P & Z not just a 'rubber stamp'
To the editor:
In a letter to the editor on July 9, Jack Miller expressed frustration with what he sees as a "rubber stamp" process in county planning and zoning. Specifically he feels that the board does not consider public concerns with increased odor resulting from new hog barns. Speaking for myself as a member of the county planning board, I appreciate Mr. Miller's frustration and welcome an opportunity to explain some common misunderstandings about the permitting process. It is important to understand that the planning and zoning board does not approve or deny permit applications; the board simply makes a recommendation to the county commissioners who have the final say in whether or not to grant a permit.
When an application for a conditional use permit is made the board considers a number of factors: Is the use permitted under applicable zoning laws? Will it alter the character if the locale or adversely affect health and safety? Does it cause a nuisance? It is understandable that many people feel that these second two factors should be where public input and concerns should stop some permits from being recommended.
There is no question that a strong odor of manure can have many negative effects in an area, which is why the permits are "conditional," because they are granted with conditions that are intended to mitigate these concerns.
With respect to odor from feedlots and barns the state has strict guidelines that specify how far away from dwellings a new feedlot or barn must be in order to reduce the odor to a reasonable level. If these "odor offsets" cannot be met a permit will not be granted.
As a board we have to consider the merits of the proposed new facility and whether or not the conditions can be met. We can't assume a new facility will have the problems of existing facilities. As far as the perception that the planning board "rubber stamps" everything, that is simply the result of excellent administration. Our county P & Z administrator works with the applicants to make sure that they can meet the conditions required for the permit, which means that as a board we rarely see an application for a permit that shouldn't be approved.
Some cases are borderline and that is where public comment plays an important role. Public input often leads to additional conditions being added to the permit to ensure that the new facility will not cause problems for the community. If there are problems with a feedlot or hog barn, you shouldn't wait until the farmer wants to build another one to speak up; report it to the county planning and zoning office right away. The county will investigate, and if it is found that the conditions are not being met the permit can be revoked by the county board.
Jon Chalmers, vice-chairman
Lyon County Planning and Zoning Board