Guest Columnist

Johnson County development update is ready for review

In June 2018, Johnson County began the process to update the Unified Development Ordinance, or UDO. The ordinance includes the zoning code, subdivision regulations and building code to regulate the development and use of land in the county’s unincorporated areas. The UDO also regulates soil and water conservation, flood plain development and renewable energy production.

UDO update process

The state requires development ordinances be based on an adopted comprehensive plan — Johnson County’s UDO is based on the plan adopted in May 2018 by the Board of Supervisors. The plan focuses on sustainability, local economy, infrastructure and amenities, and land use.

As one of Iowa’s fastest-growing counties, Johnson County needs a UDO that balances growth, preserves agricultural and environmentally sensitive areas, and provides opportunities for local food and agritourism among other economic drivers.

The Planning, Development and Sustainability (PDS) Department has spent the past 15 months working with stakeholders to get their input, including local realtors and land developers, environmental experts from many disciplines, the Food Policy Council and area agricultural producers. The Johnson County Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Supervisors have been reviewing progress in work sessions. Soon there will be more opportunity for resident input during the public hearings.

Major UDO changes

Just as the county has experienced growth, the proposed new UDO has grown in size. We know some people would like to see regulations reduced to a few pages, but expanding the UDO provides flexibility not present in the current UDO. You can see the UDO draft at the PDS Department located on the second floor of the Johnson County Administration Building, 913 S. Dubuque Street, Iowa City, or online at www.johnson-county/planning. Here are highlights of major changes:

Exemption of Agricultural Operations: Iowa State Code exempts agricultural uses, buildings and domiciles, as defined by the local jurisdiction, from zoning or building code regulations. Johnson County currently defines a farm as no less than 40 acres used for agricultural purposes. However, this unintentionally reduces opportunities for smaller or non-traditional producers. The challenge has been how to allow for small-scale farming and other appropriate, related uses while not losing agricultural land to residential development. New definitions and guidance in the UDO aim for this balance by considering use rather than just parcel size when determining which agricultural operations are exempt from zoning and building code regulations.

Agricultural Tourism Zoning districts: Zoning codes use different types of districts to guide where and what type of development occurs. The proposed agritourism district will support local food and agricultural tourism while still protecting the public’s health, safety and welfare.

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Subdivision Standards: These standards affect how land is developed in terms of lot size, roads and preservation of open space and environmentally sensitive areas. Proposed revisions make the standards more sustainable by ensuring the density necessary to make development viable while not negatively affecting surrounding agricultural and environmental assets. The updated UDO, as proposed, would allow a property owner to develop larger, estate-type lots in certain residential zoning districts if a minimum number of smaller lots are created and open space is preserved.

Attend a meeting

I invite all Johnson County residents to review the UDO and attend the public hearings. The first public hearing will be held by the Planning and Zoning Commission at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9, in the second-floor boardroom of the Johnson County Administration Building, 913 S. Dubuque Street in Iowa City.

That hearing will be followed by a Board of Supervisors’ hearing later this fall (time/date to be determined). Please check the online agendas for UDO topics at www.johnson-county.com, and contact PDS if you need more information.

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

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