No seats were left unfilled. People crammed into any space available, many stood or leaned against the walls.
More than 100 people attended the Winona County Board of Commissioners public hearing on proposed changes to the county zoning ordinance. Commisioners heard public comment but took no action at Tuesday night’s hearing. The county board will vote on the proposed changes at a future meeting.
Comments from those who spoke were nearly evenly divided in support and opposition to the changes.
“It’s hard to find a perfect compromise for this,” Winona County resident Hans Madland said to commissioners.
Madland said he understands the two sides are polar opposites and that both are passionate about what they feel the zoning ordinances for the county should be.
“Whatever decision you make I hope that you put this issue to rest,” he said, adding later that he feels commissioners should spend more time considering controversial changes relating to feedlot and bluff setbacks.
The changes are being proposed by Commissioner Steve Jacob, who, not long after being elected, brought them to the table for discussion. The proposed changes include: allowing properties less than 40 acres — which existed before 2011 — to be built on without a permit, taking all properties established before 2011 in the county back to 1970 rules for setbacks and allowing a number of other setbacks, including ones that protect bluffs to be overridden if the area falls within a 300 foot radius of existing buildings.
The primary topic of discussion was the proposed changes to bluff and feedlot setbacks. Many speakers claimed the changes would eliminate bluff protection and create problems with erosion. Others insisted that if the changes are adopted the bluffs will still be well protected; that landowners in the bluffs care about them and aren’t going to destroy them.
“These folks know exactly what they’re doing,” resident Richard Hunnewell said — who was in support of the changes – as he referred to land owners.
Hunnewell is a land owner and, after the public hearing, said he fell in love with the land when he first stepped foot on it. Because of that love he makes sure it’s protected, but said he doesn’t like being told what to do with his land.
“There’s nobody on this planet who’s going to love that land more than me,” he said. “For someone to come along and without skin in the game tell me…that they have equal rights to that bluff. It’s easy to mind another man’s business.”
Resident Debi Niebuhr disagrees that individual property rights should trump land protection.
“At this time in our life time I think environmental concerns should be our priority for the next generations,” she said. “We should not be looking at property rights that benefit a few.”
Resident Jane Cowgill agrees.
“This issue about property rights is a really thorny one,” she said. “A lot of people in here who are not farmers own property. Everybody is restricted… one way or another.
These restrictions that are going to be taking back protecting the environment. There are other rights. There are rights for peace and health and for future generations.”
Mary Cichanowski agrees the issue is thorny, but the problem is with the current ordinance and not the proposed changes.
“This thorny ordinance went too far,” she said. “It’s comparable to someone coming up to me and asking me for all my money and then when I object asking for 45 percent of it instead.”
In her eyes, the last election – which elected Commissioner Steve Jacob — showed what county residents truly want.
“The last two local election should indicate this was not acceptable,” she said. “I support these amendments and urge you to support them.”
“If the board doesn’t make a wise decision, we’re going to be back here in a couple of years,” Madland said, adding there should just be more time hashing out details of the controversial measures. “They have the opportunity to restore confidence or erode it.”