October 7, 2009
Minutes of the Zoning Commission meeting with North Iowa Area Council of Governments (NIACOG) to discuss Floyd Countyís proposed Urban Renewal Plan and upcoming changes to Floyd Countyís Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance.
Board members present were Susan Nelson, Dean Tjaden, and Michael Goddard. Also present was Jeff Sherman, Zoning Administrator; Misty Day, Zoning Assistant; Joe Myhre with NIACOG; and Tracy Meise, Planning & Zoning Administrator for the City of Charles City. Board members Tom Schwab and Duane Koch were absent.
Joe Myhre introduced himself and stated that he was hired by the Board of Supervisors to prepare the Urban Renewal Plan for Floyd County. The purpose of the plan is to capture the new taxable valuation associated with the wind turbines. The Zoning Boardís responsibility in this plan is to determine if the proposed Urban Renewal Plan is in compliance with Floyd Countyís Comprehensive Plan. It is not the Zoning Boardís decision to determine if tax increment financing is good or bad or if the use of the money towards road improvements is good or bad. The Urban Renewal Plan is not contiguous. About 4 or 5 years ago the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that an Urban Renewal area does not have to be a contiguous district. We are utilizing the Countyís selected bonding attorney, Bob Josten, with Dorsey & Whitney Law Firm in Des Moines, who has reviewed and signed off on the plan. What the Urban Renewal area is on the map is the blue asterisk like markings that represent the wind turbines and the red is the roadways in which the County plans to take the new taxable valuation from the wind turbines and spend money, because you can only spend money within the Urban Renewal area. So this plan will capture revenue from the wind turbines and the money that will be captured will only be spent within the road right-of-ways designated within this plan. The County anticipates that there will be over $14 million dollars generated in total new taxable value over the next 20 years, which is the life of the Urban Renewal Plan. So within that 20 year period, those wind turbines are going to generate in excess of $14 million dollars in new taxes to the County. The tax increment coming off of the wind turbines can only be spent in that Urban Renewal area and can only be spent on a debt or obligation that the County has incurred. The County is proposing to go out and bond $11,500,000.00, probably next year, and resurface or make road improvements to all of the roads that are identified as red. They will do that with the increment coming off of the turbines. The turbines are going to generate about $865,000.00 in taxes each year once they come online at full assessed value. The County has adopted an ordinance that says the first year, those turbines are tax exempt. In year 2, they are going to pay 5% of their assessed value. In year 3, they are going to pay 10% of their assessed value. The turbines do not come online as fully assessed until year seven and when they are fully assessed they are only assessed at 30% of their actual value, which is determined by State law. Roadways are an integral part of our comprehensive plan and improving those roadways only complements that comprehensive plan, so Mr. Myhre recommended to the Board that he believed these roadways and the Urban Renewal Plan are in compliance with the County Comprehensive Plan. Board Member Dean Tjaden asked Mr. Myhre if 30% was the highest the wind turbines could be assessed at, and he said it was.
Mr. Myhre then went on to state that by including it into a tax increment plan, the County is capturing the consolidated taxes. So they are taking the school district tax, community college tax, extension tax Ė all of that gets funneled to the County. Instead of the County just getting their normal $8 or $9, they will be getting $14 or $15 or something probably higher than that, because they are taking that consolidated tax. The County is actually taking a pretty aggressive approach to how many dollars they want to capture out of this, but they argue that 25% of the bridges within the County are embargoed and in need of repair. What they are capturing wonít even begin to cover what is needed for these bridge projects. With the Stateís reduction in the road use tax money that the Counties are receiving, they canít keep up with the maintenance of the roadways and certainly within the last couple of years a gas tax increase has been discussed by the State legislature. NIACOG has also done these Urban Renewal Plans in Worth County, Mitchell County, Winnebago County, and Franklin County is doing one now, so this has become a kind of a standard practice and Floyd County is very fortunate to have the type of investment we have in wind turbines in the County and have this ability to leverage these dollars toward road improvements. Mr. Myhre can foresee that the State legislature will change how these turbines are taxed, where like power companies, they will be taxed across the whole distribution system. The tax dollars wonít stay in Floyd County they will be disbursed across the entire distribution system, so that is why the County wants to get aggressive and bond a bunch because once itís bonded for and the legislature changes how the wind turbines are taxed, the County can still continue until their debts are retired. Once they have bonded the tax increments from the wind turbines, any tax assessment changes the legislature makes for wind turbines will have no affect on the County until its bonded debt has been paid.
Additionally, if an Urban Renewal Area comes within 2 miles of a corporate boundary, then we have to have the consent of those incorporated communities and have them enter into an agreement with the County. There are 8 communities that are within the 2 miles and NIACOG has secured those agreements with those communities through their City Councils. Another element of the approval process is a consultation session with all of the taxing entities that will take place next week. The community college, the school districts, and the superintendents were invited to meet with the Board of Supervisors to discuss how the taxes that are generated from the wind turbines will be spent. Board Member Susan Nelson asked for clarification as to why the schools are involved. Mr. Myhre stated that it is because the County is capturing the school districtsí taxes. If there wasnít an Urban Renewal Plan the County would be getting a proportional share of that $14 million dollars over the next 20 years. Board Member Susan Nelson stated, if there was an Urban Renewal Plan, the County would get all of it? Mr. Myhre replied yes. If there is no Urban Renewal Plan, there would be an equalization in the farming community that would equalize Ė in agricultural assessments weíre going to add $14 million worth of new taxes to the rural assessment. That $14 million just gets divided out amongst the AG community. Theoretically, it would lower everybody that was an Ag land owner, their taxes would be reduced a little bit. But the school district does not really gain additional dollars. So if there is $14 million dollars in taxes generated, the schools would get half of that $14 million dollars, they donít get that $14 million dollars. That other $7 million is spread out across the entire county on farmland valuation. So it would be a $7 million dollar reduction in valuation, because all school districts are treated the same. There is a per pupil investment and we are taking money from the County, so the State actually backfills any school aid dollars that are lost as a result of the Urban Renewal area. So schools are basically made whole out of this so that is why they donít object to the creation of the Urban Renewal area. Theoretically, some large farm land owners would potentially see a reduction in property tax if there wasnít an Urban Renewal Plan, because the $7 million dollars would be reduced across the entire county in valuation. Itís really goofy and pretty complicated how they figure tax levies. Mr. Myhre then goes on to state that assuming there is $7 million dollars in new valuation that the school districts would get as a result of this because this property is out in the County, the school district doesnít gain $7 million dollars in new revenue - Board Member Susan Nelson stated, you said it was being backfilled by the State, so wouldnít that be new revenue? Mr. Myhre stated that they get a percentage of that getting backfilled. What is does, it would lower the taxes of the farming community so there would be less dollars coming from a land owner to pay for the school aid formula, so the State of Iowa backfills the school aid formula because of a lower taxable valuation to the AG land owners. Tracy Meise stepped in and stated, the biggest thing with TIFF is that you obviously have a huge improvement, so originally this land was taxed as regular AG land and then you get an increased valuation which happens with these windmills, so the taxes of the AG land essentially grows and then that extra increment that comes from the improvement, thatís what is distributed thatís going to help pay for these roads - that extra increment that we see as an improvement, we can tax that at a higher level - instead of that getting spread out amongst the property owners toward their taxable valuation. You have a much bigger pot now because you have more improvements throughout the community, and everyone shares in that big pot. Well instead of that tax money from the windmills going to that big pot, it is put in the Urban Renewal Plan to pay for those roads. 20 years later that comes off and the tax valuations change. Mr. Myhre then stated that the key is is that AG land value is frozen so the County can get $100 million dollars in new capital investment in the County, but AG land value does not change. Itís a redistribution because if there is $100 million dollars in taxable AG land valuation, thatís what is stays at. It doesnít go up and down. Itís just a redistribution of the new valuation. In a City, when there is a new investment it generates more tax dollars for the community. In a rural area itís an equalization.
Board Member Michael Goddard stated, from this point on, is there any call for expansion of these and can it be added on to? Mr. Myhre stated that if there is another wind turbine farm that is developed in the County, we can do one of two things. We can develop another Urban Renewal Plan if the County has more roads that it wants to improve or we can amend this Plan to add those new wind turbines and not even affect the roads, but just accelerate the retirement of the debt. Mike Goddard stated, prior to the State stepping in? Mr. Myhre stated, yeah, as long as the State doesnít step in, exactly. If the County says Ė and this is what happened in Worth County and Mitchell County, they have a lot more wind turbines then you guys, but they went out and bonded for $8 million dollars and improved 30 miles of road. Well their bids were so competitive that they only used $6 million dollars and now Iím back amending both of their plans so they can add more roads to their Urban Renewal area because they have another $2 million dollars they want to spend because thatís what they bonded for. So we were able to go in and amend this plan. But the key to this is that there is a 20 year life to this plan and you have to certify debt by December 1 of each calendar year to establish a base value and so we have to have this plan in place and all the notifications and publishing of the ordinance completed prior to December 1 so we can establish a base year with the turbines. The base year actually will go back to January 1 of the preceding year, so for the purpose of determining the base valuation of these turbines, we will go back to January 1, 2008, and look at the tax records and see what they were assessed at as of January 1, 2008. So these turbines have been up but they havenít been generating taxes because it takes 18 months before they come online originally and the first year they are exempt. So in your case, we can actually wait one full year before we adopt this plan simply because there isnít any increment coming in. The Countyís bonding attorney even said that we could adopt this plan in year five because there is 2 years where youíd only capture a small percentage of that 30%, but I think the bigger fear is the State legislature changing the way these things are taxed. Right now approximately 25% of the counties in the State have wind turbines. Warren Dunkel stated that we saw a similar situation with the casinos. You have your haves and your have nots and everybody is complaining that they donít have a casino, so they go out and establish foundations and give every county that doesnít have a casino $65,000 - $100,000 a year. The same thing could very well happen with these turbines. Instead of just giving the money to the County, theyíre going to capture the money statewide. They did the same thing with the local option sales tax on the schools. Once the big schools came on board with it, it all of a sudden becomes a State wide tax and the State controls where the tax dollar goes. So this is really a good strategic move on the Countyís part to capture these tax dollars before they do change. I really think it is a loophole. When they built a new generator plant in Mason City they spent a Ĺ billion dollars on that. I was writing an Urban Renewal Plan for Cerro Gordo County, and Mason City was looking at capturing that increment and as a generation plant it has territory distribution, which is half the State so it did absolutely no good to create an Urban Renewal Plan because it would only generate $100,000 per year in taxes for Mason City.
Discussion was had concerning what type of improvements would be made to the roads. It was determined that there would be a lot of shoulder work done on these roads, but a majority will probably be resurfacing. It was also determined that there may be a bridge project or two on some of those road segments, as well. Mr. Myhre also stated that he had the mayors for the City of Marble Rock and Rudd contact him, because the County engineer proposed the roadway going right through those communities. This road is considered a County roadway as it is a farm to market road that it is maintained by the County. But it overlaps Urban Renewal areas. Both Marble Rock and Rudd have their own Urban Renewal areas and we can not stack those, so there is still an opportunity to partner with the County and piggyback on these projects when the County does come in to do a project, and maybe Dusty is going to pay the whole bill anyway with farm to market money, but we canít have overlapping Urban Renewal areas. The smaller cities are really going to benefit from this as well because the County will be able to use the farm to market money within the smaller communities instead of on the roadway leading up to that community. So I think there will be a lot of happy people in the County when all of this road paving gets completed and I know the Supervisors have commented on a couple of roads that are really bad and are in desperate need of attention.
Mitchell County has $54 million dollars available to them from the turbines and they are getting another wind farm. Their $54 million represents nearly half of the AG land value of the County just from the turbines.
Discussion was had concerning whether the land the wind turbines sits on is leased, and it was determined that it is. They are just paying taxes on the actual turbines. Discussion was had as to why they only set the tax valuation at 30%, and Mr. Myhre was unsure but he thought that it may be an attempt to keep the market competitive so that the contractors want to build the turbines in Iowa instead of building them in Texas.
Discussion was had concerning whether we need to discuss the Comprehensive Plan before a motion can be made. In looking at the Comprehensive Plan, the only thing it really states concerning transportation is Ďa network of paved country roads also serve Floyd County residents in addition to numerous gravel roads, providing sufficient coverage for the county.í However, it was determined that the Comprehensive Plan is from 1984 and is outdated. The second half of the meeting will focus on updating said Plan. Mr. Myhre stated that making road improvements certainly would not conflict with our Comprehensive Plan, whether or not it specifically states it. You just assume that it is for safety and upgrades to our current system.
Dean Tjaden made a motion that the proposed Urban Renewal Plan was in compliance with Floyd Countyís existing Comprehensive Plan, and was seconded by Susan Nelson. The motion was unanimously approved by the Zoning Commission.
Discussion then turned towards the updating of Floyd Countyís Zoning Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan. Mr. Myhre will not be doing the leg work for the updating of the plan, however, the person that would be was not able to attend the meeting. Jeff and Misty supplied Mr. Myhre with a copy of our current Zoning Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan, as well as the Avenue of Saints Corridor Land Use Maps. NIACOG will be creating a new existing and future land use map for the County. They will start out with getting a history of the County, which will include demographics, population history, growth areas in the County, transportation, park systems, and soils, which will all be identified through mapping.
Mr. Myhre then provided the Board with a sample survey form that they used in Worth County and stated that we need to find out what our top priorities are, whether itís preservation of AG land, preservation of wetlands, conservation, pro-growth, etc. The Comprehensive Plan is the enabling legislation that allows us to do subdivision ordinances and zoning requirements. If you want to be pro-growth, weíre going to say we want to see development along every interchange on the Avenue of the Saints, etc., but personally Mr. Myhre is opposed to development outside the corporate city limits. Other than AG related businesses, Mr. Myhre would encourage us to preserve AG lands, preserve wetland sensitive areas and try to direct growth to or very near incorporated areas that have the infrastructure in place to service them with water and sewer. He wants to know if we want to see residential development in the County and if so, do we want to see it on single acre lots, do we want to only allow it on existing or reminiscent farmsteads, if not they have to locate on a 40 acre or 20 acre parcel. The Comprehensive Plan needs to be structured to allow the zoning regulations, which are your police powers, to mesh. So if someone petitions you for a zoning change you can look at your Comprehensive Plan and say, is this what we said when we created our Comprehensive Plan? The survey that was done in Worth County was sent to 200 random people in the unincorporated areas of the County, which gave the Board some direction as to what types of priorities the residents felt the County should have. Board Member Susan Nelson suggested that if we were to do the survey for Floyd County, we should also make it available on the internet so we can reach more people. We could add links to the survey to the County website and the Charles City Press website, as well as put an ad in the Press inviting people to participate in the survey. Some concerns were that it would be hard to tell who was filling out the survey, whether they even lived within the County, or whether they were in the rural or urban area of the County. It was decided that we send out a paper survey, as well as look into posting the survey online. We would then take a look at the data from each source individually and together to see if the internet option made a difference. Mr. Myhre is going to tailor the survey to fit Floyd County and present it at the next meeting for final approval.
Discussion was had concerning the preservation of AG land. Board Member Susan Nelson pointed out that this would certainly be a serious priority, but she does have some concerns about some of the zoning changes that have become before the Board. She essentially is concerned that we have been doing a lot of spot zoning with little or no guidance from our current Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance. She also talked about little rural communities that are in danger of drying up and blowing away without the amenities and services of larger communities. The pluses here beside our farms, land, rivers, and wind energy would be our quality of life, so making communities not look so ratty and also focusing on river recreation would also be priorities. The rivers in this County are a major asset and things could be done to promote more recreational tourism in this area. She would like to see river recreation added to our survey.
Discussion was had about the possibility of entering into 28E Agreements with the cities to allow cities to take over the zoning within so many miles of the city. Mr. Myhre stated that this is becoming more popular, however, it was determined that we would want to keep all zoning outside of city limits within the County Zoning Department.
Discussion was had concerning certain zoning issues. It was determined that AG land preservation was a priority. Mr. Myhre then stated that we utilize CSRs in our zoning ordinance. If a land has a CSR of 60 or higher, you are not going to allow building or development on that site. There is also a site evaluation system that could be utilized, which takes a more in depth look at the site, the soil, etc. Mr. Myhre normally sees this more around the Des Moines area and it will take a lot more staff time. A site development process would make it so that every building permit would be a 30 or 35 day turnaround. Since we are still pretty rural around here, Mr. Myhre doesnít feel that we need to go to that level and the Zoning Administrator agreed. Board Member Susan Nelson and Michael Goddard would like to see it harder for subdivisions to be established in the middle of the County. They should be created near the cities, not in the middle of a farm field. Rural subdivisions take twice as much land and on average cost 20% more to provide public services to. This will all be included as part of our future land use map, and it will certainly be a contiguous plan.
Discussion was had concerning our flood plain ordinance. It was determined that preservation of the flood plain should certainly be a priority. We can allow people to build in the flood plain but we can change our ordinance to make people elevate a minimum of 3í above the 100 year flood plain. The State model ordinance says a minimum of 1í so a 3í minimum would put us a head of the curve. Discussion was also had that the state may set a maximum of a 3í elevation in flood plains, as the extra fill brought in to elevate structures could create more problems in these flood plain areas. Our current flood plain ordinance does state that any area where a structure was more than 50% damage during any given flood cannot be redeveloped or rebuilt on. The areas along the river should be a prime development area to keep them away from AG land provided they are out of the flood plain or elevated enough to protect themselves. Discussion was had concerning preserving river access areas and running fencing across the river. To promote river recreation and tourism, would it be possible to not allow people to put their fences across the river? Mr. Myhre stated that we could not do this with our ordinance as this is regulated at the State level. As much as he would like to designate every river corridor as a recreation corridor, you can not condemn peopleís private land, and people are allowed to build fences across the river if itís their private land.
Discussion was had concerning single family homes. Mr. Myhre asked us if we allow single family homes to be built out the middle of nowhere and it was determined that we generally do, although there havenít been a lot of them. Mr. Myhre also talked about what we would like to see as a minimum lot size. Do we want to make it a 10 acre minimum, or increase it to a 20 acre or 40 acre minimum? If we were to increase the lot size by that much, however, we may see some fall out with people who disagree with that type of change. Board Member Susan Nelson stated that she would like to see it harder for these 10 acre parcels to have multiple homes on the property. As far as the determination of our minimum lot size, she would like to see what Board Member Tom Schwabís thoughts were before making a decision. Mr. Myhre asked about having a second single family home or a mobile home on these lots. One of the issues with the mobile homes is that they are put on a lot and they never seem to be taken off. Our current AG zoning does allow for a mobile home for a close family relative. Board Member Susan Nelson stated that she would like to see that taken out of the ordinance completely. Board Member Michael Goddard stated that if it has an approved septic system and well, then he wouldnít necessarily see a problem with having one mobile home on a property. Assistant Misty Day threw out the possibility of making a mobile home a conditional use on these properties instead of completely doing away with them. Mr. Myhre and Board Member Dean Tjaden were in agreement with making mobile homes a conditional use request, but Board Member Susan Nelson was still a little reserved with the idea. Assistant Misty Day added that there are instances where a person may want to have a mobile home on their property for their disabled or elderly parents so that their parents are close enough for them to take care of yet still allow their parents to maintain their independence and privacy. Administrator Jeff Sherman added that we could add a condition that these mobile homes would be on a temporary basis and put a time limit of when they need to be moved off of the property. Mr. Myhre felt that a time limit would be hard to police and enforce, but could certainly be an option. However, if you made the condition that the mobile home had to be removed upon transfer of the property, which would be an excellent checks and balances with the new time of transfer inspection laws. Additionally, the Zoning Administrator is also the County Sanitarian and is aware of these inspections and transfers making it a little easier to police.
Discussion was had concerning if there was any distinction of what is allowed on main highways versus what is allowed on back country roads to create a more sight friendly area along main highways. It was determined that there wasnít, but Mr. Myhre stated that we could create an overlay corridor where you can put more stringent restrictions on what can be done along the main highways like making setbacks along the highway greater, put more height restrictions on signs, etc., but you have to have justification like it is associated with a historic or scenic district. You canít just do it in the area 2 miles before you get to the City, but a corridor overlay would certainly be an option. Board Member Susan Nelson asked whether or not promoting tourism and attracting people to move here would be justification enough. Mr. Myhre suggested that maybe we would want to put more stringent restrictions on the entire County instead of just creating a corridor along the highways.
Discussion was then had concerning what types of things we see on a regular basis as far a variances and conditional uses were concerned. If we were continuously granting the same variance or conditional use request, then we may want to look at changing it in our ordinance so people do not have to keep coming back with the same requests. Assistant Misty Day gave Mr. Myhre a list of ideas of things that could be addressed and clarified, and she also mentioned that we continually have conditional use hearings for animals. Mr. Myhre clarified that we should actually be granting variances for the animals versus a conditional use request, because itís a variance to the ordinance. A conditional use request comes into play for things like businesses in a R-1 district, or a school in an AG district, a casino, race track, shooting range, etc. that would affect the neighboring properties.
Discussion was had concerning whether we want the flood plain building elevation to be a minimum of 3í and it was determined that we do. Discussion was had concerning sign regulation. It was determined that we do not regulate signs with our current ordinance but that is something we would like to see added.
Discussion was had concerning home based businesses. It was determined that our current ordinance allows for a home occupation under a conditional use request, but Mr. Myhre stated that generally, home based businesses are an outright permitted use so long as not more than 25% of the floor area of the principal residence is used for the business, there is no stock and trade or commodities that are kept or sold on the premises, and there is no advertising other a name plate that is 2 foot in area. A home occupation has to be carried on within the residence and you can add to the ordinance that they can have no more than one assistant and they have to be a professional such as a realtor, attorney, chiropractor, etc. What you do not want is inventory or stock and trade with people coming to your residence to purchase things. These types of businesses should be in a commercial district. For an example, if you had a beauty shop with a beautician and one assistant, that would be considered a home occupation if it is done within the home. However, if you have three beauticians then that same business would need to be moved to a commercial district and you would not want to rezone the residential home to a commercial district because that would be spot zoning. A garage would not be considered a principal dwelling and therefore any business, such as a welding shop or body shop, done out of the garage would not be considered a home occupation and should be moved to a commercial district. However, agricultural businesses are a different story. If itís an implement repair or seed dealer, you may want to allow these types of businesses under a conditional use request because we are encouraging AG related uses to support our AG community in the rural area, but again itís with condition. We need to look specifically at defining what a home based business is in the ordinance.
Discussion was had concerning junk yards. It was determined that all of the junk yards in the County have been here before any of the people in attendance came to their current positions and currently do not have any regulations as far as fences or barriers. We generally deal with these junk yards on a nuisance complaint basis. There is a provision in our ordinance that does cover vehicles.
Discussion was had concerning visibility issues. Assistant Misty Day mentioned that we would like to see everyone in the County apply for a building permit regardless of whether they are exempt or not so we can make sure they are complying with the setback requirements. They do not need to pay a permit fee if they are exempt, but at least we will know when someone is erecting a building in the County. Mr. Myhre stated that we can not address that with our ordinance, we would need the Board of Supervisors to adopt an ordinance regarding this.
Discussion was had concerning a recreational commercial zoning category. You can add a 10 acre minimum lot provision to the recreation commercial district versus a normal commercial district. The purpose of this type of district is to allow a commercial business dealing with recreation but avoid any other type of commercial business to move in if that recreational business was to move out. It was determined that it would be a good idea to add it to our ordinance.
Discussion was had concerning whether CSR is working for us. It was determined that it is currently not a part of our review process and Mr. Myhre stated that if itís in our ordinance we need to be enforcing it or we should get rid of it. Board Member Dean Tjaden pointed out that if we havenít been enforcing it then he wonders if we even need it in there. Administrator Jeff Sherman stated that it depends on what we are going to allow for a minimum size lot. Are we going to allow 10 acre lots and nothing less than that? Board Member Susan Nelson wants to wait and take this issue up when Board Member Tom Schwab is present. Currently, we allow 1 acre lots but in some cases it is not enough to get your house, septic system, and well on this size of lot. We may want to look at increasing the minimum size of a lot.
It was also determined that environmental sensitive areas should also be protected. The County Subdivision Ordinance is not a part of the update contract, but we will take a look at it when we get done with the Zoning Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan. Our next meeting will be held January 12, 2010, at 9:00 a.m. After that we will begin meeting on a monthly basis and it will take about six (6) months after we begin meeting regularly to get the ordinance drawn up.
Motion to adjourn.
Jeff D. Sherman