Johnson County supervisors authorize first step of rural development

BY NICK HASSETT | MARCH 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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After a lengthy and at times emotional public hearing on Tuesday, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors decided to take the first step in rezoning a rural area north of Iowa City to allow a housing development.

The supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of the measure’s first and second considerations, with newly elected Supervisor John Etheredge being the sole opposing vote. The proposal will now move onto a third and final reading.

The application — which zones approximately 91 acres of land on Newport Road from Agricultural to Rural Cluster — would open the process for a housing development that would include approximately 70 units.

“In the end, we have to think about the give-and-take that happens in government,” Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said. “There are 31 different amendments that clearly fall under this, and for me to say no after the culmination of years of planning and compromise … I don’t think that’s honorable, quite frankly. I stand on my decision-making over the past 12 years.”

This zoning plan has been highly contested. The late former Supervisor Larry Meyers was elected based on his position on the plan, and he was the deciding vote to prevent the road from being widened when the supervisors voted on the matter, The Daily Iowan has previously reported.

This time, for most of the supervisors, the issue came down to individual property rights and the land-use plan developed by the county.

“I’ve changed my mind [on the rezoning] about 150 times over the past few weeks,” Supervisor Pat Harney said. “It’s a cherished area that provides solitude for many. I don’t mind revisiting the land-use plan, but right now, I’m going to go along with what it allows.”

Etheredge said his opposition to the zoning had to do with the state of Newport Road in allowing growth.

“This development will potentially take up every bit of growth available on that road; this will bring on a major road upgrade, a major undertaking from the county,” he said. “Increasing the capacity out there to almost capacity with one development is not something I can support.”

County staff estimated the development as proposed would add 560 vehicles per day onto the road, which currently sees between 1,030 and 1,120 a day. The threshold identified for the safety of the road is 2,000 vehicles per day.

More than 20 citizens of Johnson County, most of them residents of Newport Township, spoke during the hearing on the measure, nearly all in opposition to the rezoning.

“This proposal is 20, 30, 40 years ahead of its time,” said Tom Carsner, a resident of Iowa City. “[This area] isn’t surrounded by homes, it’s surrounded by agriculture. That’s what the neighborhood is and will be for some time.”

The main concerns from those who spoke revolved around preserving the area as agricultural land, though several people spoke about the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians on Newport Road if traffic is increased.

 “I work at a bike shop in town, and this is one of the last areas we see as a safe and scenic area [for cyclists],” said Nick Sobocinski. “I don’t believe the road can maintain the current safety and scenery if this development is passed. There’s an intrinsic value that may not show up in the numbers.”

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