Johnson County Supervisors Vote in Favor of Controversial Rezoning
By Gerg Hennigan, Reporter
IOWA CITY – The Johnson County Board of Supervisors paved the way Tuesday night for a housing development north of Iowa City that has drawn intense resistance from nearby residents.
The supervisors voted 4-1 in support of the first two considerations of a rezoning application from real estate agent Bill Young, who wants to build 70 homes on 91 acres of what is currently farmland off Newport Road.
One more vote, expected to occur next week, is needed to change the zoning designation from agriculture to what is known as rural cluster. There are still more steps required before a subdivision is built.
During a 3 1/2-hour public hearing, more than 30 people spoke, and at least 27 were opposed to the development. They said a subdivision of that size would not fit with a rural area and would cause road-safety and environmental problems, among other concerns.
"This is not in the public interest," said Jim Baker of Iowa City. "It is a threat to the quality of life in our county. Please do not do it."
The supervisors voting for the proposal noted the area is targeted for residential growth and said it meets a number of county plans and policies approved in recent years.
"I think it's a bit hypocritical for me to vote against something I have put my signature on for the past eight years," Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said.
Newly elected Supervisor John Etheredge cast the dissenting vote. His stance was a reminder of the many complex and interconnected issues related to the proposal.
Etheredge was sworn in Monday as the county's first Republican supervisor since 1962. The housing proposal was seen as a major factor in the campaign, with Etheredge against it while his opponent, Democrat Terry Dahms, was for it.
The land is owned by Sharon Dooley, whose late husband Mike Dooley briefly ran for supervisor in 2010. Mike Dooley died in a strange incident in October 2012 after he pointed an air rifle, which reportedly looked like a real gun, at Van Buren County sheriff's deputies. One of the deputies shot and killed Dooley.
Mike Dooley was one of the main players in a previous dispute between Newport Township residents and Johnson County when, several years ago, he helped lead an effort to stop a proposed project that would have put a road through some of his property.
That road also would have gone through property owned by Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz and his wife Mary, who spoke Tuesday night against the housing proposal.
Sharon Dooley Tuesday night alluded to her family's difficulties in the past year, saying while she loved the area, things have changes for her and her five children. She said she tried for months to sell the land and had no offers.
She also chastised opponents who she said "have been relentless in this obsession and seem to think they and only they know what's best."
"Bottom line is I own this property, and as owner I have property rights," she said.
This is the first application under the county's rural cluster ordinance, which was adopted in a few years ago with the intention of bunching housing together to preserve open space, agricultural land and environmentally sensitive areas.