Guest Columnist

Johnson County begins process to update development ordinance

Workers lift one of three railroad cars before setting it into place on a bridge being built on Lower West Branch Road in the summer of 2017. The bridge was made from repurposed railroad cars. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Workers lift one of three railroad cars before setting it into place on a bridge being built on Lower West Branch Road in the summer of 2017. The bridge was made from repurposed railroad cars. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

The Johnson County 2018 Comprehensive Plan was adopted by the county’s Board of Supervisors in May after an 18-month update process. The plan includes 20 goals related to sustainability, local economy, infrastructure and amenities and land use. The plan also includes an implementation section and future land use map.

The plan directs the county to accomplish dozens of action, ranging from supporting efforts to expand high-speed internet in rural areas to establishing best management practices for floodplains to updating the Unified Development Ordinance. In fact, the state requires development ordinances be based on an adopted comprehensive plan.

The Unified Development Ordinance, or UDO, includes the zoning code, subdivision regulations, building code and other regulations that help manage how land is developed and used in the unincorporated areas of the county. The UDO also covers topics as specific as renewable energy production. Making the county more sustainable is the Board of Supervisors’ goal.

Updating the UDO is especially important for Johnson County because we are one of the fastest-growing counties in Iowa, and it is important to balance growth with the preservation of agricultural and environmentally sensitive areas. So while the comprehensive plan is a directive document, the UDO will actually govern. In other words, it is where the “rubber meets the road.”

My staff and I in the Planning, Development and Sustainability Department have just begun the UDO update process. We hope to have the process completed by summer 2019. The Johnson County Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Supervisors will be involved, and several public meetings will be held to discuss all parts of the UDO, including the subdivision code and zoning code. In addition, the County will invite key stakeholders to offer their advice and guidance on specific sections.

For example, one of the comprehensive plan goals is to develop more sustainable subdivision standards, which will govern how land is developed in terms of lot size, roads, and preservation of open space and environmentally sensitive areas.

In addition, as directed by the comprehensive plan, PDS will consider how to expand and support the local food and agritourism industries in Johnson County and consider amendments to the definition of a farm (commonly, although not always correctly, referred to as the “40-acre rule”) as it pertains to state requirements for agricultural exemptions. Iowa State Code dictates that farms, as defined by the local jurisdiction, are exempt from any zoning or building code regulations.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

We understand many would like to see this definition addressed first. However, the farm definition amendment needs to occur toward the end of the process because we want to be able to see how it will interact with the other proposed ordinance updates. It is also an extremely complex topic, and we want to ensure ample time for input and discussion through the meetings and other avenues such as the stakeholder interviews.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 9, to discuss several immediate updates, including a mechanism to allow for seasonal agricultural tourism events and more effective topsoil and erosion control regulations to preserve quality soil. The meeting takes place in the second-floor boardroom of the Johnson County Administration Building, 913 S. Dubuque Street in Iowa City.

The best way to keep tabs on the yearlong process is to check the Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Supervisors meeting agendas at www.johnson-county.com for UDO topics. We also will post key topics at www.johnson-county.com/planning. The end result — an updated Unified Development Ordinance — will benefit county residents and our rural areas.

• Josh Busard is director of Johnson County Planning, Development and Sustainability. Comments: (319) 356-6083.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Want to join the conversation?

Consider subscribing to TheGazette.com and participate in discussing the important issues to our community with other Gazette subscribers.

Already a Gazette or TheGazette.com subscriber? Just login here with your account email and password.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.