The sharing of differences of opinion was about the only thing accomplished at a joint hearing of the Clay County Planning Commission and the City of Vermillion’s Planning & Zoning Commission held Wednesday, Nov. 16 before a capacity audience in the meeting chamber of Vermillion City Hall.
Following a meeting that stretched for two-and-half-hours to consider a request by Kevin Myron to rezone his grain elevator, AG Opportunities, located at 1919 W. Cherry Street, from A-1 Agricultural District to HI: Heavy Industrial District, the county zoning commission voted in favor of the zoning change, but the city zoning commission voted against it.
The business, which is in the Joint Jurisdiction Zoning Area (JJZA) that was established by the county and the city in 2012, has been zoned A-1 Agricultural since that time. The property is located north of W. Cherry Street, west of the west city limits, south of the Highway 50 bypass and east of the Vermillion River.
Myron told the members of both commissions that his family, which owns AG Opportunities, was not made aware that a zoning change had taken place to their business’s property.
“This is something that is significantly impacting our business right now,” he said. “We have discovered that it probably has been indirectly affecting us for eight or nine years. To us, the way that we got here is almost as important as the current zoning situation so we would like to explain that from our point of view as well.”
The Myron family has been involved in agri-business in Vermillion for approximately 50 years, he said, and purchased the grain elevator which is today known as AG Opportunities in 2004. He said the facility was purchased in 1967 by Terminal Grain which began operating it as a feed processing center. The business added rail and a rail loading facility to the location in 1987.
“At that time, they requested a zone change,” Myron said. “I believe it was agricultural at that time, I don’t know 100%, but I know the request was for industrial. I’m not even sure at that time if they had classifications of light or heavy.
“The Terminal Grain Manager had told me that he thought it was Heavy Industrial, but the documentation that I’ve been able to find says that at a minimum, it was Light Industrial,” he said, “that went through the full process and at that time was approved by both the city council and the county commissioners.”
In 1995, Terminal Grain sold the facility to Cargill, which operated it until Jan. 1, 2004, when they closed the facility. It was sold in March 2004 to two local truckers and in June 2004, it was purchased by the Myrons.
Myron said his family was aware of the zoning situation of the property at that time because they made a significant investment in the business after they purchased it. He said the lower two-thirds of the property was zoned industrial and the remainder of the property was zoned agricultural.
He said the agriculture business in recent years has been tough and his family has been looking at other ways to raise revenue at the property which includes just under a mile of railroad track which breaks into three spurs.
“Various opportunities were coming up to me; there was a lot of interest in the rail and the 60,000 square foot building, the amount of property that we have, the location on Highway 50,” Myron said, “so we’ve been pursuing those activities.”
One opportunity showing interest in the property would involve metal fabrication.
“I called up to Drew (Gunderson, the Clay County zoning administrator) to just make sure that that fell under what was allowed under our zoning,” Myron said. “I knew when we built it what it was, but we just wanted to check it and he informed me at that time that you can’t do anything like that. You’re zoned agricultural.”
He said Gunderson informed him the entire property was zoned agricultural and that a grain elevator isn’t allowed under agricultural zoning. The only thing that allows for that is Heavy Industrial (zoning).
“You can imagine I was a little bit shocked,” Myron said. “We spent about six weeks trying to figure out when this happened. We could find the black and white, the documentation, stating when it was changed to industrial. Could not find anything about when it was changed to agricultural.
“After about six weeks, we gave up and Drew suggested to me that we contact the city and see if they have any documents on this,” he said. “After a few weeks we did find out that yes, indeed, my zoning had been changed. Obviously, I was not aware of this.”
It was discovered, Myron said, that in the 2012 writing of the joint jurisdiction agreement, “as part of that, apparently our zoning was changed.”
He said as the agreement was being crafted, a map was included and he has found references to a future use map to be used as a guideline and not to be used for zoning.
“Apparently on this map, the zoning on my property had been changed,” Myron said. “I said, ‘I was not notified of this. Every Clay County resident is under the assumption that if their zoning is going to get changed, they’re going to be notified of it.’
“I was told that that was not necessary in some situations,” he said, “that the city has the right to make zoning changes without direct notification and then I was told that there was a notice in the paper and you should have been aware of that and that’s how you should have been aware of your zoning being changed.”
City Engineer Jose Dominguez shared information at the Nov. 16 joint hearing that he had included in an Oct. 26 memo to the city planning and zoning commission. He wrote that in 2012, when the county and the city adopted the current Joint Jurisdiction Zoning Area (JJZA) zoning ordinance, the property on which AG Opportunities is located was zoned into the A-1: Agricultural district.
“The decision to locate the property within this district was made by the County and the City,” the memo states. “Based on the minutes from the meetings, it does not appear that this particular property was discussed in any great detail; however, the County and City reviewed and adopted a zoning map that showed the area as being in the A-1: Agricultural district.
“Additionally, the JJZA’s comprehensive plan, which was also adopted and reviewed by the County and City, shows portions of this area as either residential or commercial. The JJZA’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances were discussed extensively by both bodies, individually and collectively.”
Gunderson also read a memo that he had compiled for the Nov. 16 joint hearing that points out, in detail, how the the City of Vermillion’s Comprehensive Plan is relevant to the proposed rezoning because it supports Myron’s request.
Among the city plan’s many characteristics, Gunderson points out in his memo, it is designed to “attract new services and establishments to the community, while strengthening the local economy for existing businesses to expand.”
It also states that the plan strives to continue “a strong working relationship with Clay County to ensure preservation of farmland in rural areas and balancing growth with the needs of agriculture.
His memo also includes statements from the Joint Jurisdiction Comprehensive Plan, including:
“Primary purpose of this document … To address the planning requirements of state law while also providing a sound and logical basis for city growth management strategies.”
“This joint agreement is intended to promote the orderly outward growth of the City and minimize conflicts between urban and rural land uses. A large portion of the joint jurisdiction is devoted to agriculture uses but other uses are present including residential acreages, rural resident subdivisions, commercial and industrial uses.”
Gunderson recommends that Myron’s zoning request be approved, in part, because “the use of the existing facility may comply with both the spirit and the intent of the City’s and Joint Jurisdiction Comprehensive Plans.”
Dominguez’s memo states that City staff recommend that the petition to rezone the area from A-1 Agricultural to HI: Heavy Industrial be denied. Additionally, City staff recommends that both planning commissions direct staff to amend the A-1 Agricultural district so that the “grain terminal/grain processing facility” use be included as a conditional use.
Look for additional coverage of the Nov. 16 hearing in next week’s edition of the Plain Talk.