Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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February 28, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     3/4/14

In this edition:

*Prairie Preview
*Crisis Center Pancake Breakfast
*Health Care Enrollment
*Planning and Zoning Stats
*Lake MacBride Development
*Lake MacBride History
*Did You Know?

*Prairie Preview
         The 31st Annual Prairie Preview is Thursday, March 13 at Parkview Church.

         Doors open at 6:30; at 7:30, Lon Drake and Judy Joyce will speak about small conservation properties.

         For further info, contact Tammy Richardson at 338-7030 or

*Crisis Center Pancake Breakfast
Join The Crisis Center on Saturday, March 8, from 7:00am to 1:00pm to enjoy delicious pancakes and good company. We are partnering with Our Redeemer Lutheran Church again this year for its annual pancake breakfast.

Tickets are $6.00 for adults and $3.00 for children 10 & under. Tickets will be sold at the door from 7:00 am to 12:45 pm on March 8. Tickets can also be purchased in advance at the church, 319-338-5626, or at The Crisis Center, 319-351-2726.

*Health Care Enrollment
         We are quickly reaching the deadline (March 31) for households earning between 138% - 400% federal poverty ($32,499 -$94,200) to enroll for healthcare subsidies! We need your help to get the word out!

The Johnson County Healthcare Outreach Coalition is hosting a Healthcare Enrollment Fair at the Iowa City Public Library on Wednesday March 12, 5:30 – 8:30. Experts will be on hand to assist individuals in enrolling for a healthcare plan that is just right for them. Please spread the word!

*Planning and Zoning Stats
Supervisors were recently treated to the Annual Report of the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Department. I always find these reports to be full of interesting information. If you would like to take a look for yourself, see:

Here are a few of the interesting stats, along with my thoughts on the data:

*Johnson County permitted 72 single-family homes in 2013 (up from 65 in 2012) worth an average of $362,135 (up from $340,901 in ’12).

The thing that really jumps out there is the average home price. It makes sense; lots in the country are large and expensive, and there is great demand. When folks get one of those lots, they are going to build an expensive home.

*153 acres were rezoned in 2013. About 100 of those acres went from Ag to Residential; about 28 acres Residential to Ag. While this can be viewed as concerning, all of the rezoning took place in the designated growth areas. So the areas designated for farming remain.

*2013 saw 27 farmstead splits, totaling 95 acres – a 31% decrease from 2012. Farmstead splits allow farms that existed prior to December 2001 to split off one residential lot. Farmstead splits were negotiated in as a compromise ordinance, ostensibly to allow a second generation to join in the family farming operation. However many of the splits are simply sold off. Once every pre-2001 farm has split off a lot, splits will cease.

*While this is very difficult to determine, it appears our vacancy rate is at 24.5%. Vacancy refers to the percentage of platted but unbuilt lots in the county. There are several problems with this measure. For one, many of these unbuilt lots are actually unbuildable. They can lack access, or be too small and/or oddly shaped. In some cases, they are filled by septic systems. In still other cases, our Sensitive Areas Ordinance protects them from being built upon. Finally, often people own more than one lot just to protect their privacy. Many folks own adjoining lots, with no intention of selling. Given all these variables, there are likely far fewer than 24% of our lots available for sale.

*233 acres were annexed, up from 129 in 2012. This number is controlled by the cities, not the county, and can vary wildly. Most of the 2013 total is due to North Liberty annexing the future site of the new high school.

         Please let me know if you have questions regarding these (or any) Planning and Zoning matters!

*Lake MacBride Development
         Johnson County recently approved a plat for an 8 home subdivision near Lake MacBride. The staff had recommended approval, and both the P&Z Commission and Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 for approval.

         There were some concerns from the public about this development. I would like to address them here.

Zoning: The land is already zoned Residential, and has been for years. It is also within the county’s designated Growth Area. This is where growth is supposed to occur. It is only ¾ mile from the City of Solon, and over 100 houses are already within half a mile.

Water quality: The land that will be developed is currently row cropped, and farmed using “conventional” practices. Currently, a great deal of topsoil (and much Nitrogen and Phosphorus) flows directly into the lake. Because Johnson County has a strict Storm Water Management Ordinance, the quality of the water running into the lake will be greatly improved, while the quantity of water will be greatly reduced. This will actually improve the lake’s water quality. I didn’t make this up… experts with years of experience in water quality agree. Science is on our side here.

Animals: The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources both reviewed the application, and neither saw any threat to wildlife. I didn’t make this up… experts with years of experience in wildlife agree. Science is on our side here.

Wells and septic systems: Both the wells and septic systems have been reviewed, and both comply with Johnson County’s standards. Because the developer will be using shared wells and septic systems, both will have management agreements that include testing and monitoring. This gives residents and their neighbors a MUCH higher level of protection than one gets from individual systems. I didn’t make this up… experts with years of experience in water quality and sanitation agree. Science is on our side here.

         I sincerely believe that most of the trepidation that was voiced was from people who harbored legitimate concerns. I appreciate their willingness to bring these issues to our attention. I have no doubt that this development will be better because of their actions.

Unfortunately, there are also a few NIMBYs whose complaints about this development simply do not hold water (pun intended). These folks got their piece of the pie, but do not want any others to follow. They claim to oppose things on environmental grounds, even though their environmental qualifications are less than nil. They often suck in folks with well-intentioned environmental concerns who have not learned all the facts.

It is sad, but we frequently face this type of opposition. We set very strict rules for development. When developers meet those standards, they deserve to be able to build.

         So take what you read in the letters to the editor with a grain of salt. If someone wants to challenge the way we do planning and zoning, I’d LOVE to challenge that guy to a debate! Name the time and place. We’ll record it for posterity.

There is much more to the story than you might see on Facebook. Please do your homework. As always, feel free to contact me with questions regarding issues of growth and development in Johnson County.

*Lake MacBride History
         Since I mentioned Lake MacBride, I thought it might be worthwhile to share a bit of its history.

In the 1930s, an effort to establish the wooded valleys of Mill and Jordan Creeks as a state park was initiated by the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce (back when they used to work with government) and J.N. "Ding" Darling, a noted Iowa Conservationist. To raise funds to purchase additional land for the park, lots were sold in the area. (Now the Cottage Reserve area.)

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed a number of facilities at Lake MacBride in the 1930's including the beautiful stone shelter and beach building.

In June 1937 the park opened to the public. The name for the park was selected from hundreds of contest entries. Thomas MacBride had a distinguished 40-year career as professor of botany and President of the University of Iowa. He has been called the "father" of conservation in Iowa. In 1895 he addressed the members of the Iowa Academy of Science on the need to establish a statewide system of "country" or "rural" parks.

         In 1955, the lake was enlarged. A portion of the park borders Coralville Lake, one of Iowa's largest artificial lakes, constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

*DID YOU KNOW?  The lake itself in Lake MacBride State Park covers over 812 acres.

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.

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



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