Iowa High Court Greenlights ‘Field of Dreams’ Project

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Plans to build a sports complex and tourist attraction at the farm where “Field of Dreams” was filmed can go forward, thanks to a favorable decision from the Iowa Supreme Court.

The state’s high court on Friday quashed a multi-pronged challenge from nearby property owners who opposed the development, finding the Dyersville city council had carefully and objectively considered and accommodated their concerns.

“The rezoning decision here clearly meets the rational-basis test,” Judge Bruce B. Zager wrote in a 44-page opinion. “The council made the decision to rezone the Field of Dreams site in consideration of the best interests of Dyersville.”

The farm’s current owners, Denise and Mike Stillman, bought the farm and baseball field from Rebecca and Donald Lansing, who had maintained it as a tourist attraction since the 1989 release of the classic baseball film.

The Stillmans’ purchase was contingent on a number of factors, including a rezoning of the property from agricultural to commercial, so that they could develop All-Star Ballpark Heaven, according to court records.

The ballpark will boast 24 fields for youth baseball and softball, lodging for visiting teams and coaches and tours of the farmhouse and original baseball diamond, at a time when tourism in Dyersville has been declining, the ruling states.

But nearby property owners were skeptical, claiming the development and subsequent traffic would affect their ability to farm and hunt on their own land and would change the rural character of the area where they intended to raise their families.

In response, the city created a 200-foot buffer zone of agricultural zoning surrounding the land to be rezoned to commercial, claiming it would protect nearby property owners.

The owners, however, countered that it made it more difficult to gather the required opposition to quash the plan because none of the commercial zoning would be directly adjacent to their land.

After the council approved the rezoning 4-1 on May 6, 2013, the Iowa Court of Appeals sided with the nearby landowners, concluding the district court that had approved it prematurely decided the case on its merits.

Last year, all the issues were again before the district court, which once again found that the city council had acted within its power in approving the zoning change. The Iowa Supreme Court retained jurisdiction over the subsequent appeal.

The nearby landowners attacked the zoning plan on a variety of fronts, including claiming that the council had failed to remain impartial despite acting in a “quasi-judicial” capacity.

But Judge Zager disagreed, finding Friday that the council was acting in the best interests of Dyersville and not deciding a dispute between private parties.

Further, given the several public hearings and professional studies of the development’s proposed impacts, the council’s decision cannot be considered “arbitrary or capricious,” he said.

And although an island of commercial land in a sea of agriculture at first appears to be illegal “spot zoning,” the plan makes sense in this case, Zager found.

“The Field of Dreams site is a unique parcel of land unlike any other land in that area,” he wrote. “The council considered the distinctiveness of the land and whether the proposed rezoning would be the best use of the site for the benefit of the community, including its impact on tourism.”

Jenny Weiss, attorney for the mayor and city council, said she does not expect additional challenges from opponents of the ballpark.

Susan Hess of Dubuque-based Hammer Law Firm, who represented the opponents of the project, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

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