The Fremont City Council during its Tuesday evening meeting deviated from the Fremont Planning Commission’s recommendation regarding the proposed Duke Estates housing development by approving and having the first reading of an ordinance that would shift its zoning.
By a 5-2 vote, the Council voted in favor of the request from Derek Kovick, owner of approximately 89.5 acres located at 1045 W. South St., to make a zoning change from RR Rural Residential and R-2 Moderate-Density Residential to PD Planned Development.
Two more votes and readings will be needed for the ordinance to be passed and implemented.
The lone no-voters were Ward 4 Councilmember John Anderson and Ward 1 Councilmember Mark Legband. Ward 1 Councilmember Ellen Janssen was not in attendance and officially submitted her letter of resignation to County Clerk Fred Mytty Sept. 19, siting time concerns with her acceptance into medical school and raising young children.
During a Sept. 18 meeting, the Planning Commission voted 5-3 against the zoning change. Brian Wiese, member of the commission and property owner at Rainbow Lake – one community affected by the possible zoning shift – was one of the five no-votes. His vote was called into question as being a conflict of interest by Kovick during Tuesday evening’s meeting.
Anderson, however, said that regardless of Wiese’s vote a majority of members on the Fremont Planning Commission were not in favor of the rezoning and that he would still vote to follow its recommendation.
A large amount of conversation during a public hearing surrounding the issue revolved around growth. Kovick spoke about how Fremont has been in a state of stagnation for some time. And while business is growing in Fremont, Kovick said affordable, available living spaces have not.
“The affordable housing has still not been met,” he said. “We have the jobs, but we also need the homes.”
Duke Estates’ plan calls for a mixture of single-family residential housing, attached single-family residential, townhouses and cottage single-family residential homes ranging in price from $145,000 to $200,000.
Numerous concerns were raised from the public, primarily focusing on the shift in landscape with the proposed zoning change, as well as issues stemming from the area being in a floodplain. Nobody who spoke in opposition to the location of the proposed Duke Estates said they are against progress, in fact, most commented how they want Fremont to continue to grow; they simply stated that the proposed land parcel is not the place to have this development.
The Planned Development shift would completely alter the current zoning landscape, and with current statute, once shifted to PD it’s not so simple to change back to former zoning, said Dave Mitchell, partner at Yost Law Firm who spoke on behalf of Paul and Mary Wachter, who own an adjacent property to the plot of land.
“This is not a simple zoning change, a simple zoning change is when you go from R-1 to R-2, or R-2 to R-3, or R-3 to R-4,” Mitchell said. “This is a zoning change that, historically, before this last spring, would be subject to a very rigorous process of due diligence by the developer who would want to have a PD adopted by the City of Fremont. There was a very detailed process, one that provided confidence and one that provided research with the people who were sending the application, so that you knew exactly what was coming down the pipe.”
That process has changed, and with the adoption of a PD as not an overlay district, but as a free-standing zoning district, Mitchell said an area that is rural residential and that has never been on the city’s future land use map for anything other than rural residential is now being considered for high-density housing.
Fill to support the development would also raise the land by several feet, causing more water to spill into lining properties that already have trouble handling water after a substantial rain, several people commented.
Kovick, at this point, has not completed hydrology analysis to anticipate the effect of Duke Estates on surrounding properties.
“We know that no matter how good the drainage plan is that they are going to get water over here from this elevated development,” Mitchell said.
Councilmember Susan Jacobus said that while the floodplain issue is valid, creative engineering and construction can address many of the issues being raised. Jacobus supported voting in favor of the ordinance, however, she requested that a good deal of wording be looked at in regard to the Planned Development language.
Johnny Dorn, a senior advisor with Omaha-based Cresa who spoke on behalf of Kovick, said that people have this negative idea of what a PD would look like in the area, however, he said by viewing images of the design – which were available at Council – they could see what Duke Estates is all about.
“This should bring light to the fact that this is a very quality housing development, and it will be attractive and keep residents here in Fremont,” he said. “… It’s something new, and something more contemporary and modern to the city of Fremont. So yes, this is new, it is change but it’s good change. This is well thought out, it’s not something that’s just been slapped on a piece of paper.”
Marv Welstead understands the critical need for Alzheimer’s research.
And when he lists statistics about the disease, you can see why.
Citing figures from the Alzheimer’s Association, the Fremont man said 37,000 Nebraskans are living with the disease.
Projections indicate one out of eight Baby Boomers will have Alzheimer’s by 2025.
“That’s eight years from now,” Welstead said. “That’s why research is so important.”
With such thoughts in mind, Welstead encourages area residents to take part in the “2017 Fremont Area Alzheimer’s Memory Walk,” which starts at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Wikert Event Center at Midland University.
About 150 people generally attend the annual event designed to raise awareness of the disease and funds for research. The event will include food, a raffle and prizes. T-shirts will be sold for $10 each.
Fremont has had a memory walk since 2012.
“It’s been very successful,” Welstead said. “Overall for this year with the money from our sponsors, contributions from the public and memorials people have established when they lose someone with Alzheimer’s, we anticipate we’ll bring in a little over $70,000,” Welstead said.
Monies raised go into an Alzheimer’s fund — a component fund of the Fremont Area Community Foundation. Donations are tax deductible.
More than 40 percent of funds raised are used for caregiver education and programming in the Fremont area. Sixty percent is earmarked for institutions doing cutting edge research on Alzheimer’s.
Saturday’s event will include greetings by Fremont Mayor Scott Getzschman, Midland University President Jody Horner and Dr. Daniel Murman, director of the memory disorders and behavioral neurology program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Murman will be available to talk about Alzheimer’s-related topics with attendees.
Local area residents will be involved in various activities. Katie Roberts will do face painting for children. Rosenbach Warrior Training Branch will conduct martial arts demonstrations. Midland nursing students and cheerleaders will take part as well.
The event is sponsored by the Fremont Area Alzheimer’s Collaboration. There is also a separate advisory board. Both will be at the walk, Welstead said. The collaboration works to raise public awareness, provide caregiver education and help in funding research of Alzheimer’s disease.
Welstead’s wife, Jean, began having symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in 2001. The symptoms progressed until her death in 2009. Welstead recalls people asking “What’s that?” when he mentioned his wife had Alzheimer’s.
Welstead cites comments from Dr. Ronald Petersen of Mayo Clinic who said if Alzheimer’s can be caught in the early stages, it can be delayed.
More has been learned about the disease in the last five years than in the previous 50 because of grant research.
Area residents can visit: http://alzheimers-fremont.org and http://www.alz.org/nebraska for more information.
Over the past few days award winning journalist, and former Today Show anchor, Katie Couric has been making her way around Fremont.
During the visit, Couric spent time interviewing local residents and organizations for a six-part documentary series slated to air on National Geographic in the spring of 2018.
According to information from National Geographic, the new currently untitled series will follow Couric as she talks with thought leaders who are shaping the most pivotal, contentious and oftentimes confusing topics across the globe today.
“Right now, we’re undergoing massive, transformational change in almost every area of our lives; change that can be dizzying and scary,” Couric said in a released statement. “While we’re inundated with information virtually every minute, I’m excited to step back, connect the dots and look at the big picture so we can better understand the world we live in and our place in it. And I couldn’t be more excited to have National Geographic as my partner on this journey.”
While in Fremont, Couric and her film crew from Katie Couric Media, made a stop at The May Brothers Building in Historic Downtown Fremont to conduct interviews. Building owner, Glenn Ellis, said Couric spoke with local group WinItBack Tea Party Patriots. Couric also visited the farm of retired Hormel worker Greg Soukop near Hooper, among other stops.
National Geographic wouldn’t confirm the topic that brought Couric to Fremont.
Soukop said the interview focused on his experiences as a lifelong area resident, as well as his experience at Hormel.
“What they were looking for when they contacted me was someone who worked at Hormel back in the days before they lost production, when the wages were a lot higher,” Soukop said in a phone interview with the Tribune.
Soukop began working at Hormel in 1974 and retired from the company in 2014.
Along with his experiences at Hormel, the interview with Couric also involved the topic of meatpacking industry business practices, as well as illegal immigration in the area, he said.
“They just wanted to see how the community and everything had changed from when I started working until I retired,” Soukop said. “If it would’ve been a bash this, bash that type of situation I wouldn’t have done it (the interview).”
In 2010, Fremont gained national attention when voters approved Ordinance 5165 that bans illegal immigrants from renting housing. The ordinance also requires businesses to use federal E-verify software to check on potential employees’ residency status.
Recently, the Costco/Lincoln Premium Poultry project reignited that contentious local conversation about immigration. The project consists of building a processing plant, hatchery and feed mill on the south side of Fremont at a cost of about $280 million and is expected to add 800 jobs.
At a Nickerson Board of Trustees meeting last year, John Wiegert who has been a vocal opponent of illegal immigration in Fremont shared his fears about how the Costco project could bring illegal immigrants and crime into the community.
“If you build a plant like this, it’s going to lure these people to our neighborhood,” Wiegert said at the time.
Soukop also shared his views about illegal immigration, and immigrants overstaying their work visas, with the Tribune.
“As long as the playing field is even, I don’t have a problem with anybody,” he said. “The thing that bothers me the most is our government has made it so difficult for the people to become legal after their work visas run out, that it is easier just not to do it and then nobody checks up on them.”
The Dodge County Board of Supervisors during its Wednesday morning meeting gave approval for the first Dodge County farmer to construct Lincoln Premium Poultry chicken houses.
Following in suit with the Planning Commission’s unanimous 8-0 vote of recommendation, the Board approved the request of John and Connie Snover, as well as Colton Schafersman, of 1232 County Road 19 in Hooper, to obtain a conditional use permit for a new livestock feeding operation containing 300 to 900 animal units.
Schafersman, a sixth-generation farmer, said the plan is to erect four chicken barns total – three hen barns and one rooster barn. As of now, the plan is to have 60,000 birds on site or 600 animal units, which is considered a medium-sized animal feeding operation, said Andy Scholting, general manager and president of West Point’s Nutrient Advisors.
Since the age of 10, Schafersman said that the Snover’s – his grandparents’ – farm has been the place where he’s worked. If he wasn’t’ playing football or busy at school, he was there tending to the land. While speaking during a public hearing, he discussed how approval of the chicken growing operation will diversify his family’s means of income and provide opportunities for future generations of farmers in his family.
“This farm has been in our family for more than 125 years, and I take immense pride in that,” Schafersman said. “With this permit I will now not only be able to secure my future on this farm, but perhaps a seventh generation with my son, too.”
Where the barns would be located on his property would be virtually unnoticeable from the surrounding roads, he said.
“I, myself, will live four miles to the west and will be the only one able to see it,” he said of the barns, which will house chickens used for processing at the proposed Costco Poultry facility south of Fremont. “… We have been working with Nutrient Advisors out of West Point consulting closely to work through the (Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment) matrix, and also working with them on my nutrient management plan to responsibly monitor the (chicken) litter from the barns.”
The matrix is a practical tool for county officials to use to help determine whether to approve a conditional use permit or special exception application. It produces quantifiable results based on the scoring of objective criteria according to an established value scale. Schafersman scored 100 points on the state matrix, and a passing score is 75, Scholting said.
In terms of environmental impact, Scholting said that the 900-acre plot of land is ideal to house the chicken growing operation.
“He’s at a great place in terms of environmental impact,” Scholting said. “He has deep soils, he has good distance from water; the runoff from his farm needs to travel over 4 miles before it would enter Maple Creek at approximately 1 ½ miles east of Highway 77.”
While the conditional permit was issued, numerous concerns were raised from citizens encompassing the Greater Fremont and Dodge County area.
Numerous issues were raised regarding possible high nitrate levels in soil from chicken litter, damaged air quality, water pollution and homes near the property in question losing value.
Meeting attendee Denise Richards highlighted concerns regarding property owners living near these chicken operations.
Citing a case in Roanoke, Virginia, Richards spoke about the issue.
“Study after study shows that degradation in air quality, which reduces quality of life in an area surrounding a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) will have a measurable, direct and statistically significant negative affect on property values. The loss in property value can affect tax assessments, and therefore a county’s revenues which stresses local government.”
Richards said that she knows this is the first of many farmers coming forward requesting conditional use permits to house chickens on property, and that her and others will continue coming to speak against it.
“We will come here to protest every application, for every chicken, hog and cattle facility, because that is our right as an American citizen,” she said. “And as much as you probably don’t like it, you will have to listen to us because that is your job. You chose this job but we did not choose this fight.”
Julie Hindmarsh, also in attendance, spoke about how although this one particular farm may be able to support the chicken operation, others will not. The environmental and public health concerns, she said, should be more closely analyzed before making a decision.
“I have to commend the applicant – you have the farm land to dispose of this litter (chicken poop, feathers, feed and other materials), but not all of your applicants will,” Hindmarsh said. “The poster child comes first, that’s the way industry works.
“The thing that you need to know, though, is that this is industry, this is not agriculture. And as industry, this chicken manure is a waste product that should be regulated. And this is what you as county supervisors need to seriously consider when you look at the quantity of waste that all these chicken barns – not just this one – will produce.”
In regard to nitrate produced by chicken litter, with the 900 acres included in Schafersman’s nutrient management plan, first year nitrogen availability that his operation will produce is 300 tons.
“That’s a fairly small amount,” Scholting said. “… First year available nitrogen will only require 40 acres of an average corn crop to utilize that nitrogen.”
Walt Schafer, project lead for Lincoln Premium Poultry, said that while Shafersman may be the first request, several other farmers are coming right behind him. These farmers, Schafer said, are making between a $2 million and $8 million investment to have these chicken operations on their land.
“One of the most critical pieces of our project when we got started was figuring out whether we could get the farmers and growers to do this,” he said. “And what we found was that there was overwhelming support from the farming community to do this. If you look at our list today, we have over 100 percent recruitment on our total needs and we continue to get applications every day.”
Schafer said that Lincoln Premium Poultry will continue doing its due-diligence in regard to the project.
“We will have our detractors that I’m sure will come before you when we are back up here saying the same things, and we will continue to teach, show and demonstrate just as we have through this entire project that we will do the right thing, and quite frankly folks, the farmers I’ve met here don’t need to be told to do anything,” he said.
“They live on the land, they own the land and they’ve been here for many, many generations. They are sophisticated business people and I don’t tell them what to do, I tell them what we need and in the end, these folks make up their minds and do what’s right.”