Johnson County passes Windham Village plan, despite resident protests

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted to create Windham Village after a meeting that saw several Windham residents speak out against the plan.


Madyson Gomez

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors listen to speakers during a Board of Superviors meeting in the Johnson County Administration Building in Iowa City.

Alejandro Rojas, News Reporter

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to officially create Windham Village during its formal meeting Wednesday evening. The vote comes three months after Windham residents protested the county’s plans to create it.

Windham is a small unincorporated area located 14 miles away from Iowa City. The purpose of making it a village is to allow for growth within it, with the type of growth being dependent on what the residents want to do.

The supervisors previously voted to defer taking any action on Windham for 90 days at its Dec. 8, 2022, formal meeting. The vote was three to one, with supervisors Rod Sullivan, Jon Green, and Pat Heiden voting to defer, and Lisa Green-Douglass was the lone dissenter.

The vote to defer came after Windham residents gave their concerns on how the village could impact farmland and not having enough input in the process. Residents also said they created a committee of residents, and offered to work with county staff during the 90 days to work through their concerns.

During the evening’s meeting, residents again attended and provided their concerns about the plan. Windham resident Judd Lawler was an unofficial representative for the group and was allowed additional time to make a statement.

Lawler reiterated that the residents wanted to be left alone and were concerned with the county’s plan to develop the area by making it a village.

“Our community’s kind of been confused the whole time about what the point of pushing development out there even is,” Lawler said.  “That’s why they repeatedly asked why at the various meetings, why this was happening.”

He later said the residents were still opposed to the plan because they believed it was unnecessary. However, they were willing to compromise with the county. The compromise would include amendments to the plan, such as allowing for limited development in the village, and voting on a map the residents felt better matched where Windham was.

RELATED: Johnson County residents speak against proposed Windham Village plans

Under the proposal passed by the supervisors, development is allowed but requires approval, and the map proposed by the residents was smaller than what the county approved.

Other residents also spoke during the meeting, including Melinda Whelan, who told the supervisors their vote would affect the residents’ lives and homes.

“It’s a very, very heavy load on your shoulders, and they’re not asking for very much. They’re asking for a reconsideration, and they’re willing to compromise. You really can’t ask for more than that,” she said.

Another speaker was Pat Mougin, a resident who also spoke at the meeting in December 2022.

“We know there are evolving needs and that’s our purpose, we just fail to see why we are targeted to have some involvement there,” Mougin said. “…we know maybe at some point we need to evolve more, but I think we’ve got a few years that can wait.”

Also in attendance was State Sen. Dawn Driscoll, R-Iowa, who also spoke at the December 2022 meeting. Driscoll said it is important that the rural voices in Johnson County are heard and represented in the fight to keep Windham preserved.

“I hope that you take this moment tonight very seriously, and really consider how this will affect Windham, and these area residents, and the [agricultural] ground, and preserving the historic pride and everything that this community stands for,” Driscoll said.

Later during the meeting, Johnson County Planning, Development, and Sustainability Director Josh Busard said the plan gave residents an opportunity to weigh in on, and also stressed that residents who did not want to develop their land did not have to.

“Part of this whole Windham village plan is an opportunity to ensure that if someone does want to develop their land, then they’re going to do that in accordance with an adopted village plan,” Busard said.

Following brief discussions about the different possible maps, Vice chair Sullivan made a motion to move the plan for a vote, with Chair Green-Douglass seconding the motion.

Supervisor Green said despite the residents requests, not all of their amendments to the proposal would be possible for the county to approve. He also said he would vote in favor of the village plan, saying it was the best decision to make.

“I regret that we’ve been unable to come to a compromise, and it seems like it’s going to be less acceptable for you folks,” Green said. “But looking at … the code of Iowa, and looking at the ends you’re trying to achieve here, I think this is the best decision that I can make.”

Supervisor Royceann Porter, who was absent during the December 2022 meeting, said the decision was a hard one. 

“I don’t want you to think that we’re doing something purposely to hurt you because we’re not, and this is a hard decision,” Porter said.

Following comments from the supervisors, the board voted four to zero to approve the village plan. Supervisor V Fixmer-Oraiz was absent from the meeting.

Speaking after the vote, Mougin told The Daily Iowan that the residents would have to accept the result and live with it.

“We had proposed our own two final plans for the village. One was not doing anything, and then one was just a step more, but a step less than what they agreed on,” Mougin said. “We wanted to start out small, with them telling us that we can amend things later, or we were told we can. So we were thinking ‘We’ll start at a smaller scale, and if things go well, then we could proceed bigger.’ But the way it is now we’re going to start out bigger. Can’t go backwards.”

Lawler also spoke with the DI and said he was let down by the lack of compromise by the county.

“I’m disappointed with what I see as victim blaming by the Board of Supervisors. I’m disappointed that throughout this process, they’ve scolded citizens repeatedly. But in terms of the decision, it’s exactly what we expected,” he said.