Houston County commissioners will hold a public hearing on July 1 to consider updates to 12 different sections of the county's zoning ordinance.

The board voted to bring the matter to the public during their June 10 meeting. Commissioner Dana Kjome said that the changes do not involve the county's industrial mining ordinance. They stem instead from a series of meetings that looked into obsolete language and a variety of other issues.

Several members of the Houston County Planning Commission, Board of Adjustment, various township board officers, and county officials convened an "ordinance study committee" in October of 2013. The group continued meeting (usually twice per month) until April 21, then sent their recommendations to the Planning Commission for approval. That was granted during a special session on June 5, and the document was placed on the agenda for county commissioners.

Conditional use permits (CUPs), interim use permits (IUPs), planning commission terms, board of adjustment rules, the subdivision ordinance, and more are included in the revision. Many of the additions and deletions consist of only a word or two, and are aimed at cleaning up the language of the document. Some sections, however, received a major overhaul.

Variance criteria are defined at length. Definitions for many other items, such as what constitutes a campground (to the county) are added. The penalty for beginning a project without a zoning permit is increased from doubling the application fee to tripling that cost (with the possible exception of projects costing under $1000). A whole section on factors involved in granting an "after the fact variance" has been removed.

Interim use permits are expanded greatly, from a single instance (non-commercial family cabins) to 15 different circumstances, including "other uses" which the planning commission and county board could define as need arises.

Other votes, other news

The board also voted to hire Matt Mackie as a full-time probationary lead jailer/dispatcher. Another ballot approved an unpaid leave of absence request from Public Health nurse Laura O'Heron.

Personnel/facilities director Tess Arrick-Kruger told commissioners that three reports on the condition of the historic Houston County Jail building are on track for completion within a week.

"It's all coming together very quickly," she said, adding that each document will look at the possible future of the building from a different perspective.

The structural engineer's report will define the condition of the structure, while a contractor's estimate will examine costs to make repairs following this spring's interior flooding from a burst water pipe. A third report is being compiled by Spring Grove firm Pathfinder CRM, which looks at the historic value of the building and considers what sort of future uses it could be put to.

Earlier in the meeting, two persons spoke during the public comment session about the ca. 1875 structure.

Barb Bissen of the Houston County EDA said, "I believe in the importance of exposing students to history. The history of the buildings, and not only that but how and why they were built." She asked the board to save the structure, even if that means putting it in mothballs until renovations to the historic courthouse are completed.

"Many buildings around the state were mothballed for years before a use was found, and a developer. I understand that a lot of taxpayers are concerned with the cost of renovation, and other residents appreciate history, and others see the bigger picture of economic development..."

Caledonia resident Janene Hosch also urged saving the building. She said that she has been compiling a history of the jail for the past two months. "We would really like you to consider all the options in this matter...," Hosch stated.