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Thread: Zoning question in Iowa town: small scale farming among residential

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    Zoning question in Iowa town: small scale farming among residential

    I have a question and not sure where to ask it, as to zoning, where and when it applies, and who it applies to. Iowa has zones in each city where a number of people live. You have Commercial, Industrial, Agriculture, Public and Residential. I was under the impression that if a town had a Residential area, thats were you build, or buy your home, raise your family and live your life. Agriculture and Industrial were out side of town or at the edge of town ( to keep noise, and livestock) away from family life in town/cities. Commercial was your down town area for shopping, am I right so far?


    My question then is a problem we have here in our town/city. I live in a Residential area, houses, familys, lawns small gardens, flowers ect. Right in the middle of the residential area we have a farmer with his home and less than 2 acreas of ground which he runs as a farm here in the middle of town. He plants Corn/Beans, sprays it, uses every thing you would use on a big farm operation, combines it, has trucks, grain trailers, fuel tanks(which do not meet current codes) you name it like a big farm right here in the middle of town and residential area. Now, first why have zones if we let people like him do as they please? Is he Special and we have nothing to say or do about his small farm here in town? Can anything be done and if so where do we go to do it? We need some help here, If I and my neighbors wanted to live on a farm we would not have moved to a city. A city, town, lawns, flowers NOT a full farm operation for One Man, who with his vast out of town land holdings, can not possibly make anything off this very small piece of residential land. I can find nothing in the city records/codes or any paper work grandfathering him in on this piece of land, which on city maps is Residential. Hope you can answer my question, or tell me where to send my letter, or if anything can be done.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Is this Land Use Planned residential or Zoned Residential? Big difference.

  3. #3
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    All that machinery to farm fewer than 2 acres?

    He may indeed enjoy legal, non-conforming status. My guess is he sold off the property surrounding his 2 acres to develop the residential subdivision that he previously farmed. In any case, contact the planning department with your concerns. Also, notify the agriculture or environmental protection office or whoever regulates the application of pesticides and herbicides in your community and explain your concerns.
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    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    Let me help you out- I'm a planner here in Iowa. In Iowa, we have a right to farm law, which means that farmers are exempt from the zoning ordinance.There's nothing you can do about it- the farm lobby is very powerful.
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    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by KSharpe View post
    Let me help you out- I'm a planner here in Iowa. In Iowa, we have a right to farm law, which means that farmers are exempt from the zoning ordinance.There's nothing you can do about it- the farm lobby is very powerful.
    Sorta OT (but I dont know how to do the "box thingy"): not too get too side tracked – but that is a very remarkable law. Do any other states also have this or a similar law?
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

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    Quote Originally posted by KSharpe View post
    Let me help you out- I'm a planner here in Iowa. In Iowa, we have a right to farm law, which means that farmers are exempt from the zoning ordinance.There's nothing you can do about it- the farm lobby is very powerful.
    Its a shame Iowa is still in the 18th century, there are more things in this world now days than a farmer, maybe when Little house was made ( tv show) the farmer was it, but its time people found out that there is a world out there and there is more to it than a farmer who has no respect for his neighbors just the old mighty buck. Farmers cry all the time, but they seem to have the money to buy anything they want even Govt. officials. Don't get me wrong, everyone has a right to make a buck, but there should be a limit to who it offends. Why bother with making laws, zoning , etc. when your going to let people do as they please??? Thats a waste of taxpayers money and your time.

    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    All that machinery to farm fewer than 2 acres?

    He may indeed enjoy legal, non-conforming status. My guess is he sold off the property surrounding his 2 acres to develop the residential subdivision that he previously farmed. In any case, contact the planning department with your concerns. Also, notify the agriculture or environmental protection office or whoever regulates the application of pesticides and herbicides in your community and explain your concerns.
    No he has not sold off anything, he probably has more land and money than any one around here, thats the problem, money talks, no matter what the law says, average people have no say in anything it seems, unless that is you own a farm.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 16 Oct 2007 at 10:22 AM. Reason: double reply

  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by H View post
    Sorta OT (but I dont know how to do the "box thingy"): not too get too side tracked – but that is a very remarkable law. Do any other states also have this or a similar law?
    Yep, Indiana does. Here's a link to a great blog with an article about it -- http://indianalawblog.com/archives/2...nment_sma.html

    Off-topic:
    To do the "Off-Topic" Box, type, without spaces, [ O T ] at the start and close by typing, without spaces, [ / O T ]. Cool, eh?
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    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    Yep, Indiana does. Here's a link to a great blog with an article about it -- http://indianalawblog.com/archives/2...nment_sma.html

    Off-topic:
    To do the "Off-Topic" Box, type, without spaces, [ O T ] at the start and close by typing, without spaces, [ / O T ]. Cool, eh?
    Off-topic:
    muchas gracias
    Interesting, I have family in Anderson Indiana (just north of Indy) and I have seen the farmland become surrounded with housing on the north side of Indy over the past few decades... I wondered what would happen when the newbies started to complain about the farming... guess they wont be heard with real sympathetic ears... not that I think they should (IMO). Farming is important, and as we replace the "good" soil crop farms with housing farms, we are cutting off our lifelines if we dont protect the ones left (IMO). I know macro-economist will argue this, but I really dont think we should import all our food (again, IMO and probably way off topic, sorry).
    Last edited by H; 16 Oct 2007 at 11:03 AM.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

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    Its Residential Chet

    Quote Originally posted by Chet View post
    Is this Land Use Planned residential or Zoned Residential? Big difference.
    But that only seems to count if you are a non-farm person, other wise laws, zoning or other wise do not matter, have to grow that corn, even in your back yard. Yes its zoned Residential, homes, kids, flowers, and yes one Farmer!!!!

  10. #10
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    In our neck of the woods, its usually the opposite problem- city folks want to live in the country, or what they imagine the country to be. Then they complain when farmers who have been out there for years...farm. Animals smell, noise, dust, all that. In fact, we even have a "Agricultural Land Use" notification that people have to sign when they get building permits in the Ag district.
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    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    It's basically the same in Michigan KSharpe. I generally hate dealing with people who move in next to a farm and then complain about the smells as if they didn't see the farm when they bought.

    M7 thoughts about this particular case is that there is more to this story than we know. And I did a brief internet search and the population of Coin, IA according to the 2000 US Census is 252 people. That's hardly a "city".

  12. #12
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    I got one thing wrong- the right to farm thing doesn't apply in cities. Is this an incorporated city, or just a village with no formal government?

    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    It's basically the same in Michigan KSharpe. I generally hate dealing with people who move in next to a farm and then complain about the smells as if they didn't see the farm when they bought.

    M7 thoughts about this particular case is that there is more to this story than we know. And I did a brief internet search and the population of Coin, IA according to the 2000 US Census is 252 people. That's hardly a "city".
    I had a lady out in the middle of nowhere call me the other day- she was actually complaining that her neighbor bought some pigs. I said, well, it's zoned agricultural, he has the right to do that. Her reply "But it will drive down my property values!"
    Last edited by mendelman; 16 Oct 2007 at 12:43 PM. Reason: merging consecutive posts
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    Not trying to oust farms

    Quote Originally posted by KSharpe View post
    In our neck of the woods, its usually the opposite problem- city folks want to live in the country, or what they imagine the country to be. Then they complain when farmers who have been out there for years...farm. Animals smell, noise, dust, all that. In fact, we even have a "Agricultural Land Use" notification that people have to sign when they get building permits in the Ag district.
    I'm not a newbie trying to get farm land, I have lived in Nebraska and iowa for 30yrs, all i want is to live in a small town away from the farms. Again all Iam asking is why have zoning laws if they only apply to a few. Yes Coin is small but it is a CITY, has a Mayor and City Council, and is Zoned as per The Iowa Code. Farmers have a right to farm just as anyone else has rights, but Please lets keep it out of the city limits where it belongs.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    I wonder if the use is grandfathered in? Has it been there forever? Generally, you can continue a non-conforming use until it ceases for a period of a year.
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    thanks for your answers

    Quote Originally posted by KSharpe View post
    I wonder if the use is grandfathered in? Has it been there forever? Generally, you can continue a non-conforming use until it ceases for a period of a year.
    If I understand it right, he use to just have grass , then a few yrs back decided to farm the small plot, and runs it just like his many big farms outside of town. Some people just never seem to have enough at any ones cost. Its a shame in this day and age some people and states, and counties want to stay in the dark ages, yes there are people after the farm land, I'm not, I moved into town, and now the town has a farm, thats all i'm saying. lets plan into the future, help the farmer keep his farm, but let the average working Joe keep his home away from the farm if hes not into farming.

  16. #16
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Perhaps you need to go talk to your local elected officials (City Council) and have them explain to you why he should be allowed to operate.

    They are the ones most accountable to you, so make them work for it.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  17. #17
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Am I missing something here? Most of the zoning codes I have seen have recognized agriculture as a permitted use in residential zones. What's more, most "cities" even have an agricultural, or agricultural transition zone in theie code. Many properties are zoned to indicate their future use - in this case as residential. That zoning is not meant to take away a person's right to use the land productively in the interim until it is developed. Agricultural land that is slated for future development, therefore, is very commonly allowed to remain in agricultural use within a residential zone.
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    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    Yeah, you need really need to talk to the planners and have them explain your particular ordinance...everything else we say is just speculation.
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    Quote Originally posted by KSharpe View post
    Yeah, you need really need to talk to the planners and have them explain your particular ordinance...everything else we say is just speculation.
    Thank you for your info guess its up to the city, like you said all we can do here is speculate and try to out guess the planners.

    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Am I missing something here? Most of the zoning codes I have seen have recognized agriculture as a permitted use in residential zones. What's more, most "cities" even have an agricultural, or agricultural transition zone in theie code. Many properties are zoned to indicate their future use - in this case as residential. That zoning is not meant to take away a person's right to use the land productively in the interim until it is developed. Agricultural land that is slated for future development, therefore, is very commonly allowed to remain in agricultural use within a residential zone.
    The farmers have had their turn, the city was born, laws put in, zoning took effect, they were given the choice to farm or live in a residential area. Thats why we have Residential, Agricultural, Commercial, Industral and Public. Thats what zoning is for, Residential does not mean maybe, almost it means its zoned for family living , Agriculture means farms, cows, pigs, farmers.Not just a few, not just for fun, its the law, Again why have laws or words like RESIDENTIAL which seems to mean where you live, not farm, whats so hard to understand.?
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 16 Oct 2007 at 2:35 PM. Reason: double reply

  20. #20
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    FYI, I'm a rural planner, and here, in residential zones you can have row crop but it limits animals significantly.
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    Sorry its a City

    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    It's basically the same in Michigan KSharpe. I generally hate dealing with people who move in next to a farm and then complain about the smells as if they didn't see the farm when they bought.

    M7 thoughts about this particular case is that there is more to this story than we know. And I did a brief internet search and the population of Coin, IA according to the 2000 US Census is 252 people. That's hardly a "city".
    True Coin may be small but it is a City with a Mayor, and City Council, City Clerk etc. We have zoning as per Iowa code laws, but again it only seems to be for a few.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I knew a guy in college from Coin.

    Anyway, in the Iowa town I grew up in (pop. approx. 26,000) we've got small pockets with crops and a farmhouse, ranging from probably 2-10 acres, within city limits. They are just areas that stayed undeveloped while development occured around them. I'm sorry, but the farm was there first. Surely you knew that tiny farm was there before you bought your house. It is up to your city's zoning ordinance as to whether what that landowner is doing on his land is permitted or not. But this sounds like reverse NIMBYism to me. Instead of being angry about something new happening next door, you are angry about something old happening next door, that has been happening long before your house probably existed. Nobody can force that farmer to sell his land to a developer.

    Where I live now we have issues with sprawling rural subdivisions. One new homeowner called me, complaining that she has small children and there is an electric fence that borders her lot in the back. I had no pity. I told her "that is an agricultural lot behind you, and they have livestock they need to keep contained. That fence is on his lot, and there is no violation. This is why rural subdivisions are rarely a good idea." She couldn't believe how heartless I was.

    And by the way, just because your property is zoned Residential does not mean that this small farm is. But, even it is zoned Residential, preexisting farms are probably permitted as long as there is no animal confinement. But again, check with your local authorities.

  23. #23
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    Ok, Iowa guy here and City Official. I am going to ask some questions, some may sound rude, but I don't mean them that way. I am after some background, so do not read any motives into my questions.

    1. Is this the smallest town you have lived in?

    2. Was this guy doing what he is doing when you chose to move there?

    3. Is he really "farming" or is it a big garden?

    4. Are the two acres connected to a larger parcel outside of the city?

    5. What specifically bothers you about his operation?

    6. Have you considered running for city government?



    Now some thoughts. I am from a town of 300 in Iowa. This may be very different than what you are used to. The things you are saying are pretty normal in towns under 1000. You are probably not going to have a "planner" until you to about 10,000. So you have folks with no formal training running the city. I have worked in many cities, with good and bad elected officials, and even the bad ones had the city's best interest in mind. So what may be happening is that what is totally normal and acceptable to most of the citizens is what is bothering you. If that is true, you cannot expect anything to change.

    Iowa cities can pretty much be run the way the council wants to, with the exception of some very broad based direction from the state. What the guy is doing is not illegal unless the city has made it that way. It isn't like there are land use laws at the state level.

    I may be able to steer you in a positive direction after I read your response.
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  24. #24
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    OK..here's the story. Once upon a time in 1869, Coin was officially incorporated as a CITY, with ordinances and mayor and council and everything! As with many other small towns in the rural midwest, once the railroad left, so did the hustle bustle of the town. This once thriving city has been reduced to a mere 200 residents, 3-4 small privately owned businesses, and, something that surprises me about all these small towns, its own post office! The town is surrounded by farmland, mostly corn and soybean and a few cattle. The outlying areas of the incorporated city limits are farmland. Those areas, along the perimeter of the "residential area" that have been declared within city limits have been zoned agricultural, commercial and industrial. The "inner" part of town is zoned restricted residential. Folks living in the perimeter properties, but still within city limits, must conform to all city ordinances.

    With the exception of one property owner, who also owns a business in town, no one else "farms" for a living within the city limits. This particular property owner has several large acreages around the county, and this one little field next door to his house, within city limits, and within the restricted residential district. That's what the city calls it. That's what it is. An area RESTRICTED for residences.

    While he owns farmland in places referred to around here as "out in the country', he chooses to keep all his equipment (tractors, planters (during planting season), combines (during harvest), semi-trailer grain haulers (2 or 3 of them), grain wagons, etc) fuel storage barrels, 250 gal (minimum) fuel tanks (5 or 6), gas pump, chemical storage, tools, etc., outdoors in plain view on his property on a main street in the city. The equipment traveling or parking on our city streets (which are so very expensive for a small town like ours to maintain) does nothing but help them deteriorate even more quickly. He uses anhydrous ammonia and other fertilizers, pesticides, etc on this small lot (about an acre). The fuel tanks are old and rusted and don't appear to be within DNR (the state EPA) regulations concerning safety. He keeps the tanks filled with gas and diesel as needed for the tractors, combines, sprayers, etc. that are stored on that little piece of land. His property is surrounded by other residences in reasonably close proximity. If there was an anhydrous accident, we would all be affected. If a fuel storage tank or barrel exploded, we would all be affected. This is my main concern. I am not out to put the man out of business, not that I think I ever could, but there has to be a place to draw a line. A little consideration is all that is asked. I've heard the phrase "oh, well, he's grandfathered in" touted all over town and at council meetings. Isn't this grandfathering in supposed to be documented somewhere? Does the grandfather clause die with him? Does his family (children) get to keep the grandfathering alive? Again, its mostly for safety reasons that I am so concerned.

    Does the fact that some may "work" on a farm during harvest or planting qualify him/her as a "farmer". I think not. Other than the few retired farmers still in town, the citizens work in factories, retail, restaurants, etc., outside of town. Coin, itself, is no longer a "farming community" . If I am mistaken, by all means, correct me (I'm not above admitting I'm wrong).

    I've seen some responses that allude to the fact "city folk" move to the country only to set about to stop pigs from smelling (in its simplest terms). That is not the case here. I love the surrounding farm country, the horizon dotted with crops of corn or beans, it's absolutely beautiful. I wave to the cows and thrill over the new calves. I don't even mind the smell of cow manure - I've learned it's known as "the smell of money". I just assumed the farms were "there" and I was "here", in a small, quaint, midwestern CITY.

  25. #25
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    I am editing this after I read your response. It really depends upon the language in the zoning ordinance. If it clearly says agriculture uses are not allowed, you can force the city to enforce it's ordinance. The City could then change the ordinance to make the use legal if they chose to. But like I said, if you are the only one who cares, you are wasting your time, it's not going to change.



    ....begin older post



    Quote Originally posted by Domcath View post
    . Again why have laws or words like RESIDENTIAL which seems to mean where you live, not farm, whats so hard to understand.?
    I'm sorry, but it must be difficult to understand, because you clearly do not.

    I know with nearly 100% certainty that your cities zoning code allows more than just houses in the residential zone. Just because there is an agricultural zone does not mean that that is the only zone where farming is allowed. As a said in my last post, the State of Iowa has no jurisdiction over zoning (except for when they took away the cities' power to zone out factory farms, but that is another discussion) . Cities write and adopt the zoning ordinances the way they see fit and may allow or disallow what they choose. Disallowing things allowed by the constitution will be thrown out in court, but until that happens, what the city council votes is law in your city.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
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