Change may be coming soon to a housing development rule in the unincorporated portions of Harvey County that has been under scrutiny for the past year (and longer) among the county commission and staff.

Early on in 2018, the Planning and Zoning Commission and department staff have been reviewing an amendment to the "quarter-quarter" rule, which was passed unanimously — after a public hearing — at the commission's meeting in February.

The rule lays out several criteria for how agriculturally zoned land can be divided and developed in the unincorporated portions of the county. When previous requests to split a quarter of a quarter (40-acre tracts) for home development have come before the county commission in the past, the discussion has even led to suggestion of outright abolishment of the rule.

What the Planning and Zoning Commission is proposing is more an abolishment of the rigid criteria tied to the rule. While the requirement of a 40-acre/quarter of a quarter to develop a home site will remain, landowners with 40 acres/quarter of a quarter would be allowed to divide their property into two parcels for a home site one time. The split parcel could be no smaller than five acres without rural water (or three acres with rural water).

Several regulations exist that have to be met in order to allow for a division currently. While the process has worked, Planning and Zoning Director Gina Bell noted she gets constant requests for these types of development, and the amendment was pursued as a means to streamline that process.

"The planning commission and the zoning staff have known for quite a while that the current, existing system was not necessarily fair or easily understood,” Bell said. “What they really want to do now is make it easy to explain and understand, so that we’re all on the same page and we understand that.”

“We just want to clear the rules up and make it easy to explain,” said Planning Commissioner Pat Wendling.

Bell said ease of development was a driving factor in making the change, as was a change in loan regulations following the housing market crash that area bankers and realtors brought to her attention. In order to get a loan, they informed her, the land value could be only 25 percent of the total loan amount. So, getting a loan to build on 40 acres of land valued at $5,000 an acre would require potential developers to seek out a nearly one million dollar loan.

On top of that, the amendment to the rule will allow current landowners opportunities for more development (i.e. building a home for family on the split tract) or a chance to more easily sell said land — with Bell pointing out a growing market for rural housing.

"It will ease housing and people who want to build in the country — people don't always want to live in the city, some people really want to live in the country — this will allow that to happen," Bell said. "I think that there will be, slowly, an increase in the number of building permits that we are able to provide. I don't expect a big flood of people, but I do expect it to increase."

Many secondary benefits — like opening up some housing availability in the city — could also stem from the amendment, which will now be brought before the Harvey County Commission for a vote on Feb. 26. For more information on the amendment and how it could potentially change rural development in Harvey County, call the Planning and Zoning Department at 284-6940.