County zoning may not be perfect, but it is the law.
That was the message sent by the Winneshiek County Board of Adjustment during a public hearing on a request from Chimney Rock Campground Owner Deb Keefe that the Board "recommend a stay or not pursue the removal of three cabins on her property."
The Board voted 3-0 Tuesday to deny Keefe's request. Board Member Tom Ryan abstained, and newly elected Board Chair Kevin Dykstra was absent.
Keefe's request came as the result of a letter sent to her Nov. 5 by Winneshiek County Zoning Administrator Tony Phillips. In the letter, Phillips told Keefe the cabins, which are out of compliance with county zoning ordinances, need to be removed by March 1. The letter was sent following a motion by the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors to pursue enforcement of the zoning ordinance. The Supervisors made the motion following a lawsuit filed by Keefe, which called the county's refusal to rezone the area occupied by three cabins on her property "unreasonable, arbitrary and discriminatory," because similar requests have been made by similar parties and granted.
In his opening comments to the Board, Attorney Jim Burns, representing Keefe, questioned "the proper role of county government in regulating the lives of our citizens."
Burns said in requiring removal of the cabins, "the government seems to be working at cross purposes to itself."
He noted Winneshiek County has a visitors bureau and other agencies "strongly endorsing promotion of tourism as one of the major economic features to be encouraged."
Burns said Winneshiek County's "current zoning ordinance is lagging behind the rest of the county" and said it seems logical Keefe should receive additional time for zoning ordinances to catch up.
He added it would be "premature" for the county to order her to tear them down, in case the Planning and Zoning Commission does choose to address this type of zoning this year. He said Keefe has offered to designate them as storage sheds, which would be allowed under her current zoning of A-1 agricultural.
Prior to receiving community input during the hearing, Assistant County Attorney Steve Belay reminded the Board of its charge.
"Your obligation is to hear and decide whether it is an error. You're being asked to do a number of things here. Your power is limited to deciding whether or not the administrator (Phillips) committed a mistake or error by sending that letter Nov. 5," said Belay.
A number of Keefe's neighbors spoke against Keefe's request, including David Reis, John Hall and Jim Tweedy.
Hall cited the same concerns he has raised at previous public hearings on the matter, including the lack of infrastructure to support additional campground guests and traffic.