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Disputed hog barn permit sent back to Kandiyohi County Planning Commission

Colburn Hvidston III / Forum News Service file

WILLMAR — A disputed conditional use permit application for a hog operation in northern Kandiyohi County has been sent back to the Kandiyohi County Planning Commission for further review.

The permit cleared the approval process with the Planning Commission earlier this month. But amid questions over whether there was enough information available to gauge the hog farm's impact on surrounding properties, the County Commissioners voted 3-2 last week against granting the permit, then opted to put the issue back into the hands of the Planning Commission.

The proposal is for a total confinement facility for 2,490 hogs in Colfax Township just south of the Stearns County line. The operator, Schwartz Family LLC, plans to have 10 to 12 employees at the site.

During a hearing before the Planning Commission Nov. 13, neighbors raised numerous concerns. They wanted to know if there was potential for runoff and water contamination. They asked about noise, odor and the impact of increased traffic.

One of the biggest questions was whether the facility would affect the use and value of surrounding property.

Planning Commission members ultimately determined that appropriate measures were in place to minimize the impact on the neighborhood and that the project would not significantly harm nearby property values.

But when the issue came before the County Board this past week, questions persisted.

This time there was an added wrinkle: the presence of a 10.6-acre buildable lot across the driveway from the proposed hog operation but over the county line in Stearns County, where longer setbacks are required.

Roger Imdieke, chairman of the County Board, wanted to know: Did the Planning Commission know of the parcel's existence when it recommended approval of the conditional use permit? If not, should it have been considered when the decision was made?

Imdieke said he "whole-heartedly" supports Kandiyohi County's agricultural economy but felt a vital piece of information may have been missing when the Planning Commission made its decision.

Building a hog barn across the road "would vastly diminish the value of that parcel," he said. The land is valued at $49,500.

"My question for everybody is: Would you build there?" Imdieke said.

"It doesn't say that you can't use the property," responded Harlan Madsen.

Madsen, the County Board's representative on the Planning Commission, said the panel knew the land was zoned agricultural and that the permit application met the necessary requirements.

Examples of buildings close to animal barns can be found throughout Kandiyohi County, he said. "I think we have to be focusing on our county."

He added that the county could be headed in "a dangerous direction" if it started considering building-eligible parcels whenever a conditional use permit application was on the table.

Doing so could eliminate agricultural development, he said. "Is that what you want?"

Unable to reach a consensus, the County Commissioners split 3-2 over a motion to approve the permit. Madsen and Jim Butterfield voted to grant the permit; Imdieke, Steve Ahmann and Rollie Nissen voted against.

The board then voted to send the permit application back to the Planning Commission for a new public hearing.

It has been rare for the County Board to deny a recommendation from the Planning Commission, and some of the commissioners were left uncomfortable by it.

The Planning Commission did its homework and issued its findings, Butterfield said.

"It's obvious the Planning Commission did take all of this into consideration," he said.

"I'm not an advocate of second-guessing the Planning Commission," Nissen agreed.

Imdieke said he's lost sleep over the issue.

"I am all for value-added agriculture," he said. "However, I think there was information they did not have when they made their decision."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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