Douglas County Commission approves rezoning of rural land for ‘agrihood’ subdivision

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Douglas County Commission

The Douglas County Commission meets for its regular meeting on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

Douglas County could be getting its first “agrihood,” as County Commissioner Nancy Thellman put it on Wednesday.

During its regular meeting, the County Commission approved a rezoning application from Dirk Hanson, a rural landowner, who wants to subdivide his land for the purposes of selling the newly created parcels as residential properties with small farm operations. Thellman said it could be the first cluster development in the county that includes residential properties with a focus on food production.

“It’s a lovely vision,” Thellman said, noting it is consistent with the county’s view of rural land development that preserves agricultural uses. “That would be a remarkable win for our community,” she added.

Hanson had requested a rezoning of his 46-acre property at 915 East 1900 Road from an Ag-1 district, which allows agricultural uses, to an Ag-2 district, which allows for smaller agricultural operations and residential purposes. The rezoning allows Hanson to subdivide the land into a maximum of four parcels and sell them as small farming operations or residential lots. However, planning staff noted in a report to the commissioners that the rezoning would give Hanson or prospective buyers the ability to use the new parcels strictly for residential purposes.

But Hanson told the commissioners during the meeting that prospective buyers are interested in using the subdivided lots for hobby farms, such as large vegetable gardens or small-scale meat production.

“I’m really excited about this; I just hope that vision is real,” Thellman said. “I hope the folks who are interested in this follow through and we can look four or five years down the line and see real food production.”

The rezoning was the first use of new land subdivision rules outlined in the county’s recently adopted zoning and codes ordinances, which were specifically changed to address concerns with land subdivisions in rural parts of the county.

The new system requires rural property owners to rezone their large parcels of land when they plan for them to be subdivided. The rezonings are then considered by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the County Commission during their public meetings. Previously, land subdivisions were administratively approved by county staff and did not include a specific public process.

Thellman and Commission Chair Patrick Kelly said they were happy with the new process. Kelly said he found it to be a more thoughtful way of considering rural residential development.

“That’s a step in the right direction and that’s more of a process than we had before,” Kelly said. “I just feel like we are doing it right now.”

In other business, the commissioners approved a conditional use permit for Honey-Bee Septic’s new property located south of Lawrence near the northeast corner of North 1100 Road and East 1600 Road.

The company — currently at 1462 North 1700 Road, just outside of the northern edge of Lawrence city limits — requested a conditional use permit that will allow it to use the new location as its operational facility, which requires truck storage. The trucks will be stored in a newly constructed building on the property. Additionally, the permit requires the company to use East 1600 Road and North 1100 Road as its truck route.

The commissioners also extended a declaration of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic. In May, the commission approved a 60-day extension of its local state of emergency declaration for the pandemic, which expired on Monday. The commissioners approved continuing the declaration indefinitely, meaning it will be in place until the commissioners choose to end it.

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