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Zoning amendment approved (10/23/2013)
By Sarah Squires
The Winona County Planning Commission has recommended an amendment to the Winona County Zoning Ordinance that would make it easier for farmers to build an additional home on the farm.

The amendment would allow for a conditional use permit (CUP) process for farmers to build one or more secondary homes near a feedlot. The change would address the current difficulty that farm operators can have when seeking to build a secondary home to house farm workers or family members.

Under the current ordinance, feedlots and rural homes not owned by the feedlot operator must be 1,000 feet away from one another, or get a variance permit to be closer. It is a rule meant to avoid conflicts between farm operators and nonfarm residents who may complain about odors, noises, and other farm practices that can affect a farmer's ability to expand his farm.

When a farmer himself would like to build a second home, however, regulatory issues can get tricky. While farm operators have successfully obtained permits from the county to build a second farm home in the past, investing money in that second home can pose a problem. If the farmer's family members eventually take over the original farmhouse and attempt to sell the secondary dwelling, they must seek a variance in order to split the parcel and allow a family who does not farm to purchase the secondary home so close to the feedlot or agricultural operation. And because variances can only be granted under certain conditions prescribed by law, there is no guarantee that the secondary home will ever be permitted to be sold outside the family.

The amendment would allow a farmer with such a secondary home to split the parcel and sell to a person who does not farm with CUP, as long as the home is not sold to a nonfarm resident within five years of construction. The five year delay, county staff explained, was an effort to ensure that developers did not use the rule to avoid feedlot setback regulations.

Planning Commission members clarified the proposal as including the potential for more than two homes on the farm. County staff explained that the change would not allow large scale housing projects to avoid setback regulations since three or more homes on less than five acres would trigger subdivision permit requirements.

"The comprehensive plan that's currently in effect is listing one of the general goals as having a diverse economy which recognizes the value of agriculture. I think this amendment would be a good way to promote agriculture," said Planning Commission member Marv Hunger.

Commissioner Robert Redig questioned the five-year delay, wondering whether it should be extended to make sure homes were not built just to be intentionally "flipped" to nonfarm residents. He suggested a seven-year wait before the home could be sold.

Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman told commissioners he was concerned that a medical or financial calamity might pose a significant hardship for a family with a secondary farm dwelling that they can't afford or use, and advocated for flexibility within the amendment. "I'm just worried about a house sitting empty for seven years waiting for a variance," he explained.

Planning Commission members agreed on the five-year time frame, and voted to recommend the amendment to the County Board. The County Board will host a public hearing on the change in the coming weeks before taking a final vote. Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story. 


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