Hogs, justice center brought into Johnson County land fight

Opponents plan to start a hog operation across the street from a proposed 70-home subdivision

IOWA CITY – Opponents of a 70-home subdivision proposed for rural Johnson County are not going down without a fight.

A handful of them plan to start a hog operation across the street from where the homes would be built and also will actively campaign against the county’s justice center project, Iowa City attorney Jeff McGinness said Wednesday.

McGinness represents Laurie Tulchin and Jim Glasgow, who have offered to buy the property in question in hopes of keeping it farmland.

Property owner Sharon Dooley has rejected that bid in an increasingly hostile fight over her plans to sell 91 of the 132 acres she owns at 2915 Newport Rd., a couple of miles north of Iowa City, to become a housing development.

She said Wednesday her neighbors, who have been vocal in their beliefs that the subdivision would harm their rural way of life, can do whatever they want with their land and it will not change her plans.

“They’re desperate and they’re trying anything and everything to stop my request, even though it’s very reasonable,” Dooley said.

It also isn’t expected to stop the Johnson County Board of Supervisors from holding the final vote as scheduled Thursday on a request to rezone Dooley’s property to allow for the residential development. The supervisors passed the first two of the three required votes 4-1, with John Etheredge opposed.

“They’re operating a farm and they have a right to do that, and we all know why they’re doing that,” Supervisor Pat Harney said of the hog confinement.

The bigger stakes for the county may be over the $46.2 million justice center, a facility that would include a 195-bed jail and court space and has been a priority for county officials for a decade.

Voters will go to the polls May 7 to decide whether to approve a $43.5 million bond issue to help pay for the justice center. A slightly more expensive version of the project received support from 56 percent of voters in November, but it needed 60 percent to pass.

McGinness said some people will start a campaign against the justice center “to express their disdain for the supervisors” on rural issues.

Voters in the Newport precinct supported the justice center 57 percent to 43 percent in November.

Supervisors Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said opposition to the justice center would not affect her vote on the Dooley rezoning.

“I’m not here to make decisions based on threats and intimidation and bullying, and I see all of this as that,” she said.

On the hog confinement, a “handful” of people plan to form a limited liability company to run the operation on land owned by the Sedlacek family across the street from Dooley’s property to the east, McGinness said.

Their intention is to bring in a young farmer to oversee it as a way to compensate for the loss of farmland at Dooley’s, he said. Asked if revenge on Dooley and the supervisors also was also a factor, McGinness answered, “I think it’s more preventative” and said it would show that such a cluster of homes cannot co-exist with farm life.

Anything with fewer than 1,250 hogs must be a certain distance from water sources but can be built without a permit, said Gene Tinker, animal feeding operations coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Between 1,250 and 2,500 hogs requires a manure management plan and must be more than 1,250 feet from any place where people reside in unincorporated areas, he said.

That separation distance jumps to 1,875 feet at more than 2,500 hogs and requires more permits, he said.

However, separation distances apply only to existing structures, not for planned structures, Tinker said.McGinness said the number of hogs on the Sedlacek farm is to be determined but likely will be fewer than what needs a permit. Glasgow told Etheredge, the supervisor who opposes the Dooley rezoning, in an email Monday that the hog operation will start in a few weeks.

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