Washington County officials want to send a message and educate property owners on the county's zoning ordinances.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution to ensure all residents and property owners are aware the county will retain its zoning and administer and enforce the basic zoning laws that have been adopted.
The resolution was presented by Planning and Zoning Administrator Ryan Sullivan during the board's June 11 meeting.
County Attorney Scott Vander Schaaf said he and Sullivan are trying to inform those who need a conditional use permit (CUP) or variance to come to the county board.
“The problem we're running into again is they don't believe they have to,” Vander Schaaf said. “When we bypass this room and we bypass the board and the elected officials who are here to make sure that people are at least abiding by the rules or the spirit of the rules, that's a problem.”
Vander Schaaf said this isn't an issue of a property owner who has a CUP and the county finds fault with it, but rather residents who are “openly and notoriously” violating zoning laws.
“They're not even asking (for a CUP),” he said.
Vander Schaaf said he and Sullivan are aware of several individuals who are violating zoning ordinances. The county is willing to work with those property owners, he said, but they need to come to the board.
“We are welcome and open to trying to find resolutions, but that they really should be coming here and asking for permission rather than asking for forgiveness later,” he said.
Most recently, the county has been embroiled in a lawsuit with Mick D. Goslin and his wife, Beth L. Hersh-Goslin of Fort Calhoun.
The couple, who lease property at 2797 Herbert Henry Lane, are accused of illegally operating a commercial business on land zone for agricultural purposes.
According to the county, they have continually violated zoning ordinances and have been arrested several times.
The Goslins filed a lawsuit against Vander Schaaf and Sullivan in November. They later amended the suit to include the county board.
“I think sometimes there is a mix where folks believe it's Ryan and I who are in charge of this and that's just not accurate,” Vander Schaaf said. “This is a board issue, this is a county issue. We do have, unfortunately, individuals in the county that have decided either they don't need to comply with zoning regulations or they don't care to do so.”
The planning and zoning administrator is in charge of the violations, Vander Schaaf said. If a violation is found, Sullivan places a notice of violation on the deed to first alert the property owner there is an issue.
Before a nonconforming violation is filed, Sullivan talks with the property owner, sends letters and communicates with the county attorney's office. Signs will be placed on the property to alert the public that there is a violation.
“All we're asking here today is just to send a message out to folks that we do take this seriously, we do care how neighbors are treating other neighbors, we do care about how neighborhoods are going on and things in zoning are important because we all have to live as a community together,” Vander Schaaf said. “As part of that, we have to abide by restrictions so that we're not bothering others, we're not doing things we shouldn't be able to do and if you'd like to do something either on your land with your house or on any other property in the county, just come to the board and ask.”