County denies Millersburg land-use request

The Linn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, March 14, denied a land-use request by the city of Millersburg, after studying the issue over parts of three meetings that started in January.

Commissioners Roger Nyquist and Sherrie Sprenger approved a motion to deny the city’s request while Will Tucker voted against the motion. Linn County Planning Commission members had previously voted unanimously to deny the request as well.

The city of Millersburg wanted to move 167-plus acres near its southwest corner out of its urban growth boundary and “swap” it for 163 nearby acres, which is allowed by state land-use laws and county land-use rules. Both properties are zoned Exclusive Farm Use, but the 163 acres are considered better farm ground than the young hazelnut orchard it would replace.

Millersburg wanted the swap due to interest in the development of a paper-products mill by an Italian-based company, although it has not purchased the property.

Neighboring farmers fought the swap, citing the acreage in question’s high productivity and their opposition to the city’s boundary moving west of the railroad tracks, which for decades has been an unofficial dividing line between town and country, although the city’s urban growth boundary already extends beyond the tracks.

After further discussion, Nyquist said he was especially concerned about water issues on the 167 acres. He said that property near the retaining ponds had some contamination based on their history, and he couldn’t assure adjacent property owners that contamination would not encroach onto their property with routine farming operations that would disturb the soil.

In his move to deny the land-use request, Nyquist cited criteria for plan map amendments including: “The presence of any development limitations including geologic hazards, flood hazards or water quality or quantity will not have a significant effect on land uses permitted through the amendment.”

He noted that farmers in the Dever-Conner area and Millersburg have always had good working relationships, adding that the area’s farm ground was among the best in the region.

Sprenger said the county wanted to provide everyone “with an opportunity to come to the table and have their voice heard,” adding that to her knowledge, this marked the first time the Planning Commission voted unanimously on such a decision.

“Once farmland of this quality is lost, it is lost forever,” she said. “It’s a big deal to me.”

According to Tucker, two holding ponds on the International Paper property were not included in the land-use request and Millersburg has plans to make the swap “compatible” with area needs. He believed the city’s request met both state and county land-use codes.

– Alex Paul, Linn County Communications Officer