There is a variety of legal support for those wishing to pursue the creation of greenbelts.
The Iowa Code contains a number of provisions relating to land conservation and preserving natural resources. For example:
• Many of the communities in the U.S. that have established greenbelts have done so to help preserve soil and waters recourses. For example, the Iowa Agricultural and Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act states that “[i]t is hereby declared to be the policy of the legislature to integrate the conservation of soil and water resources into the production of agriculture commodities to insure the long term protection of the soil and water resources of the state of Iowa.”
• Eminent domain gives state and local governments in Iowa the right to take property “for public use.”
• County zoning objectives are to be made in accordance with a plan designed to preserve the availability of agricultural land and “to encourage efficient urban development patterns” and “promote the conservation of energy recourses.”
• In describing the state’s open space lands, statewide open space acquisition and protection program the law declares that “Iowa’s most significant open space lands are essential to the well-being and quality of life for Iowans and to the economic viability of the state’s recreation and tourism industry.”
Johnson County Land Use Plan
The Johnson County Land Use Plan lists 12 goals for land use in Johnson County. Many of these goals are consistent with creating a greenbelt in Johnson County — preserving agricultural land, protecting soil from wind and water erosion, encouraging efficient urban development patterns, and facilitating “parks and other public requirements.” Other recommendations within the plan include:
• reserving open space in places well-suited to serve the public interest
• encouraging development of a trail system connecting parks and open spaces
• providing visual corridors of open space along major transportation corridors
• promoting “the use of conservation easements to secure land set aside for agriculture, open space or environmentally sensitive areas”
• protecting agriculture from non-agricultural development
• defining public hunting areas
U.S. Department of Agriculture
• Agricultural District Programs enable landowners to create agricultural preserve areas, which are legally recognized as pieces of land where agricultural uses are protected
• Iowa’s Right to Farm laws protect land used for agriculture
• Differential Tax Assessment programs assess agricultural land based on its use, which reduces property taxes as long as the land is used for agricultural purposes.
Court decisions sometimes support greenbelt zoning:
• Efforts to create a 200-foot-wide greenbelt around a city survived a 14th Amendment Due Process challenge based on the city’s reasonable use of its police power to regulate expansion and preserve open spaces. Construction Industry Ass’n of Sonoma County v. Petaluma, 522 F2d 897 (9th Cir. 1975).
• A court struck down a city’s efforts to rezone land that had been designated by the city as a possible greenbelt, stating that the city must follow the state’s requirements for selling greenbelt land. Kauffman v. North Haledon, 229 NJ Super 349, 551 A.2d 564 (N.J. 1988).
• Sometimes tension over the designation of a greenbelt designation centers on the landowners within a greenbelt. One court upheld a greenbelt ordinance requiring 50-70 % of land in a greenbelt be returned to its natural state, rejecting landowners’ arguments that it was a violation of their Fifth Amendment due process rights because it denied their ability to make the most profitable use of their land. Presbytery of Seattle v. King Count, 787 P.2d 907 (1990).