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Barr takes zoning case to court

Couple sues county in battle over rumored pig farm

Published: Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 5:00 p.m. CDT

A Morris man, who was allegedly planning to put in a pig farm until he was denied by the Grundy County Board a zoning change for his property, is taking the county to court.

Morris attorney Frank Cortina filed a complaint in Grundy County Circuit Court last week on behalf of Bruce and Paula Barr.

In December, the Grundy County Board voted 15-1 against the request by Barr that the county rezone his 57 acres at 3245 Southmor Road from Agriculture-Residential to Agriculture. Because 20 percent of the landowners surrounding the property legally objected to the zoning change, it required a super majority vote.

For months prior and up to the vote, nearby residents came out in significant numbers protesting the re-zoning request. The neighbors protested because a rumor circulated that a pig farm would be put on the property, which is surrounded by both farming and residential properties. Neighbor Ray Grossi testified multiple times that Barr told him he intends to put in a 1,000-hog confinement on the land.

Barr never attended any of the committee or board meetings, but his attorney came in his place. Cortina maintained Barr wanted to farm the property and build farming structures, which was why he was asking for the zoning change. But officials said Barr didn't need a zoning change for that and he could just request a variance.

"You have to question his motive because he can do everything now," Grossi said. "He can put crops in, he can have up to 30 large animals, build a barn, a house."

The only thing he cannot have is intense agriculture, such as a pig farm, which would be detrimental to the surrounding properties, he said.

The fact that 20 percent of the surrounding landowners, plus additional Morris residents, objected to the rezoning cannot be ignored, Grossi continued.

Cortina was not available Thursday for comment on the new case, but the case file states Grundy County was "depriving (the Barrs) of the use of their property for agriculturally zoned purposes without due process or just compensation."

The county has not filed a response yet to the case. 

John Bates, Grundy County State's Attorney, said the county board will first need to discuss the case. It will go before the Finance Committee in executive session and then onto the full county board, also in executive session.

"And we'll progress from there," he said. "We want to make sure the full board is up to speed because it's a civil case.

"We're certainly going to address it. We're being sued, so we can't ignore it."

The Barrs want a judge to rule the county's action in voting down the rezoning was "invalid and void," according to the case file. In addition, they want a judgment declaring their property as Agricultural zoning and clearance for the owners to move forward with development without interference from the county.

The case file continues to cite the land is surrounded by agricultural property, and the land originally was zoned Agricultural before it was changed by the county at the request of a previous owner. A portion of the property was changed to A-R because the previous owner had planned to construct a residential subdivision.

It also states the property has always been used for agriculture. When the Barrs purchased it and wanted to construct an agricultural building, they were denied a permit. As A-R, the zoning regulations require a house be built on the property before any agricultural buildings.

It was stated by officials during the zoning meetings that Barr could request a variance to build another building first and that the county has granted such variances.

As Cortina argued previously, the case file states in the county's land use plan the county's priority is to promote agriculture and that residential is not supposed to prohibit agriculture.

When the request for A-R was denied, it was at the recommendation of the Land Use Department, which said the area on Southmor Road has become a high Agricultural-Residential area and an Agricultural use would not fit.

"The action of Grundy County in prohibiting the zoning of the premises for agricultural purposes is inconsistent with the use and character of the surrounding and abutting property and there is no real or substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals and welfare of the community and deprives the plaintiffs of the current highest and best use of their property . . ." the court document states.

The case also accuses the county of prohibiting the Barrs from doing things on their property that surrounding neighbors are allowed to do, such as having barbed wire atop their fence. In addition, the county has told the Barrs they cannot retain water on their property "even though state law provides the opposite," according to the file.

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