An evaluation of the land uses that presently exist within Red Willow County, Nebraska is critical to the formulation of its Comprehensive Development Plan. It is the type and location of the existing land uses which provides the starting point for this ‘Plan’ and the basis for the formulation of workable zoning regulations to protect such existing uses. In addition, the identification and examination of the existing land uses and corresponding development of zoning regulations also serves to encourage additional economic expansion within the County through development of future land uses which are compatible with such regulations.
In order to properly understand the impact of the existing land uses within the County and the overall trends in the location and extent of the existing land uses it is important to review to physical character of the County. An examination of the physical character of the County provides an indication of why certain land use trends have occurred and, in turn, details limitations of why development has not occurred in select areas. The following is a brief synopsis of the physical character of Red Willow County.
Red Willow County is in southwestern Nebraska. It is 716 square miles and has a total area of 458,240 acres. Urban development within the County has occurred in limited locations and the size and extent of this urban development has been limited with regard to total population base, with the exception of the City of McCook. The largest urban area within the County is McCook, located in the west-central portion of the County. The only other communities within the County are Bartley, located in the northeastern portion of the County, Danbury, located in the southeastern portion of the County, Indianola, located in the north-central portion of the County and Lebanon, also located in the southeastern portion of the County.
The goods and services provided and produced in Red Willow County revolve around the industry of agriculture. Over 95% of the County is utilized for agricultural production, mainly a combination of livestock and crop production. As can be seen, agriculture is vital to the economy of the County and will continue to be throughout the planning period. Over 95% of the County being utilized for agricultural purposes reveals that a total of approximately 436,360 acres of the County are involved in agriculture. The remaining 5%, or approximately 21,880 acres, are divided between non-agricultural uses, urban areas, local roads, waterways, and highways and public / recreational facilities within the County.
Development within the rural areas of Red Willow County has mainly been agricultural in character, including development of farmsteads. The only exception within the County is the limited expansion of urban development that has occurred in close proximity to the urban areas, mainly surrounding the City of McCook. Although not as extensive as urban sprawl in larger communities, such as in the cities of Lincoln and Omaha, development has occurred in areas in and around the communities within the County. This trend is very common across the State of Nebraska and will continue to be a land use demand throughout the planning period.
The major transportation routes within the County are significantly important in both existing land use and future land use development within the County. Aside from the fact that these major highways provide intra-county access to the urban areas, as well as, provide further access to major transportation routes and urban areas outside of the County, they provide ideal locations for commercial business and industry within the County. Existing commercial and industrial development has been primarily located in close proximity to the major highways within the County generally in or near an urban area within the County. This trend will continue to occur throughout the planning period and will be significantly influenced by any improvements made to the major transportation routes within the County. The major highways within Red Willow County include U.S. Highways 6, 34 and 83.
It is important to note these characteristics of the County to gain a better understanding of why land use has development the way it has. In understanding these trends it paves the way for proper planning for the future. Such planning should continue upon the land use trends that have been positive in nature and stray away from such trends that may have had a negative impact in the County. In order to more fully understanding land use development within Red Willow County a breakdown of land use development within the rural portions of the County is as follows:
Figure 12 details the existing land uses present within Red Willow County. From Figure 12 it can be seen that rural farmstead development is one of the predominant land uses involving buildings within the County.
Farmsteads and non-farm dwellings within Red Willow County are located throughout the County with higher densities of such development being located in the western portion of the County, particularly in areas surrounding the City of McCook. In most instances the location of farms within the County has occurred on or near to where the soils are the most conducive to crop production.
In 1997 the total number of operational farms within Red Willow County was 438. This number has significantly decreased over the past decades. From a statewide perspective, Red Willow County has approximately .85% of all farms located within the State. Out of all 93 counties within the State of Nebraska, Red Willow County ranks 57th in total number of farms.
The average size of farms, in terms of acres, within Red Willow County totals 996 acres per farm. The average size of farms within the State of Nebraska totals 885 acres per farm, some 110 acres less per farm. This ranks Red Willow County 36th in the State in overall farm size. In Red Willow County farmsteads are developed at an average of .61 farmsteads per square mile.
Rural commercial development within Red Willow County is quite minimal. As indicated on Figure 12, commercial development is primarily located surrounding the urban areas of the County, specifically surrounding McCook. Commercial development within the strongly rural areas of the County is minimal.
This indicates that the majority of commercial businesses and services are located within the urban areas within the County. This trend is very common throughout Nebraska and primarily occurs in these areas due to the higher volumes of local consumer traffic in the urban areas and due to the close location of additional goods and services offered by other local businesses.
It is important to note that this trend may slightly shift with the proposal of any improvements to the major highways located within the County. Commercial development, specifically those businesses oriented towards the highway traveler, may spawn in areas along these major thoroughfares. Acknowledging the impacts and potentials for development along the major transportation routes will be covered in the Future Land Use component of this Comprehensive Development Plan.
Industrial development, aside from that that is agricultural in character, is significantly minimal in the rural portions of Red Willow County. In fact, Figure 12 indicates that there are no industrial facilities located in the County. Again, this indicates that non-agricultural industrial development is located in and around the urban areas of the County. The majority of industry in the County is centered in and around McCook with other smaller scale industrial operations, including grain storage and related crop production supply uses, being located in the remaining urban areas of the County.
Rural Public / Quasi-Public / Recreational Development
A variety of public / quasi-public / recreational uses ranging from State recreational land to local churches, cemeteries, rural schools and historical markers occur in the rural areas of the County. An examination of the location of these public, quasi-public and related uses reveals that, for the most part, these uses are situated near the major highways in the County and in somewhat of a close proximity to an urban area within the County (see Figure **). In many instances throughout the County these uses were developed during the settlement of the County and have since become significantly aged and, in some cases, obsolete.
Recreational development within the rural areas of the County are detailed in the County Profile component of this Comprehensive Development Plan.
Agricultural Livestock Production
Livestock production operations are located across portions of Red Willow County. These operations range from independently owned livestock feedlots, not indicated on Figure 12, to larger scale confined livestock feeding operations, indicated as commercial agriculture on Figure 12. When examining the existing land uses surrounding these commercial agricultural facilities, it can be seen that these uses are located in areas where many rural farmsteads exist. This is fortunate because farmers are typically used to agricultural production activities and the odors, dust and noises produced, at the same time, this is unfortunate because these types of large scale livestock production uses typically produce large quantities of odor, dust, flies, as well as, create potential environmental hazards for adjoining land uses resulting in land use conflicts, particularly between such uses and neighboring farm dwellings, that are difficult to resolve.
The development of these livestock operations in areas in and around the many farmsteads in the County has occurred for the same reasons that the original farmsteads were constructed, that is the availability of adequate water supplies, higher crop production potentials and the desire on the part of these producers to have their livestock located near their farming or ranching operations.
The existing rural development density pattern within the County is subject to expected change during the planning period, primarily due to continuing pressure for rural non-agricultural development. The objective of this Comprehensive Development Plan and the associated zoning regulations should thus be to prevent land use conflicts and provide liability protection for those uses which now exist by avoiding the placement of new land uses, including larger livestock operations, in areas where land use conflicts would result and where avoidance of conflicts cannot be achieved, by establishing standard to minimize such conflicts.
The existing land use pattern in the rural portions of the County will have implications with regard to development of future land use development, including confined livestock feeding operations, as is noted in the Environment, Natural and Man-Made Resources component of this Comprehensive Development Plan. If Red Willow County is to encourage development within the rural areas of the County, it will be imperative to formulate a Future Land Use Plan and zoning standards which can overcome or at minimize the land use conflicts which can result, as well as, minimize or eliminate the potential of environmental degradation from the construction of new land uses.
The existing land use pattern in the rural portions of the County has and should continue to be influenced by the location of soil types which are the most productive with regard to agricultural production. In 1997, over 95% of all land located within Red Willow County was utilized for agricultural purposes, thus showing how significantly important retention of quality agricultural ground is to the County’s economy. If quality agricultural lands are to be preserved in order to maintain and maximize overall crop and livestock production in the County, a critical component of the local agricultural based economy, the issue of how to avoid the use of the quality agricultural land for other uses will need to be effectively addressed in the Future Land Use Plan and the corresponding zoning regulations.
The overall existing land use pattern in Red Willow County is one of moderate density which is, for the most part, consistent with the environmental capacities of the land. A primary objective of the Future Land Use Plan and zoning regulations should thus be to assure that new land uses, which may be developed, be located and constructed in a manner which is compatible, not only with adjoining land uses, but with the environmental capacity of the soils and geologic characteristics of the land on which such additional