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March 18, 2018

2/15/2018 2:06:00 PM
Planning Commission OKs ordinance changes; sends on to county board

By Karen M. Jorgensen

Changes to Chapter 18 of the Dodge County Zoning Ordinance unanimously were unanimously passed by the Zoning Commission last week and passed on to the County Commissioners for a final decision.

This was the second time the changes had a public hearing before the group. The Planning Commission approved the ordinance changes in December after a public hearing that drew public comment, primarily regarding term limits for commission members.

At the December meeting they also approved changes to two additional ordinance chapters.

Dodge County Commissioners voted against the Planning Commission's first recommendation to approve the changes at their December meeting on the advice of County Attorney Paul Kiltinen. It was Kiltinen's position that the Planning Commission should consider each chapter separately and review again the information submitted.

At last week's hearing, Zoning Administrator Melissa DeVetter went through the Chapter 18 changes explaining them and the reasoning behind them.

Many of the changes, she said, were to bring the ordinance into agreement with state statutes and also to remove references to permits no longer required.

"The biggest issue," DeVetter said, "is probably the term limits."

Currently, she said, commission members are limited to a maximum of two three-year terms at the discretion of the county board.

That, she said, has been interpreted as giving the board discretion in making these appointments.

The new language, DeVetter said, sets the term of each member for three years, with no more than three nor fewer than one filled at the beginning of each calendar year. Vacancies will be filled for the unexpired term of any member who term becomes vacant.

Regarding term limits, the new wording says "Each member may be eligible for reappointment."

The wording she added is similar to changes made in wording to the Board of Adjustment members.

This time around there was relatively little discussion during the public comment portion of the hearing.

Brad Trom make comments on behalf of the Dodge County Concerned Citizens in opposition to the changes.

"We want three changes to the ordinance," he said.

First, he said, they want a broad group of citizens on the Planning Commission. Dodge County has a population of over 20,000 people, he said, why is the commission comprised exclusively of factory farm operators and those who support factory farms.

Second, he said, the group wants to ensure that others have a chance to serve on the commission so they want strict term limits.

Finally, he said, they want published notice of all vacancies. At the end of 2017, he said, the county had three positions to fill and they reappointed two members.

Ken Folie, a member of the Canisteo Township Board and the Board of Adjustment and also a former Planning Commission member, said that it is not true that the Planning Commission gives blanket approval to applicants.

There is a lot of screening that goes on before an application reaches the stage of a public hearing before the Planning Commission, he said.

"A number of the applicants are turned down," he said.

County Commissioner Rod Peterson said he wanted to talk in terms of generalities about term limits.

The Planning Commission, he said, is a subcommittee of the county board and the board is ultimately the group that makes the decisions.

"You bring it to us so we can make informed decisions," he said.

Term limits are irrelevant, he said, the knowledge they have is what is important.

Ultimately, he said, the county board makes the decision and they would prefer to have people with knowledge and experience advising them.

Regarding advertising positions, he said, every board at every level of government has subcommittees and none of them advertise in local papers.

Several Planning Commission members also weighed in on the subject.

There is a diversity of members, Jim Checkel said, pointing out that he works at Mayo and is not a factory farmer. One of the reasons he has supported the farms, he said, is because he wants young people to be able to get started in farming.

Beth Davis said she works for Olmsted County and knows it is very difficult to get people to apply for these commission positions.

Minor Buckingham said he was not a factory farmer either.

Regarding people getting involved, he said "Milton, Concord, Ellington and West Concord had caucuses last night. Ten people showed up. I guess that explains that."

Two other public hearings also resulted in recommendations being sent on to the county board.

Dragonfly Solar, LLC was given approval for a conditional use permit to construct a solar energy farm on a portion of an abandoned railroad right of way in Ashland Township. The property is owned by Denzil McNeilus and is adjacent to cultivated farmland with wind turbines.

The CUP was approved with the conditions that:

• A Dodge County Zoning Permit is obtained before construction:

• The operation complies with all local, state and federal regulations;

• The use applies only to the 4.53 leased acres where the solar farm is proposed;

• The use complies with nuisance standards;

• When applicable the permittee shall obtain the appropriate stormwater permits from MPCA or verification from the MPCA that non is required;

• The solar farm shall meet the performance standards of the zoning ordinance, and,

• A decommissioning plan, including financial assurance, is submitted to the Environmental Services Department.

The third public hearing involved a request to consider the General Development Concept Plan (GDCP) for Andy Cummings/Med City Builders for a new major subdivision of approximately 24 acres of a 93.75 acre parcel in the NE 1/4 of the SW 1/4 of Section 15 in Mantorville Township. Buckwalter Farms is owner of the property.

Commission members approved the GDCP with the recommendations that the applicant should incorporate the comments of Mantorville Township and the Road Authority into their preliminary plan.

All recommendations of the Planning Commission now go to the county board for their consideration.

Claremont Service

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