ST. LEON – A proposed zoning ordinance change brought 17 to the Jan. 4 St. Leon Plan and Zone Board meeting.

Member Kevin Alig asked town attorney John Watson to read the change. Afterwards, Leroy Lobenstein contended, “A lot of that stuff we don’t understand.”

The attorney explained, “If you want to have a subdivision in an agricultural district, not a family subdivision, … you can do it, but you have to get your property rezoned into a residential district. You have to come before this board for rezone and approval under the subdivision control ordinance.”

Watson said what distinguishes the two zones is an agricultural district is designated to preserve the farming character of land there and a residential district is defined so that development and building density can be controlled.

Later in the meeting, he reminded the board and public the change is needed for clarification. “Twice last year this board voted unanimously to ask Mr. (Bryan) Metz (of Okeana, Ohio, who proposed a 65-lot subdivision) to rezone his property, which was in an agricultural district.” Metz didn’t request a rezone, but filed a lawsuit instead, which is in litigation now.

According to Watson, the developer was denied “in part because of zoning. The board took the position that … agricultural ground has a certain meaning. A residential subdivision shouldn’t be allowed to be built there.”

Lobenstein asked if land could be divided up for family members without going through the rezoning process. “I say you should be allowed to do that.”

Member Doug Farrow reported, “It’s in our zoning right now.” Former member Irv Bittner agreed family divisions of land are an exception to the ordinance.

Metz commented, “Obviously this board does not want subdivisions in St. Leon …” He said farmers should be allowed to sell their land to residential developers. “The farmers here, what is their retirement? It sure isn’t milking cows … or hay.”

He asked SLPZB Chairman Cliff Bischoff about zoning rules made in 1995. “Was the intent not to have subdivisions?” Bischoff replied that in keeping with the town’s character, minimum lots were increased from 9,000 square feet to 1 acre.

Metz challenged board members “to look taxpayers in the eyes” and tell them they will grant zoning changes if desired so they can sell their agricultural land to be used for residential neighborhoods.

Three local attendees also commented. Alice Wuestefeld noted, “I’ve been paying taxes for over 53 years. We worked hard for what we have ... We’re getting pretty sick and tired of you young runts telling us what to do.”

According to Carrie Alig, who has 200 acres of farmland and no heirs, “I just want to be able to sell my farm without any restrictions. Maybe I won’t sell it as a farm. I’ll sell it to the best of my ability.”

Charlie Werner announced, “I’m more or less against subdivisions myself. As landowners we’re really restricted already by Dearborn County.” He said he didn’t want St. Leon to have more stringent standards. “Everybody needs a lawyer to understand everything anymore. Everything is getting too complicated, I think.” He added later, “I want to thank the board. You guys all do a good job and have to put up with some BS.”

Metz told the crowd if land is sold for residential development, it’s worth $8,000 to $10,000 an acre vs. $2,000 to $3,000 for agricultural use. Alig said she didn’t agree with those figures. “My land’s worth more than that.” Bischoff put a stop to that discussion. “The board doesn’t have anything to do with setting prices.”

The board voted 4-2 to send a favorable recommendation to adopt the change to the St. Leon Town Council, which makes the final decision.

Farrow said Jan. 7, “We really didn’t change anything ... We’re not changing the acreage. We’re not changing” rules about family land. “The only thing we changed – now you have to have a rezone.”

In other meeting action, Gerhard Deddens proposed building two 30-by-100-foot storage buildings on a 1.09-acre lot at the end of Christina Drive. The setbacks met town requirements, according to Watson. The chairman reported, “It’s (zoned) highway interchange. As far as the board’s concerned, you’re fine to proceed with that.”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at (812) 934-4343, Ext. 113; The Herald-Tribune, P.O. Box 89, Batesville, IN 47006; or debbie.blank@cnhimedia.com.

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