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Country View Acres asks for judge to reconsider Woodlyn Hills ruling

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Photo by Seth Boyes
Seth Boyes - News Editor

A group of homeowners is asking a judge to take a second look at his recent ruling, which found no legal issue with the county's approval of a proposed RV park development east of Milford. Both the county and the developers' attorneys have filed resistance to the homeowners' request.

Iowa Third Judicial District Court Judge Charles Borth found last month that the Dickinson County Board of Adjustment had substantially complied with the law when it voted 3-2 in June of 2022 to grant a conditional use permit for the Woodlyn Hills RV park. Developers Bryan and Daniel Schmit hope to create the park on about 87 acres of the former Woodlyn Hills Golf Course property east of Milford. A group called the Country View Acres Homeowners, which the court noted is a residential development to the southwest of the proposed RV park, previously filed a petition asking a judge to void the development's permit.

Country View Acres argued the board had not fulfilled several specifics under the law, such as allowing public comment, but Judge Borth disagreed in a March 16 ruling. Country View Acres filed an additional request on March 27, asking the court to reconsider and potentially amend its decision. Attorneys for both the county and the developers say the new request should be denied — attorney David Briese, who represents Woodlyn Hills, argued Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure prohibit such motions from being "used to simply rehash legal issues previously decided by the court."

A majority of the most recent request from Country View Acres focuses on a letter from the Iowa Great Lakes Association — a local nonprofit typically focused on water quality issues — which the homeowners group said was not provided to the board before the split vote in June.

A public hearing on the Woodlyn Hills application was held April 25, at which time the board received public comment – Judge Borth's ruling said "the public extensively did so," with about 30 letters voicing opposition and about another 30 in support.

But the Country View Acres group argues one letter was missing – one submitted by Iowa Great Lakes Association Bill Van Orsdel several days beforehand, expressing environmental concerns related to the proposed RV park and including several attachments to related information sources. However, Borth pointed out county zoning officials told Van Orsdel at least one of the letters he sent to them was unsigned and would need to be resubmitted with a signature if it was to be read at the public meeting.

"Neither the cover email nor the unsigned letter were resubmitted with signature prior to the April 25 hearing," Borth wrote.

Some confusion arose during that initial hearing as to whether the RV park would require a private sewer system or could rely on municipal utilities. No IGLA representative attended the April 25 meeting, according to court filings, and the board of adjustment decided to continue the matter until June 6 hearing in order to clear up the confusion before the board's vote.

Borth's ruling noted county officials made it clear on the record that the period for public comment would not extend into the June 6 meeting.

"The law does not require the (board of adjustment) to hold an entirely new meeting and public comment period just because one citizen or organization failed to show up," the county said in a response last week.

Last month's ruling from Judge Borth said the board's decision didn't violate the public's right to comment, but attorney Jamie Hunter, who is representing the Country View Acres group, argued allowing Woodlyn Hills to respond to the criticism on June 6 without also allowing public comment amounted to ex parte communications — official talks made without properly notifying all parties. The developers' attorney called that argument absurd.

"If Woodlyn Hills' rebuttal is an ex parte communication, then every rebuttal given by a plaintiff in closing at a jury trial is ex parte communication," he wrote.

The attachments in Van Orsdel's email were made available to the board of adjustment, according to the judge's ruling — though Country View Acres claims they were not — and the judge added that Van Orsdel's materials didn't raise issues that weren't covered by others who opposed the project.

Hunter felt the court missed her client's chief complaint, saying "the county's complete failure" to forward the email "violates Country View and IGLA's rights to submit comment."

"The board of adjustment was not made aware that this environmental organization, that has an established history of working collaboratively and successfully with both Dickinson County and local communities, was opposed to the RV park development," Hunter wrote. "In other words, it wasn't necessarily the new content of the email that was critical, but the collective expertise, knowledge and strength behind the positions set forth in the email."

The IGLA opposed a similar proposal from a Minnesota developer whose application for an RV park east of the city of Arnolds Park was voted down by the board of adjustment without a single affirmative vote in July of 2022 — about a month after granting approval for Woodlyn Hills.

The Woodlyn Hills developers alleged at one point in their case that the IGLA was somehow funding Country View Acres' case against their proposed park. The developers cited advertising in which the IGLA called for updated county regulations for RV park development, and they also listed the estimated property values for several lots owned by IGLA board members.

"The IGLA represents the 'elite' of the Iowa Great Lakes who wish to limit ordinary families’ ability to visit the area," the developers said at that time.

Those specifics were later struck from the official record by the agreement of all parties in the case.

Dickinson County Planning and Zoning Administrator Megan Kardell, indicated last month the Dickinson County's Planning And Zoning Commission was focused on amending the county's comprehensive plan but could potentially look into drafting rules and regulations specific to RV parks and campgrounds if directed to do so by the Dickinson County Board of Supervisors.

Judge Borth has yet to respond to Country View Acres' request to reconsider his ruling.

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