Neighboring landowners battle over proposed rural housing development

At left, a map of the current homes (in blue) along V Avenue between Dike and New Hartford and the prospective units (in orange) if the board of supervisors approves an R-2 rezone request from Jami Fettkether. At top, the pictured wooded area would be developed into four new homes, and at bottom, neighbors Darrell Sloth, Nick Heine, John Oltman and Russ Roberts, all of whom oppose the project, converse on Thursday afternoon. 

For as long as government has existed in the United States, one of its primary functions has been to balance the rights of private property owners against those of the people surrounding them and the public interest. What, then, happens when the parties involved reach a zero sum difference of opinions?


Darrell Sloth, Nick Heine, John Oltman and Russ Roberts, all of whom live along V Avenue between Dike and New Hartford in rural Grundy County, are adamant that the four-lot housing development their neighbor Jami Fettkether wants to build by clearing eight acres of wooded area and converting it from A-1 agricultural to R-2 “suburban” residential land would have negative repercussions both for them and for the future of the county itself.


“If you let in a little conclave of houses here in the middle of an R-1 section, what’s to stop this from happening in Shiloh Township, or down in Black Hawk Township, or Colfax Township or some other place where it’s the same kind of situation?” Sloth asked. “How do you tell them they can’t do it when you told this person they could do it?”


According to the opposition, the county’s guidelines from 2009 stipulate that new homes in unincorporated areas should be set on at least 35 acres of land (preferably on paved roads), and that land should have a corn suitability rating (CSR) below 80. Already, nine homes—the newest of which was constructed in 2005—sit along the narrow stretch of gravel in question, which includes an aging bridge erected in the 1930’s. Heine even offered to purchase the land but was allegedly informed that the plans had already been made.


Sloth, who grows corn and soybeans in several of the adjacent fields, also worries about more non-farm residents uninitiated with the unique challenges that tractors, sprayers and combines can present moving in across the road on land with an 86 CSR.


Still, none of these factors dissuaded a majority of the Grundy County Planning and Zoning Commission members in attendance at last week’s hearing from granting Mr. Fettkether their blessing after nearly 45 minutes of debate. Tiffany Carson, Steve Robertson and Nick Haupt supported the rezone application, while Brittni Curren and David Minteer voted against it.


The landowner, on the other hand, told the zoning board that he had “no other choice” in terms of adding value to the parcel besides a livestock feeding operation, which he has no desire to build (Fettkether, who works for Lockard Construction in Cedar Falls, is not a farmer by trade). And contrary to the claim that it violates the development ordinance, Fettkether argues that if the area were rezoned, it would fall well within the acceptable uses of an R-2 district.


“This, we feel, is the best option with residential homes that fits the community we’re in. The struggle we have is (that) under A-1, the items you can do are animal confinements, which destroy the natural resources and aren’t very neighborly,” Fettkether said. “If I left it A-1, the only options that are financially feasible lean that direction, and that’s not what we want to do.” 


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