gleason asked if there were specific dimensions on the five-acre lot size.

Answer: No, it's just five acres. But to build a home on it, it must have 200 feet frontage on a road.

Gordon Johnson, from Johnson Real Estate, past president of Logan County Board of Realtors: "We are not concerned about us listing and selling real estate for the country homes. That's not the reason we're here tonight. Nor are we here to debate the five-acre parcel issues. We're here to debate and discuss the ‘country homes district' and the deletion of that district."

Johnson said removing the "country homes district" eliminates the option for landowners to sell any parcel they might want to sell, any one- to five-acre parcel of ground that they would like to sell.

 

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Johnson pointed out that there will always be people with an interest in moving to the country, citing privacy, raising a family without the stigma of the city and atmosphere. Yes, there are subdivisions available with one-acre sites. But not everyone wants that, he said.

Susan Tibbs: Wanted to know how to know when someone has asked for a rezoning.

Answer: When a petitioner has requested rezoning, a public notice is posted in the paper and letters are sent to all adjoining property owners.

John Tibbs, Middletown: Would like to do away with the "country home" completely and make five acres mandatory. However, if less is allowed, he suggests that there be some mandates added.

He felt that the new subdivision building that is going on west of Lincoln on Route 10 was not adequately researched before approval. He says that the clay hills of that subdivision will not support the septic systems. Spring rains may lead to sewage contamination in the creek at the bottom of those hills.

"There's some real issues that we really need to stop and take a look at. We're increasing the load on our township roads. They're not designed for that," Tibbs said.

Tibbs said he has worked in agriculture and done spraying in the fields. "I know the issues that get caught up in that because I've actually been involved with some of it."

Linda Barrick, president of Logan County Board of Realtors: We don't want the landowners to lose their rights. There are a lot of small farmers out there that may want to sell one or two acres of farm ground.

She also asked if there could be a stipulation that the ground has to be built on within a certain amount of time.

Jim Drew, Logan County Farm Bureau: Drew said zoning's purpose is to put like industry together and protect people who already live there. When you start putting homes out in a rural area it doesn't necessarily mean that it's like industry. There are 15 country homes available now.

An unidentified gentleman who came in late said that he has had two lots approved for sale for country homes in the last two years. His opinion is that the regulations for the property were sufficiently addressed. He felt he was able to choose his neighbors, and he questioned if there is sufficient concern about lawsuits in Logan County. He concluded by saying that there are hundreds of places in Logan County that can't be farmed that would be suitable for country homes.

Various members of the board responded. There have been two or three lawsuits threatened that county board members have known about and 15 agriculture complaints to the EPA in DeWitt County.

When there is a complaint, the farm is inspected, taking a day's time, and typically no legal basis is found to pursue the complaint.

Illinois farmers are protected from most complaints by the "right to farm" law. But, it was pointed out that with less than a 3 percent margin in the hog industry in the last six years, farmers can't take more than one or two lawsuits.

Dr. David Hepler, the board's planning and zoning chairman, said that he does not necessarily agree with the subcommittee's feeling in recommending farm size not be increased in the foreseeable future, that it stay at five acres. But in the time that he has sat on the board he says that the issue of compatibility of city versus rural people keeps coming up. "I have a hard time with any type of public body trying to keep a certain type of person out, whether it is a city person or some other classification. I don't think that's a proper role of zoning," he said. Procedurally, there have been some he has voted for and some he has not. "I trust this board to make a judgment. Really what it is, is procedural questions," he said.

He charged the board, "Does this board trust itself to receive these and look at them individually?" By and large the board has done a good job, passing some, deferring others. Others proceeded in a different course and not always the way that he thought that they should go. "I think we should continue to trust the board," he said. "That's what the people put us here for. Look at them (requests) individually."

[Jan Youngquist]

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