DYERSVILLE, Iowa — The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld a controversial zoning change at Dyersville’s Field of Dreams movie site.
All seven justices concurred that Dyersville City Council members did not err in a 2012 decision to rezone the iconic movie site for commercial use.
“The City Council acted in its proper legislative function when it rezoned the Field of Dreams property,” the opinion states. “Both ordinances were validly passed, and no procedural or substantive errors affected the decisions of the City Council in its rezoning decisions.”
The decision likely puts to rest a long-simmering legal feud between Dyersville officials and property owners near the site of the 1989 Kevin Costner film. It’s also a positive sign for development of All-Star Ballpark Heaven, a massive youth sports complex planned at the location.
“We’re just very excited that that’s over now from within the Iowa court system, so we’re very, very happy with that,” said Denise Stillman, Field of Dreams owner and president and CEO of Go the Distance Baseball. “It has always been a difficult part of our (fundraising), so we’re very happy that this is, hopefully, now going to be behind us.”
FIELD OF DREAMS PLANS
In 2011, Stillman’s group unveiled plans to acquire the movie site and transform it into a 24-field youth baseball tournament complex. City Council members later agreed to rezone the 193-acre agricultural property for commercial use, a necessary precursor to the development.
However, a group of neighboring property owners, calling themselves the Residential and Agricultural Advisory Committee, were vocal critics of the move. Among concerns raised were noise and light pollution and increased traffic in a predominantly rural area.
Committee members filed for a review of the City Council decision in Iowa District Court.
“(RAAC) argued the City Council acted in violation of both Iowa law and Dyersville city ordinances; in excess of its authority; arbitrarily and capriciously; and against public safety, health, morals and the general welfare,” court documents said.
In May 2015, Iowa District Court Judge Thomas Bitter ruled the city acted properly and legally during the rezoning process. He also determined that committee members should cover court costs, which didn’t include attorney fees.
RAAC attorney Susan Hess filed an appeal in August 2015. Oral arguments before the Iowa Supreme Court took place in September.
The justices determined city officials followed appropriate procedures in making the zoning switch. The opinion concedes the neighbors’ argument of illegal “spot-zoning” appears valid, but not when considering the “reasonable basis” for that rezone.
“Part of the location’s charm is simply that it is a baseball field surrounded by farmland,” the opinion states. “The council made the decision to rezone and allow for more baseball fields to capitalize on this unique site and increase tourism for the City of Dyersville.”
Doug Henry, one of the attorneys representing the City of Dyersville, said he wasn’t surprised by Friday’s ruling.
“We think it was the right decision,” he said.
Hess issued an email statement expressing disappointment with the decision while noting that her clients are proud of their efforts.
“They are hopeful that the Field of Dreams will remain a good neighbor and, if that is not the case, they will continue to utilize whatever legal recourse that is available to them,” Hess wrote.
Mayor Dan Willenborg, who sat on the City Council when the zoning change was made, said the decision hopefully will help reunite the community.
“I’m just looking forward to get the community to move forward and have everything back to normal, whatever normal is,” he said.
Though the All-Star Ballpark Heaven project attracted some investors — notably Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs and actor Matthew Perry — many potential supporters have been wary of the court case, Stillman said.
“It’s been always part of that conversation,” she said. “For those who are not accustomed to the legal challenges that typically follow real-estate development, it’s been a deal-breaker for them.”
Stillman said she hopes to have the first tournaments at All-Star Ballpark Heaven in 2018. The site likely will open six fields at the start, with 24 staying the ultimate goal, she said.
Henry and Dyersville City Administrator Mick Michel said the city’s legal fees largely will be covered by insurance. Michel said the taxpayers will only be responsible for $2,500 of the total cost.
Michel said he could not provide the total cost of legal fees.