Chapter 9 – Public Writings: Land Use

Wrong development in the wrong place.  (11-4-99)

Rather than worrying too much about River Bend developer Gary Seegmiller’s threat to sue the county if he can’t have an apparently illegal subdivision, I would hope the supervisors are questioning the competency of the advice they are getting from the county zoning administrator and legal counsel to the zoning commission.

Just because the county has okayed subdivisions in the past which may not comply with county zoning or the comprehensive plan, doesn’t set a precedent which says we have to continue approving possibly illegal subdivisions, or grant variances to those documents, which would amount to the same thing.

Besides River Bend being exactly the wrong development in the wrong place, I have heard no conversation talking about whether we need another town in Winneshiek County and, if we do, where it ought to be.

River Bend would have more houses than Hesper, Highlandville, Burr Oak, Bluffton, or Frankville, and just slightly less than Festina’s 45 homes (on which the county just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for a sewer system).

Even though River Bend is being called a subdivision, it would be a town and will eventually have the same water and wastewater problems as other small towns which we and the Upper Iowa River will have to pay for.

With the population forecast trending down or static, and with all the development going on in already existing towns, we certainly don’t need a new town in the county.

Property rights also mean that those of us who have lived in this rural neighborhood for 20, 30, 40 or 50 years should be able to expect our neighborhood to remain rural and not have a town plopped into the middle of it.


Vets: zoning is freedom we fought for.  (1992)

 Although I was personally not at the last public zoning meeting, it has come to my attention that an argument I hold dear and use upon occasion may have been used inappropriately.  The argument I am speaking of was put forth by some veterans who attended that meeting and are opposed to any county zoning.

Their argument states that county zoning would take away many of the freedoms they fought for in wars.  I believe they are profoundly mistaken and do an injustice to other veterans who use that argument in appropriate situations.  Because this argument is such a powerful argument if used correctly, many people are swayed or cowed simply by its use.  People also assume those veterans using it are correct and know what they are talking about.

Because of this argument’s power of  persuasion, and because this argument can be used only so many times incorrectly (the Peter-cried-wolf syndrome) before its political capital is bankrupt, we should see if its application to county zoning is correct.

Freedom as a concept has many different meanings, different connotations and different relative priorities to different people.

Normally when we speak of why we fight wars, the freedoms which are verbalized are those outlined in our constitution, namely to be free to speak our minds, to hold opinions different than others, to practice religious or personal beliefs without persecution.  We also fight to be free to live where we want, to associate with whom we want, to live as we want in our own lives.  These are some senses of freedom, among others that can be named, that I feel are important enough to stand my ground about against someone trying to take them away from me.

There exist other things that I am free to do but because I live in a society of other humans I am not at liberty to do.  Or if I do them, I forfeit some or all of my freedoms and even sometimes my life.  These freedoms are of the kind that if I do them I take away others’ freedoms.

For instance, I am free to kill my neighbor but I am not at liberty to do so.  I have agreed not to do certain things in order for all of us in the society to live at peace with one another.  If I do kill my neighbor, and I am free to do so, society will take away all my freedoms in response.  We have agreed that for all of us to enjoy life, the freedom to take a life is not a freedom we will allow.

County zoning, although certainly not about killing, is of this type of freedom.  We as a society agree that there are certain things we will not allow neighbors to do to other neighbors.  If I have worked all my life for a beautiful and peaceful piece of property, I would hope no one would be so insensitive and rude as to buy property beside me and, say, turn it into a rock quarry, thereby depriving me of the fruits of my lifelong work simply because they had enough money to do so.  You can all think of something that is now not in your neighborhood which, if you could not prevent it from being in your neighborhood, would basically ruin your life.

This sense of freedom, freedom from unwanted and unwarranted intrusions upon our lives, is what county zoning is about.  We all agree, or as many as possible, what and where new kinds of things will be allowed into our neighborhoods.

In fact, if those veterans at the last zoning meeting had been clear about what zoning is, they would have understood that zoning is the type of freedom they fought to preserve.

Zoning is a freedom from unscrupulous and uncaring people who have too much money and don’t give a damn about anyone else’s life.  As a veteran, I would gladly fight again to preserve that freedom.

If at further zoning meetings these veterans persist in their line of argument, please don’t hold it against all of us.  Or when we use that argument, please don’t tell us you’ve heard it all before.

And to you veterans who are using this argument, please try to figure out what’s really going on before no one will listen to any of us.