February 27, 2024

Supervisors approve rezoning of farmland for housing development

More than 11 acres will be used for up to 6 houses, much to the disappointment of neighbors

Brent Vandewall of Firm Foundation, Inc. speaks to the Jasper County Board of Supervisors during the meeting on March 28, which was packed with residents who were both for and against a proposed rezoning. The rezone request was ultimately approved by the board of supervisors in a 3-0 vote.

Several rural residents were disappointed in the board of supervisors’ decision on March 28 to rezone more than 11 acres of agricultural land into rural residential, officially allowing a local developer to build up to six houses on the property, and putting to rest weeks worth of arguments at public hearings.

The property is bordered by Highway S-74 (the Reasnor Road) to the west, a 32-acre field to the north, a neighborhood of six homes to the east and a home with a large open yard to the south. To the northwest and across the highway are several houses accessed through the highway or South 52nd Avenue East.

Arguments against the rezone largely revolved around the quality of the ground for crops and its usefulness to new farmers, the presumed nuisance complaints against farmers from the would-be homeowners and the diminished rural atmosphere and quality of life from having up to six new neighbors in the country.

Those who support the project say local contractors would be robbed of an opportunity to work on the construction, several homes are already visible from the property and the homeowners will have to sign contracts prohibiting them from making nuisance complaints against farmers.

Also, the addition of six new homes would increase the tax base of the county, which has identified increased housing stock as a need in its comprehensive plan. Kevin Luetters, community development director for Jasper County, made a number of references to the plan at the supervisors meeting.

Jasper County also prioritizes agricultural land and wants to conserve valuable farm ground when possible. To determine whether a parcel is more suitable for farming or development, there is a number of criteria the land has to meet. Soil quality, nearby properties and utility access, among other things, are considered.

Despite a high CSR2 rating, Luetters said the land has an average ag value, which means the 11-acre parcel is viable for development.

“Very productive crop ground,” Luetters said. “But as far as siting, where you want to build in a cluster area where there’s already housing, that’s what brings us more into mid.”

Although the county’s planning and zoning commission sided with the residents who opposed the rezone in a 1-3 vote, the supervisors went against the advisory board’s recommendation. Supervisor Brandon Talsma understands arguments from both sides, but he maintains his stance for personal property rights.

Talsma was sympathetic to the livestock farm operators who shared the issues they had of people complaining about the smell and noise. But the chairman of the board of supervisors was also dismayed by the alleged bad faith arguments from people who decried the use of farmland for the development.

“I’m not going to lie, I kind of had to bite my tongue a bit the first public hearing we had, because I know for a fact there were people sitting in this room who are opposed to this redevelopment acting like they’re pro-agriculture that have called me, texted me, emailed me complaining about your guys’ livestock operation.”

Talsma also disagreed with the argument that the rezone would take away an opportunity for a beginning farmer.

“I’m a beginning farmer. I’m trying to get my first chunk of ground bought. I know quite a few beginning farmers in Jasper County. Not a single one of us put a bid in on this place,” Talsma said. “None of us have any interest in it because it’s 11 acres. You’re not going to get 11 acres of row crop to pay for itself.”

If it was a 40-acre field, Talsma said it would not be a debate. It would be a no. Supervisor Denny Stevenson also gets what both sides are arguing, but reasoned there are already houses in the area so the zoning makes sense. Supervisor Doug Cupples also agreed with his fellow officials.

“I am for letting him do this,” Cupples said of developer Brent Vandewall of Firm Foundation, Inc.

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.