MADISON — If it seems like Madison County has been getting more requests to build in the country this year, the numbers verify it.
At the last meeting of the Madison County Commissioners, for example, three conditional-use permits were approved that allowed for construction of houses in the rural areas. Coincidentally, all three were around the Battle Creek area.
Building houses in the country always has been popular, but does require some additional paperwork in many cases, especially if a house is being built in some agriculturally zoned districts on parcels less than 40 acres.
The additional requirement, which was approved in 1995, was designed to protect agricultural land after complaints were made by residents moving to the country who objected to farm odors, flies, dust or heavy equipment on roads.
It requires anyone wanting to build a house in land zoned A-1 (Agricultural District) to have at least 40 acres of property. Previously, houses could be built in A-1 zoned areas of land as small as 2.5 acres.
The requirement does allow, however, a house to be built on a smaller lot if the person living in the house is engaged in the farming operations at the site. That enables a farmer to subdivide a portion of his property, for example, if he wants to build a separate house for his son or a hired hand.
Heather McWhorter, zoning administrator, said she reviewed the permits and so far during the first 11 months of this year, Madison County has issued 10 conditional-use permits for houses in the country.
There were just five conditional-use permits for houses in 2020 and six such permits in 2019, she said.
However, McWhorter also examined how many houses were built in the country with building permits, which includes properties that did not need a conditional-use permit. Reasons why a permit was not needed include they were on over 40 acres or the parcel had an older home that is going to be removed for the new home or other reasons.
So far in 2021, her office has issued 14 building permits for homes, up from nine homes in 2020 and 11 homes in 2019, McWhorter said.
Troy Uhlir, county board chairman, said he and the county board like to see houses built in the country, provided the occupants understand that the rural areas are where farming takes place.
That means that the residents might have to put up up with some inconveniences, including noise from grain dryers running 24 hours a day, or cows and calves mooing during weaning, Uhlir said.
There also can be odors from livestock and heavy traffic that takes up most of the road at times, he said.
Although the conditional-use permits do contain an area that identifies the person building the house understands these inconveniences, at least one of the commissioners will mention it before they vote on the permit to the applicant in person. That helps to make sure there is no misunderstanding.
Uhlir said they want the rural areas to remain primarily rural, but they also want it to be open to people who want to live in the country. For the most part, the people moving to the country have grown up on a farm or in a small town and are familiar with farming, he said.
“It’s not like they are moving in from (urban areas),” he said.
It also helps the county out because it can broaden the tax base. Many of the homes are built on corner or less desirable acres. That helps transform a piece of property worth under $5,000 to one that might be an acreage with a house valued at $300,000 or higher, he said.