By Andy Mitchell
The Johnson County Comprehensive 2018 Plan sparked discussion and caused some concerns in a public hearing Monday held by the county Planning & Zoning Commission.
The Comprehensive Plan contains a number of goals and strategies to meet desired ends. The plan is broken up into chapters on Sustainability, Land Use, Local Economy, Infrastructure, and Implementation. The chapters include goals with strategies and actions to meet them.
Before the plan was presented, commission member Terry Dahms noted what he labeled the unusual nature of the plan in that the Board of Supervisors saw it first and committees have only had some input.
“My concern is that by going this route, this plan has been politicized,” Dahms said.
The sustainability chapter included steps for preserving natural resources, supporting affordable and equitable access to housing, supporting and advancing energy efficiency, renewable energy programs, and conservation.
The plan also contained goals for the county’s infrastructure and amenities. These goals included developing well-connected recreational parks and natural spaces and reducing auto travel.
Matters of the local economy were also a focus of the plan. The plan’s aims in this regard were described as fostering a diverse and resilient economy, encourage sustainable agricultural activities, and providing opportunities for sustainable industrial and commercial activities.
After taking questions and comments from members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, the public voiced opinions.
One aspect of the plan that garnered controversy was Strategy Five for the first goal of the land-use chapter. The strategy was to discourage concentrated animal-feed operations in Johnson County.
Nancy Slach of West Branch criticized the strategy and called it bullying of hog farmers.
“Farming is not easy if you’re a large farmer, and it’s not easy if you’re a small farmer, either,” Slach said.
Ray Slach, a hog farmer and the husband of Nancy Slach, also criticized the strategy. He suggested that the it be struck from the plan entirely.
The plan received positive comments as well as critical ones.
Tom Carsner favorably contrasted the plan to Johnson County’s North Quarter development area.
“I think what this comprehensive plan has done is a good step toward smart growth,” Carsner said.
Jesse Burns, who has lived in Johnson County for 48 years and has followed the plan closely, prepared five pages of comments to paraphrase for the meeting. His main concerns were the conflicts he found in the plan and what he called the exclusion of a vehicle to create small farms in the 4- to 20-acre range.
“I see this plan is going to be used to create more policy, and policy is fine,” Burns said. “Let’s just make sure it’s the right policy.”
The current draft of the Comprehensive 2018 Plan is available on the Johnson County website.
The Planning & Zoning Commission voted to defer action and reopen the public hearing on Feb. 28. The commission members opted to take more time to further read the 156 pages of the plan.