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Unhappy campground owners sound off on event permits
Wednesday, May 21, 2014 12:39 PM
Are all county zoning requests created equally?
A couple of Winneshiek County business owners don’t think so.
The discussion came Monday morning during the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors meeting, where they approved two conditional-use permits for area events.
The first permit, requested by Hutchinson Family Farms, was for a benefit for Paul Korsness, Sunday, June 15. The second was a request by SeedSavers Exchange, which asked for an indefinite conditional-use permit for approximately five events per year.
Both permits had been previously recommended by the Winneshiek County Planning and Zoning Committee, with one caveat: the SeedSavers request will not be indifinite; it will be reviewed again after two years.
Both Hutchinson’s and SeedSavers were assessed one fee of $200.
Dixie Hutchinson, representing Hutchinson Family Farms, next confronted the supervisors regarding the $200 fee for the benefit.
“Isn’t it sort of ridiculous to charge a young man battling cancer, with four kids, $200? I think some changes need to be made to this,” said Hutchinson.
Logsdon said the fee structure for nonprofits vs. for-profit entities is one of the issues currently being reviewed by Yaggy Colby, the firm that has been hired by the county to review its comprehensive plan.
“It’s kind of an injustice to the family,” added Hutchinson.
Following the approval of Hutchinson’s one-day permit, the supervisors approved the SeedSavers ongoing permit.
Additional discussion ensued regarding the fairness of the two requests.
“Why is it the same fee of $200 for a single event as for a two-year with a renewal?” asked Paul Scott of Decorah.
“It’s $200 for a conditional-use permit,” answered Zoning Administrator Tony Phillips.
“Why can’t I have the same thing? I have turned down two wedding receptions,” said Hutchinson.
“You requested a one-day event,” said Phillips.
“We have to deal with what the people bring us,” added Supervisors Chair John Logsdon.
“So I could have asked for multiple events? Then I could have whatever? I’m just confused,” said Hutchinson.
“You could have done just what SeedSavers did,” said Logsdon.
How to know
Deb Keefe, owner of Chimney Rock Campground near Bluffton, next asked where in the Iowa Code it says conditional-use permits can be decided on a case-by-case basis.
“Where, in the Code, does it say someone can be granted a two-year permit?” asked Keefe.
“How was I supposed to know that?” added Hutchinson.
“It doesn’t seem like we’re on an equal playing ground. It’s fine if SeedSavers does it. Why can’t I be offered the same thing?” asked Hutchinson.
Logsdon responded, “No one in this room would have come up with this. It shows a little bit of research on their (SeedSavers) part.”
County Auditor Ben Steines next interjected SeedSavers had originally asked for an open-ended permit and the P & Z held it to two years.
“I just want to be offered the same thing if I need that, and I want to be made aware that’s an option,” said Keefe.
“We’ll send the book home with you. We deal with what people ask for,” said Logsdon.
Keefe said she recently has been in contact with the state ombudsman, who suggested she ask for code numbers and an explanation of how the county reaches its decisions.
“You do have to be governed by ordinances and codes … Part of the problem is Tony (Phillips) doesn’t give the same information to everyone, or you come in and he changes his mind,” said Keefe.
“Tony doesn’t change his mind,” said Logsdon.
“He does,” said Keefe.
Logsdon next commented on the circumstances that allowed SeedSavers to receive an ongoing request: “There are two things to remember about ordinances and codes: There might not be something that says you can in there, but there is nothing that says you can’t.”
Keefe next said she realizes the county has to go by what’s on the paper, but “it just isn’t fair. You can’t just run a county by the seat of your pants,” said Keefe.
Keefe added she thinks Hutchinson should be allowed to amend her request to be more comprehensive for no additional fee.
Logsdon concluded by saying if it were up to the Board, they would have waived Hutchinson’s $200 fee for the benefit.
“Don’t think you weren’t in our minds … you were … but due to the current situation and climate…” said Logsdon, referring to recent conditional-use permit controversies the Board is addressing, including a lawsuit recently filed by Keefe.
To conclude the discussion, Supervisor Dean Thompson added, “Both the fee and the question about multiple circumstances will be part of what Yaggy Colby will be reviewing.”