February 27, 2024

Residents worry their quality of life will diminish if rezoning request passes

Developer and contractors say new houses will bring in more tax dollars and jobs for builders

Bruce Brummel speaks in opposition to a rezoning request during a public hearing on March 21 in the chambers of the Jasper County Board of Supervisors.

Neighbors of an 11-acre cornfield — which is owned by a developer who wants to use the land to build up to six new houses — clarified they do not want to stop others from having the same benefits and positive experiences they have grown accustomed to living in a rural area, but they still adamantly oppose the rezoning.

The Jasper County Board of Supervisors on March 21 held the second of three public hearings regarding a rezoning request to turn an agricultural field into a rural residential designation, which would allow developer Brent Vandewall of Firm Foundation, Inc. to build a number of houses on the property.

The supervisors chambers was filled with residents who oppose the rezoning. Some were confused on how the process works to rezone a property, with one individual noting the planning and zoning commission voted against the matter in a 1-3 vote. Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma explained.

“The zoning board actually did not approve or deny the actual rezone. What they are doing is they are approving or denying a request and making a recommendation to the board of supervisors,” Talsma said. “The board of supervisors themselves are the ones that approve or deny the rezoning.”

However, Talsma was unsure if the developer could make another rezoning request if it is ultimately denied by the supervisors.

Rob Ryan lives south of the acreage and recalled a statement made by Vandewall at the previous hearing: “I’m just trying to give people an opportunity to live and basically get what a lot of people in this room already have.” Rob Ryan said building up to six houses on the property will degrade his family’s quality of life.

“He will then cash out and move on to the next opportunity, leaving us to deal with what was forced upon us,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t want other people to have what we have. We just don’t want ours to be diminished … I tried to purchase the land myself, but obviously I don’t have the resources the developer has.”

Others echoed Rob Ryan’s sentiments to supervisors, telling them to follow the recommendation of the planning and zoning commission and the will of the neighborhood. Terry Slifer, who lives north of the property, is strongly against the rezoning and said he is tired of people tearing up farmland.

“Look at what’s become of Altoona,” he said. “Look at all that farmland that’s been destroyed. It’s very sad. So leave it what it is. If people want to buy a house—I’m not against them wanting to live in the country. Everybody should be able to do that. But let’s not destroy farmland.”

Slifer looked for a house that was already established on the land rather than “go looking for parcel of land to strip out the farm and have a house built on it.”

He would like everybody else to do the same thing he did.

Bruce Brummel owns land to the southwest of the property. He, too, is against the rezoning, reasoning many people cannot tolerate rural life. Over the past 15 to 20 years, Brummel claimed to have more than a dozen problems with people calling the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to inspect his farm operations.

Although the inspections resulted in no penalties or infractions, Brummel said he still experienced issues with neighbors who complained of noise and smell.

“Town people do not like what goes on out here in the country,” he said. “They want the country living 300-some days out of the year, but the day it smells they go unglued. That’s about all I got to say I guess.”

Brenda Ryan, who co-owns property with Rob Ryan, recalled the previous owner of her property had developers interested in the land when it was put up for sale. Instead of “giving in to the big money,” the owner chose a young couple who valued the land.

“I can guarantee my property would never go to a development, no matter what price was offered,” she said. “There are more important things than money, more important things than tax money. If you would approve this rezoning, then I what I have, as Mr. Vandewall referred to, would disappear. My quality of life in this home would forever be changed.”

Vandewall admitted the concerns of farmers are legitimate, but he said they would be protected from nuisance complaints by the future home owners. While some claimed the developer wanted to make one-acre parcels — or smaller — Vandewall corrected he has no interest in making small lots.

“There would be no more than six at the very most,” he said of the project. “…It should stand on its own merit.”

Josh Illingworth, the builder for the proposed development, stressed the huge tax benefit five to six new homes would bring to the county. As the ground sits right now, he said, Vandewall would be paying $564 per year on taxes, whereas six, $350,000 homes would bring $4,500 to $5,000 per year.

“Along with the families that would be moving into the county and have kids attending schools,” Illingworth said. “From a tax point of view, I think it’s a no-brainer.”

Ryan Van Der Kamp, an electrical contractor, said if people drive around Newton, they will notice developments everywhere. It’s a way of life, he said.

“I don’t know if the other rural developments complain about the smells, but if you buy a house in the country that kind of goes with it,” Van Der Kamp said. “I have a house out in the country. Yes, it does smell once a year. You have to learn to deal with it.”

Van Der Kamp reiterated a point made by Illingworth at the last meeting. Some residents argued the development takes an opportunity away from a young farmer, but Van Der Kamp and Illingworth have said not having a development robs contractors and builders of an opportunity, too.

“There are a lot of new contractors,” he said. “We travel outside the country every day to do electrical work because there’s not that much here. I feel like we need to bring work to our county, bring homes to our county.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.