Cit faces zoning confusion

Mary Atkinson · Wednesday, September 4, 2013
A few weeks ago, resident Clare Palmer addressed the city council about the possibility of having horses on her property. What may have seemed like a simple question then, has now become a matter of confusion.

Palmer's home, which sits on seven lots within the city limits, is zoned for agricultural needs. It's located on Walnut St. and is surrounded by the fairgrounds, as well as crop fields.

The confusion can be traced back to two ordinances in town that say two separate things. The land follows an old city code that allows her to to have cows, pigs, horses and poultry "for farming needs."

However, City Clerk Missy Carter told the council in a work session preceding the regular city council meeting, Aug. 22,  that City Attorney William Sueppel informed her of a police ordinance which prohibits farm animals within city limits.

Adding to that, Carter said it was the attorney's opinion that the city can put restrictions on agricultural zoning no matter what it's location may be.

Palmer, who is trying to sell her house, had asked for an exemption, but the council agreed that there is a need for further research to clarify the phrase "for farming needs," as wells a need to look into both ordinances before a decision can be made.

Even though Palmer is asking to be allowed one or two horses, members expressed a concern about that number rising if she were to sell her house. The new owners may decide to add more farm animals.

West Liberty Mayor Thomas is opposed to allowing more farm animals in town.

"I guess the question is: Do you guys want horses in town, or goats or chickens?" Thomas asked the other council members during the meeting. "I don't think it's a good idea personally, with the way the town is growing I think if you ask folks if they want that next to them, they would tell you no."

Thomas doesn't want to open the door to new requests for animals within city limits. "I don't think we should be encouraging new agricultural uses in our city limits," he added.

As it stands, farm animals are only allowed in West Liberty when farmland is annexed into the city. But that does not pertain to Palmer because she does not have 'active' farmland.

Council Member Bob Hartman said there needs to be more clarification with all of the terms and the language as well as a consistency in the ordinances.

"I'm just thinking of the future so it's clear," Hartman said.

The council decided that the issue of agricultural zoning and its definition within the city limits will be referred to the city's Planning and Zoning Commission for a hearing.

The commission will decide whether it should make a recommendation for a zoning change that will require an amendment to an ordinance, or recommend other changes.

In the meantime, Clare Palmer will have to wait a bit longer for her answer.
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