The Winneshiek County Planning and Zoning Commission is against expanding commercial activity at a local campground.

At last Tuesday's meeting, the Commission denied a request from Deb Keefe, owner of Chimney Rock Campground north of Bluffton, to rezone her property from A-1 agricultural to C-1 highway commercial, with eight Commissioners voting against the request and Commissioner Doug Egeland abstaining.

Egeland said he has done work for Keefe in the past, and didn't feel comfortable voting in favor or against the issue.

Keefe made the request in order to build five rental cabins. She said rather than having one "L-shaped" section of her campground (the area under the cabins) zoned commercial, she thought it would be easier to submit a request to convert the entire campground to commercial.



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Neighboring property owners David Reis, John Hall and Kirstin Heine all spoke against the prospect of rezoning the campground.

"The folks that live on that road already have the burden of the garbage, the beer cans and the dust," said Reis.

"Fourth of July week, there are hundreds of cars and the dust is really a burden on our property. You can't use your front yard."

Reis spoke of loud music and heavy drinking and lamented that the sheriff's department does not provide enough monitoring of the campground activities.

Reis said he and his neighbors generally "try to be reasonable about it," but he has called in the past to complain.

"I haven't called for a number of years, but Deb has tried to intimidate me and has given me certain finger signs," said Reis.

Reis said he feels Keefe tries to downplay how busy the campground is.

"She's much bigger than she's letting on. There is one upcoming event on her website advertising 12 bands and 30 DJs. How many people will be coming to an event like that?" asked Reis, adding in addition to loud music he is kept up at night from the amount of traffic and fireworks explosions.

Hall, who also lives on Chimney Rock Rd., said while he doesn't have any difficulty with Keefe operating a campground, he does agree with Reis on some of the noise concerns.

"I think this is a larger issue. I think the decision to convert an agriculture zone into a highway commercial zone will change the character of this place forever ... Will it open the gates for zoning commercial areas around it in the future?" asked Hall.

Hall said the possible future commercial expansion would add "additional torment to the roads and bridges that is already there."

"She wants to do certain things, such as a convenience store ... Will liquor be sold? Will gas be sold? These are important topics," said Hall.

Heine, whose property adjoins the campground, said the transition from ag to commercial zoning is a big leap.

"I have been active with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF), which is dedicated to protecting this Iowa gem," said Heine of the Upper Iowa River.

"A convenience store, restaurant or gas station in this location is not very wise."

Joe McGovern, INHF president, said he commends the Winneshiek County Supervisors for their passage of a "smart" comprehensive plan.

"That plan recognizes the need to preserve agricultural, open spaces. A proposed change of zoning from ag to commercial is incompatible and potentially destructive," said McGovern.



Response

During the meeting, Keefe responded to complaints by saying much of the traffic on Chimney Rock Rd. is traveling to Chimney Rock Park.

"I have taken pictures and complained and gone to the supervisors and asked them to do something. I feel like I have done everything I can," said Keefe.

"There is a problem with the parking at the Chimney Rock County Park on both sides of the road. That is not my traffic," she said.

Keefe said she regularly places receptacles out for garbage in the area.

"I go around and pick up more garbage than anyone. I'm all for protecting the Upper Iowa River," said Keefe, adding she has hosted an Upper Iowa River cleanup weekend for the past 13 years.

Keefe said she encourages her campers to turn down their music by 11 p.m. and asks them to turn it off by midnight.

"Mr. Reis has called me at 6:30 in the evening," she said.

"I have encouraged the neighbors to call the sheriff's department. The fact I haven't had them out (the sheriff) indicates it's not from my campground."



Commissioner opinion

P & Z Commissioner Mike McGee said he recently visited the campground and was "a little disappointed" at what he saw.

"I'm not too in favor of putting it as commercial," said McGee.

Commissioners Steve Langland and Mary Hoffman said they were concerned with increased traffic in the area.

Commission Chair Dan Langreck said he opposed the switch because it could "lead to 'spot' zoning."

"Maybe we need to change some of the rules that apply to rental cabins," said Egeland, acknowledging the reason Keefe had requested the change.

"We don't want industry moving in the commercial space right next to a campground. Maybe we need to rewrite some rules."

Commissioner John Berlage said while he agrees it would be convenient for Keefe to sell some camping supplies, "I don't think anyone on the river needs more access to more drink (alcohol)."



What's next?

At Monday's meeting of the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, which has the final say on any rezoning requests, the Board set a public hearing on the matter for Monday, June 3, at 10 a.m.