Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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March 15, 2013

Sullivan’s Salvos 3/19/13 In this edition: *Shame On You, Senator Greiner! *Dooley Development *Did You Know? *Shame On You, Senator Greiner! State Senator Sandy Greiner recently voted to amend the Iowa Constitution to include discrimination against gays and lesbians. (The Bill is called Senate Joint Resolution 8.) I find these votes abhorrent. I think she should be ashamed. The Constitution is for protecting rights, not denying them. We are used to a certain number of GOP elected officials making these despicable votes. Why is this Senator any different? It is different because Sandy Greiner represents US! One half of Senator Greiner’s Senate District is in Johnson County. It includes Swisher, Shueyville, Oxford, Tiffin, North Liberty, Lone Tree, Frytown, and lots of rural areas. State Representative Sally Stutsman, who represents the exact same territory in the Iowa House of Representatives, has a long and storied record of supporting human rights. Representative Stutsman believed in equal rights way back when it was a risky position. That is the type of person we need representing our county in the Iowa Legislature; not a fear monger longing for the bad old days. People of Johnson County – remember this in 2014, when Senator Greiner seeks reelection. We deserve better. *Dooley Development There has been much news recently over the proposed Dooley development on Newport Road. Allow me to share some thoughts. First – the county has a well-established Land Use Plan (LUP). This plan is quite clear in terms of its’ objectives – preserve ag land and natural areas. There are only two places in the county where residential development is allowed – villages (such as Sutliff or Sharon Center) and the area known as the North Corridor Development Area (NCDA). The NCDA is the area north of Iowa City, on both sides of the Iowa River. It can roughly be described as bordered by Highway 965 on the west and Sugar Bottom Road on the east. All told, it consists of less than 5% of the land in Johnson County. When I first joined the Board, the NCDA was about five times its current size. Supervisor Neuzil and I argued that it should be much smaller, and we managed to shrink it dramatically on the north end. Once Larry Myers was elected, we reduced it even further, this time taking out land on the eastern end. As I noted, the current NCDA is less than 5% of the land in Johnson County. It just so happens that the Dooley land sits in the NCDA. Because of this, the typical concerns of losing farmland to development are much different. This is the ONLY place that such a development can take place. It is the ONLY area in which we would rezone farmland. The opposition to the development is organized and loud. Their arguments sound very good on their face. But the county is aiming to control/guide development into a single small area. The opponents just happen to live in that area. Opponents claim we will lose prime farmland. While it is true we will lose some, very little of the Dooley farm could be considered “prime”. As a matter of fact, the decision was made to focus development in the NCDA in part because it is among the worst farmland in the county, and in part because so much was already developed. If we are going to lose some farmland, better that we lose it here. I am glad the opponents are concerned about the loss of farmland – AFTER they built their own homes! Opponents are concerned about wells going dry. The USGS has done an extensive hydrological study, and they feel adequate water supplies exist into the distant future. I am glad the opponents are concerned about the water table – AFTER they built their own homes! Opponents are concerned about response times for the Sheriff and Solon Fire Department. The proposed development will not change response times. Opponents claim the development will lead to overcrowding at Solon Schools. Except that Solon Schools have NEVER opposed a county development; they welcome the growth. Opponents claim that Johnson County “makes more money” from homes that are built in the cities. This is COMPLETELY false! Due to the overuse of TIFs, Johnson County collects almost no taxes from new construction in many cities. Plus, clustered subdivisions like the one being proposed cost less to serve. Opponents complain that the proposed development is not infill. It IS infill. Just look at a map. There are literally scores of homes just to the north (Turkey Creek Area) and literally hundreds of homes just to the west. Iowa City is to the south. This area is surrounded on three sides by homes. It is the very definition of infill. Yes, there is land closer to Iowa City that could be developed. But most of that land is undevelopable flood plain. Besides, that land is not being proposed for development; this land is. I am glad the opponents are concerned about infill development – AFTER they built their own homes! I also do not buy the argument that the development is somehow “out of character” with the area. The proposal is very similar to the nearby Westcott Heights subdivisions, which have been popular and basically trouble-free. Again, look at a map – this land is surrounded by houses. I am glad the opponents are concerned about the “character” of the area – AFTER they built their own homes! Opponents claim there is no need for the development, noting that there are 1,604 vacant platted lots in rural Johnson County. While this is true, many of these lots are unbuildable. Many are “second lots” that are home to the septic system that serves the first. Many of these lots are owned by people who are not selling. Many of these lots are on the west side of the Res; some people want the Solon side. Some of these lots are 30’ x 50’ and located in Windham. The total vacancy in this area is important, and very difficult to determine. (This is an area where Johnson County could improve in terms of data collection.) Lots for sale in the immediate area, which is still an imperfect measure, seem to be few. I have spoken to 4-5 realtors about this, and their responses are interesting. They all refuse to go on the record. They fear that the Newport crowd will sabotage their business. So it is difficult to secure expert testimony. That said, all agreed that there is definitely a market for lots in that area. The NCDA does not work for everyone, though. My sympathies do go out to two families in particular. The Stebrals and Sedlaceks farm along Newport Road, and have for decades. Unfortunately for these two families, they are forced to try to earn a living in the middle of a bunch of houses. Everywhere else in the county, we refuse to rezone agricultural land and protect the farmers’ “right to farm”. Unfortunately for them, the Sedlaceks and Stebrals get a different set of rules. These two families are innocent victims of an otherwise excellent policy. I feel for them. With the two above exceptions, farmers in Johnson County are free to farm unencumbered by the effects of development. That is a very good thing! I am extremely proud of the way the LUP prevents incompatible uses of land. We can all talk about what we would do if we owned the land. We do not own it. The owner (Sharon Dooley) has a right to request a rezoning. I find it ironic to see that our new Supervisor - who ran on a platform of “property rights” - voted to deny Ms. Dooley the same. Similarly, many of the same people who claimed Newport Road was just fine when it was being considered for paving now feel the Dooley development would suddenly make Newport Road unsafe. (I believed the road was adequate then, and adequate now. My opinion has been consistent. Newport ranks pretty low on my list of roads that require attention.) When push comes to shove, I am not a fan of rural residences. There is a big part of me that feels only active farmers should live in the unincorporated areas. All rural land should either be farmed or preserved as wilderness. I feel as though I have lived out my beliefs personally. I live in town, and maintain a relatively small carbon footprint. I drive a hybrid, bike some, and keep my house pretty darn cold. I buy lots of local and organic food. I recycle everything. I adopted rather than bringing new children into the world. I donate to several environmental organizations. I’m tired of hearing from “environmentalists” who have 5-acre lawns and drive their SUVs 10 miles into town every day. Professionally, I served on the LUP Committee. I pushed it through to passage over much opposition. I’ve consistently voted to follow it. The Conservation Bond was my brainchild. I think my record is very clear – I have been a friend of the environment and a friend to family farms. Unfortunately, the reality is that many, many people want to live in the country. We have already shut off over 95% of the county to development. Is it really fair to shut it off 100%? I am only one of 5 votes, but I have decided no. (I think the attorneys are glad we have decided no, too, as completely shutting off development would undoubtedly spur a lawsuit.) Some people feel strongly enough about this issue that they would vote to end all development. I tip my hat to them, as they are being consistent. But if they believe the development should go somewhere else? That is just being a NIMBY, plain and simple. Given the above realities, my only real concern was the size of the rezoning. I do not take the decision to rezone land lightly. I was concerned that 90 acres was more than what is necessary to meet market demands. Having spoken to 4-5 local experts, I believe the market DOES exist. The fact that this rezoning passed does make me want to get a better measure of what constitutes “vacancy”, however. Another thing – I spent a few years working alongside Larry Meyers. We became very good friends. We talked for HOURS about this kind of thing. The current LUP map is basically a result of his arguments. So I am REALLY not interested in people telling me how Larry would have voted. I do not think they know, and I think we should leave him out of this. When I hear that, I want to respond with a paraphrased quote of Lloyd Bentsen: “I served with Larry Meyers. And you’re no Larry Meyers.” It is interesting, because I stood shoulder to shoulder with many of these same folks when it came to opposing the plan to widen and straighten Newport Road. Thing is, my support or opposition to any given plan is not dependent upon the people involved. I’m trying to do what is right. I believe they were right to oppose the changes to the road. I think they are wrong to oppose the Dooley rezoning. I am extremely proud of the Johnson County LUP. Obviously, we have not done a very good job of explaining the details of the plan to members of the public. I promise to work on this. So, the Dooley Development lives. Do you have thoughts for improving the LUP? Let me know! *DID YOU KNOW? Maps of the North Corridor Development Area are available at Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website- "Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents. These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned. If you do NOT want the weekly E-mail, simply reply to this message, and type "unsubscribe" in the subject line. If you know anyone else who might be interested, just forward this message. They can E-mail me at with "subscribe" in the subject line. As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you! ---Rod


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