Grand Meadow housing plan urged

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 19, 2002

Progress is a double-edged sword.

What looks necessary and good to one person could be seen as something bad to another.

Such was the situation for the Mower County Planning Commission.

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In this case, the double-edged sword of progress left two farmers bleeding disappointment.

Kenneth Jacobsen received the planning commission's recommendation for a conditional use permit to plot ag land into 22 single-family residential lots.

The commission gave the request the slimmest of margins of approval. The recommendation must now be considered by the Mower County Board of Commissioners, when they hold an 11 a.m. Dec. 30, hearing on the request.

So undecided were the commission members that one of them, Vance Larson of Sargeant, who voted for the permit, issued an explanation to defend his vote.

Kenneth Jacobsen, of Chatfield, wants to develop land owned by his mother, Pearl Jacobsen, also of Chatfield. The site is located in Section 13 of Grand Meadow township.

David Hillier, 3rd District Mower County commissioner, was the non-voting chair of the commission.

Hillier had five members present: Myles Bendtsen of Rose Creek, Larson of Sargeant, Sheldon Lukes of rural Austin, Harold Boverhuis of Lansing Township and Brian McAllister of Austin.

Two other members of the commission, Barb Hovde of LeRoy and Diane Benson of Grand Meadow, were not present.

Neither did the Grand Meadow Township Board register an opinion on the matter.

Randy Queensland, a Grand Meadow real estate developer, assisted Kenneth Jacobsen in making the presentation for the permit.

Terry Jones and Craig Goodsell, who farm near the proposed residential development site and Ronald Boone, a non-farming resident, who also lives near the site, spoke in opposition to the permit.

The site is located near the intersection of Mower County CSAH No. 8 (740th Ave.) and 255th Street, about a mile north of Grand Meadow.

According to Daryl W. Franklin, county planning director and zoning administrator, his office received other telephone calls and e-mails, raising questions about the proposed development.

No one spoke for the proposal except the petitioner and Queensland.

Jones spoke at-length and with passion in registering his opposition. He also pointed out the collision course with rural lifestyles and livestock production faced by city dwellers who move into the countryside.

Describing himself as a grain and livestock farmer who operates a permitted swine feedlot, Jones said his farm is located only two miles northwest of the proposed site.

"They have to understand we are a permitted feedlot operator," Jones said.

Jones said he can appease a single neighbor with a gift of pork, when the odor of manure becomes intense, but, "How can I reason with 15 or 20 like they plan on building homes at this site?"

"How can I explain I was here first?" he said.

Boone said he and his wife had lived in the countryside for three decades. He was concerned about property values of current property owners being artificially inflated by the construction of expensive new homes. He also said the impact of having 15-20 "instant" new neighbors in the otherwise quiet countryside could have a negative impact.

Goodsell, who farms north of the proposed site, said dust and odor are commonplace in the countryside, where agriculture is the way of life, but city-dwellers who move into the rural area may not welcome those facts of county life.

"I would like to see farmers protected more," Goodsell said.

Queensland and the petitioner said the urban sprawl coming from Rochester makes northeast Mower County an attractive location for residential development.

Finding the "ideal" place in the country to build homes is impossible, but necessary to meet the demand for housing.

Commission member Boverhuis was the first to question the Crop Equivalency Rating of the Jacobsen property. He was told only 37 of approximately 60 acre parcel of land was tillable.

However, the CER of that tillable land -- 74 and considerably higher than the 60 rating used as a guideline for determining the value of farmland -- caused Bendtsen to say, "I'm against this."

Boverhuis also questioned one of the 17 conditions recommended for the CUP, concerning the access road to be constructed by the developer. Boverhuis said Lansing Township is being prodded by residential developers in that township to build and maintain roads for "$500,000 houses that we can't afford."

At that point in the meeting, McAllister said he personally sympathizes with "any landowner having the right to do what they want with their land."

But, McAllister also said more residential developments from the greater Rochester area are "coming to Mower County."

McAlister abruptly made a motion to recommend approval of the CUP based on the findings of fact by county staff. Boverhuis seconded it after McAlister agreed to remove the condition calling for a road to be built to township specifications.

Before the roll-call vote was taken, Larson spoke up.

He said he was concerned about taking ag land with a 74 CER out of production.

Bendtsen's comments were more to the point.

"Once this ag land is developed, it's gone forever," he said.

When the vote was taken, McAlister, Boverhuis and Larson voted to recommend approval of the CUP. Bendtsen and Lukes voted against the proposal. It passed, 3-2.

The next regular meeting of the Mower County Planning Commission will be January 21, 2003.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at