A rezoning request to the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors did not make it as far as the first reading.

At Tuesday's meeting, the Board unanimously voted not to perform the first of three readings required in order for an ordinance to be adopted.

The ordinance in question came following a rezoning request from Chimney Rock Campground Owner Deb Keefe for specific areas, occupied by her rental cabins, from A-1 agricultural to C-1 commercial.

Keefe, whose campground currently exists as a "legal nonconforming use" of A-1 agricultural, revised a previous zoning request after the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended denial. On Aug. 13, the Commission recommended denial of the revised request as well.


Attorney Jim Burns, representing Keefe, called the county singling out Keefe's campground "arbitrary."

"Is the Upper Iowa to be treated with the availability to lots of people, or is it the private domain of individual landowners?" asked Burns.

Burns added he felt it was incongruous to be limiting Keefe's activities at her campground when the county has "a serious and energetic group of people promoting tourism."

Burns said Chimney Rock is a wonderful campground which serves purposes in line with tourism being promoted around the state.

"On one hand, she can have additional RVs, but she can't have a cabin. There are cabins already there," he said.

Burns encouraged the supervisors to approve Keefe's request and said they could control it by putting conditions on it.

He added there have been seven times in recent years that other campgrounds have come to the Board with other requests and they have been granted every time, sometimes over the written objections of neighbors.


Neighbor John Hall, who has expressed concerns in the past, said rezoning of the cabins "will have the effect of a potentially highly commercialized situation."

He said while Keefe has claimed to have no intention of selling alcohol, a recent weekend music event, for which no permit was obtained, included wide-spread drug use and drinking.

"This is already, in my view, a prescription for tragedy and ongoing conflict," Hall said, citing emergency management concerns.

Neighbor David Reis said he has lived near Chimney Rock for 23 years and over the years, the noise and activity coming from the campground has escalated.

Brian Fankhauser of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation said commercial zoning is incompatible with the usage of the Upper Iowa River and encouraged the Board to honor the decision already made by Planning and Zoning.

LouAnn Hall said the neighbors who have complained have been told by the Winneshiek County Sheriff's Department it does not have the resources to handle a big crowd.

"Why would I allow something if I couldn't control it?" she asked.

Jim Tweedy said he doesn't understand why it's even an issue.

He lives approximately a mile from Keefe's campground and said the noise is sometimes unbearable.

"It's like it's in my house with me ... A business owner who doesn't follow the rules of the county and flips her nose at it, how can you give her more privileges?" asked Tweedy.

Cautionary tale

Bob Watson, who lives north of Decorah, said he wished to provide the supervisors with a "cautionary tale" regarding zoning changes.

"When people move into a neighborhood, the neighborhood is what it is (when they move there) ... This Board has the ability to make zoning changes," said Watson.

"When someone from the neighborhood comes back to you and says 'You guys changed the zoning.' You caused this problem to happen.' This Board said, 'No, we don't have any responsibility, this is a private problem between the neighbors and the entity,'" said Watson.

"What you do has repercussions for people."

A nice campground

Barb Anderson of Decorah, who has a permanent campsite at Chimney Rock, said the sheriff has written a statement saying Chimney Rock is no more problematic than any other campground in the county.

She said Chimney Rock is "a lovely campground and she (Keefe) is in dire need of those cabins."

Keefe also read several letters supporting the activity at her campground, including one from Jean Jones, the president of the Des Moines West Side Chamber of Commerce.

In her letter, Jones cited the family atmosphere at Chimney Rock and Keefe's environmental efforts, such as her annual Upper Iowa River Cleanup held each fall. Jones said she brings her children and grandchildren to the cleanup to help them learn to take care of the area.

Keefe also cited other area campgrounds, such as Bear Creek Cabins, Hutchinson Family Farm Campground and Harvest Farms, as having rental cabins in operation.

Keefe said she felt she had provided the Board with "ample, positive documentation" for the rezoning request. She referenced a letter with four of her seven adjoining landowners supporting her and commented that in a democracy "majority rules."

Supervisor comment

Supervisor Dean Thompson said he feels the Board showed support for Keefe's campground by approving a recent request for some upgrades, but said he believes with the ordinances the county has, "Conversion to C-1 is a bad precedent with the new 2012 county comprehensive plan."

Supervisor Mark Kuhn added he believes there should probably be some kind of change in county zoning to allow some of these things to happen.

What's next?

When asked how she might proceed following the Board's action, Keefe said she and Burns "are investigating all options and will proceed accordingly."