Before the board of supervisors adopted Jasper County’s new comprehensive plan, a citizen shared his concerns regarding the document’s “ambiguity.”
Larry Ladd, who volunteered extensively during the plan’s creation and attended “virtually every meeting,” said he’s scanned through the document about four times and lamented, “It’s just not good enough.”
When the board of supervisors hired a firm to help create the plan, it had been more than 20 years since Jasper County even had a comprehensive plan.
Admittedly, Brandon Talsma, chair of the Jasper County Board of Supervisors, said both he and exiting community development director Nick Fratzke were “a little bit disappointed” with the new comprehensive plan. The document itself, available to read online at www.jaspersbrightfuture.com, is “loaded.”
Comprised of 11 chapters — an introduction, county profile, land use, transportation, housing, agriculture, conservation and recreation, economy, public health and safety, county character and implementation — and an appendix, the county’s comprehensive plan is a lengthy read.
“And it’s not exactly the most page turning read,” Talsma said. “But it is important ... I think (Fratzke and I) were expecting the comprehensive plan to also kind of lay out, ‘OK here’s A, (if) you want to get to C, here’s how you do it.’ And it really doesn’t do that.”
When Talsma and Fratzke reached out to other counties and organizations that have comprehensive plans, they found out the information is kept “pretty generalized” so the county “isn’t locked in to any specific thing.” Ladd agreed the plan doesn’t set a direct roadmap for the county.
“It’s so not that way, it’s actually ambiguous,” Ladd said. “You can read just about anything into it you like, and that’s going to add ... confusion and just a lack of direction.”
Questions about land use chapter and zoning
Ladd added he’s not going to dwell on the Land Evaluation Site Assessment (LESA), which is a tool that can be used to assess the value of a particular piece of land for agricultural use, according to the comprehensive plan. Two overriding items in this plan set the direction for land use, Ladd said.
One is LESA, which Ladd said is scored heavily toward agriculture, and the other is Iowa Code recommending developments be outside the two-mile radius from an incorporated town. Ladd argued the comprehensive plan sets the direction for zoning.
“If you approve the plan today, and you use the land use (chapter) as is, zoning can change this way — whatever ‘this way’ is,” Ladd said. “One of the action items in the plan is to redo the formula for LESA ... That — depending how it’s redone — could change the direction of zoning.”
Talsma said Ladd’s argument makes sense but he doesn’t know if the county or its elected officials “necessarily know what way we’re going to change it to.” Asked when that might happen, Talsma said he doesn’t know if anybody can really say or determine that.
From what Talsma picked up at a zoning commission meeting, the LESA definition is “written loose enough and vaguely enough that we can pretty much use ground for whatever we want to.” Ladd said that leads to his first point about the ambiguity of the plan.
Ladd understands the comprehensive plan needs to be loose enough to allow some flexibility, but on the other hand, if it’s too loose, “it can be used for very specific purposes that may not be best for the county as a whole.” Talsma agreed with Ladd, but said that’s why it comes down to competent leadership.
“Ones that aren’t going to take it and twist it to suit their best interest,” Talsma said.
Ladd doesn’t want the comprehensive plan to be forgotten
In Jasper County’s new comprehensive plan, Ladd said there’s “well over a hundred to-dos” with no implementation plan deciding who is going to be driving the plan or determine priorities of all the action items. Jasper County Supervisor Doug Cupples says the comprehensive plan is a guide and not policy.
Cupples also pointed out there is a section of the comprehensive plan that identifies the “responsible parties” and resources. He also described the plan as more of a reference tool for supervisors.
Ladd drew the supervisors’ attention to the Jasper County Housing Assessment, which he claimed was completed in 2017. According to Ladd, someone hired a firm to conduct a housing assessment in the county. The document, he said, was about 120-130 pages long.
“I know of no one that has read it,” Ladd said.
Cupples said he was familiar with the document, and it was given to him by former JEDCO Executive Director Chaz Allen. Cupples said it was about different areas in the county and identified their housing needs; he also suggested the assessment provided “good information” and is still relevant.
Ladd said, “Oh! Don’t disagree! My point is: What was done with all that good work? The county averages 26 building permits a year in the last 10 years. Sixty percent of the houses in the county were over 40 years old. I fear that all the hard work … (the plan) will end up just like the housing study.”
Rather than changing the plan, Cupples said the supervisors should try to implement some of the items in the comprehensive plan. Regardless of Ladd’s objections, the Jasper County Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 to adopt the comprehensive plan.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org