Supervisors, BOA, P&Z hash out sign ordinance

Board of Supervisors
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     The Jones County Supervisors, Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), and Board of Adjustment (BOA) all met together during the Nov. 21 supervisors meeting.

     Aside from a full board of supervisors, three of the five Planning and Zoning members were present (Tim Fay, Jim McElheny, and Dave Lubben). The entire BOA was also present (Catherine Davies, Paul Thomsen, Ethan Zumbach, Nicole Stecklein, and Cindy Hall).

     There were several items on the joint meeting agenda, namely reviewing the powers of the BOA and P&Z, spelled out in Iowa Code 335.15. The group also discussed the county’s sign ordinance, pertaining to two recent cases involving property owners who were in violation of the ordinance. The role of county officials was also discussed in terms of their interaction with other county boards at official meetings.

     McElheny said county officials, such as the board of supervisors, should refrain from addressing another board during a meeting unless the action personally affects that official. During a past BOA meeting, Supervisors Ned Rohwedder and Lloyd Eaken were present and offered their thoughts on the sign ordinance and variance process.

     “They need to defer their opinions, recommendations, and endorsements,” suggested McElheny, “and only offer advice on the process or procedure.”

     Rohwedder defended his presence by saying he and Eaken were there as individuals, not as county supervisors.

     “There’s shaky ground in doing that,” said McElheny.

     The question also came up, presented by County Attorney Phil Parsons, as to whether Jones County even needed zoning. Land Use Administrator Michele Lubben said the action was not met with much response from the board of supervisors, who would have to rescind zoning if needed.

     “It’s a benefit to Jones County for growth and protection of land,” said Supervisor Wayne Manternach. He said there’s a reason for having the BOA and P&Z.

     Supervisor Joe Oswald said if there are issues with zoning and ordinances, they could be worked out rather than eliminated altogether.

     In terms of the powers of operation associated with the BOA and P&Z, Hall put it quite simply, “The Planning and Zoning is pretty much black and white. The Board of Adjustment enters into a gray area. We take our responsibility very seriously.” In the past, the P&A felt decisions made by the BOA were wrong. “We’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” continued Hall. “That’s where we need to find some resolve.” She said at times, she’s felt decisions the BOA made were not in the P&Z’s favor.

     When it comes to defining roles and granting variances, Manternach said he would like to the see the BOA ask for more defined hardships from the land owners.

     “I don’t question the decisions,” he said. “But I want to why they’re (variances) are allowed and not allowed.”

     Lubben said the county’s sign ordinance has gone through several changes in her time working as Land Use Administrator. She asked if more changes were needed.

     “If we’re constantly reviewing the ordinances,” said Thomsen, “then maybe they’re not working. We want what’s best for the county.”

     Stecklein asked what the spirit of the county’s ordinances is. “What are we trying to accomplish?”

     McElheny said in the past five months or so, the BOA granted variances to someone who the P&Z felt was clearly in violation of the sign ordinance (Rick Ellison, owner of the Jones County Roadhouse). “Ellison never provided one proof of hardship,” he said. “He was questioned and he acknowledged that he couldn’t meet those (hardship requirements).” McElheny said because the BOA granted Ellison a variance, by default, the same was done to Dean Wood for the signs he was in violation for at the his storage units in Anamosa. “Precedence has been set,” continued McElheny. “That’s why the P&Z is frustrated.”

     Lubben said 99 percent of landowners comply with the county’s ordinances. So rewriting the county’s laws is not the problem.

     “How hard are we going to beat our heads on the wall to get the other 10 percent?” asked Lubben. “A few outliers buck the system. Are these signs going to make a difference 10 years from now? Are they going to change the world?

     “We write the politics and if we need to adjust them, we can do that,” Lubben added.

     “But we don’t want to reward people who buck the system,” countered Stecklein.

     Fay said Jones County has ordinances for a reason, and they’re always going to be works in progress.

     “Zoning has worked out well for Jones County,” he said. “We try to be flexible, but there is no point having ordinances if they’re going to be ignored. If there are issues, we need to go back and rework those ordinances.”

     Parsons said it’s not the BOA’s job to determine whether the ordinance/law is good or bad, but to enforce the laws. “You need to get rid of the law if it’s not going to be upheld,” he said.

     Anamosa resident Mike Davies questioned how two wall signs on Ellison’s building, which was a violation, affected the character of Jones County.

     “He broke the ordinance and he knew he broke the law,” answered Fay.

     In the end, the three boards decided that perhaps the county’s sign ordinance was in need of some tweaking in terms of the number of signs allowed and maximum combined square footage. Oswald suggested they also talk to business owners in the county to get their opinion on the matter, especially those who meet the county’s requirements.


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