Jasper County residents are again disputing a rezone request from a developer who wants to build more homes in the country, a course of action that has always resulted in the board of supervisors approving the rezone despite opposition from neighbors who fear it would harm the environment and the aesthetics.
Within the past year, the county has seen rezoning requests for an 11-acre parcel just south of Newton city limits along Highway S-74 South and a 25-acre parcel on Highway F-17 West. Both were rezoned from agricultural to rural residential to make way for new subdivisions near already existing neighborhoods.
While there were no comments at the public hearing for the 25-acre parcel rezone, community development director Kevin Luetters disclosed there was opposition from neighbors at the planning and zoning commission meeting. And the 11-acre parcel rezone was disputed by neighbors in all three public hearings.
The rezone request at the Sept. 19 board of supervisors meeting was similar in that it attracted a large number of neighbors to the courthouse to contest it. The parcel this time was a 19-acre section in Mingo owned by Anita Norian. The land is between a residential subdivision and K & H Ranch Boarding Facility.
Luetters told the board of supervisors the planning and zoning commission unanimously voted against the rezone, citing the parcel’s Land Evaluation and Site Analysis (LESA) score was considered average. The cutoff for low agricultural value is 125, but this parcel came in at a score of 150.
Jessica Butler, a neighbor who lives directly west of of the 19-acre property, opposed the rezone and potential development. Apart from the personal concerns of having new houses next door to her home, Butler argued the utility infrastructure needed to support these homes may not be sufficient.
None of the other homes in that area, she said, have access to sewer, and the topography of the land is fairly hilly. Butler also worried the county could be depriving land to potential farmers and their profitable business opportunities, and the additional homes also means increased demands on the roads.
“I think the current use is the best use with pasture to the north and the farming to the south on that lot,” she said. “Tax implications, from what I’ve heard, I was not able to attend the planning and zoning commission meeting, but I heard that the proposal would be to put fairly significantly valued homes on those parcels.”
Butler claimed the new homes would be valued at $1 million, though a representative of the development group denied those claims.
Of note, the 15 properties west of the 19-acre parcel have an average assessed value of more than $372,000. However, the nine properties along the Valley View Estates Plat 3 road — and are just west of the parcel — have an average assessed value of more than $434,000.
The homeowners association owns the road leading to the 13 properties in Valley View Estates. Butler said it is a privately owned road without public access. Without an association vote should could not say for sure but she was fairly certain the homeowners would be opposed to any access linking the properties.
Josh Meyer, another neighbor to the west, agreed with Butler’s points, and he questioned the intentions of the proposed project, which he claimed would only benefit two people: the developer and the owner of the property who Meyer claimed lived in Florida.
Meyer also called to attention the proposed lot sizes of the development. Many of the surrounding properties are built on two-acre lots, but Meyer worried potentially building on one-acre lots. He also took issue with the alleged inconsistent, mixed stories about the land owner and developer.
Echoing Butler’s comments about the utility needs, Meyer said his home loses power all of the time, and if more homes are built they may experience the same issues. Meyer also said the development could hurt the ranch business to the east of the property.
“It went through the zoning committee and they unanimously didn’t pass it. I’m hoping you guys can see it the same way,” Meyer said.
Kevin Gracey, of K & H Ranch, said there are 34 horses boarded on the property, as well as 18 cattle. Gracey’s main concern is property taxes that have already increased by $500 at the ranch from the year before. The homes could increase their ranch’s valuation, which means they will have to pay more property taxes.
“We’re going to have to find something extra just to pay our bills, property taxes,” Gracey said. “And if this development goes in with multi-million-dollar houses, our property value — it is a good thing that our property value goes up — but I’d like it to stay down because we won’t be able to afford our property taxes.”
Which Gracey considers to be gentrification. Gracey also noted the operations of running a ranch — the spreading of manure and the cutting of firewood — could be considered nuisances by the new neighbors. Neither Gracey nor fellow ranch owner Hunter Martin want to have the cops called on them for issues like that.
“If this does get passed, I would like a nuisance law signed into effect … We’re just trying to keep our business from pretty much tanking, solely because of two people to profit,” Gracey said, later noting he is also concerned about disturbing and harming the wildlife in the area as a result of the developments.
Jay Cowan of Platinum Development and DSM Construction said there will be 16, one-acre lots on the property; the backlots will be larger. They will also be custom homes, but Cowan said they will not be million-dollar homes per se. Cowan said the parcel is the perfect place to extend residential development.
“There are already 75 houses out there,” Cowan said. “We’re just adding 16. They’re going to be new houses. Some of the people moving out there might be looking forward to living next to a horse farm. They might sit down on their deck every night, or four-season porch, and watch the horses. Nobody knows this.”
Cowan said a lot of assumptions are coming into play, and he argued adding 16 more houses is not going to affect the roads or areas around the development.
“At this point, all we have is a concept,” he said. “We haven’t run it through anything. We don’t have contours. We don’t know how much grading is going to have to happen. We do have an engineer that says it is possible. We’ll have detention basins within the property that will control the water.”
Typically, when a rezone is not contested in-person, the board of supervisors will waive the second and third readings and approve the rezone. But since this particular parcel is being contested, the board will hear out all comments and concerns at the subsequent second and third readings before making any action.