This aerial view and graphics show land near the Renner Corner that was requested to be rezoned as commercial. The Minnehaha County Commission voted unanimously to deny the request. (Photo/Submitted)

Dave Baumeister | County Correspondent

SIOUX FALLS – “Social distancing” was in full practice at this week’s regular Minnehaha County Commission meeting.

Since last Friday afternoon, the county administration building has been closed to the general public, but commissioners felt the need to keep regular meetings going because they deal with so many issues, such as, taxes, permits and zoning, on which people in Minnehaha County depend.

But that doesn’t mean it was business as usual.

Changes were obvious during at the meeting with Commission Reporter Olivia Larson and Maggie Gillespie with the State’s Attorney, two integral people at commission meetings, not at their usual seats up front, but seated elsewhere in the room.

Commissioner Jeff Barth, while not at the meeting, volunteered to call in from home and was present via a conference call link.

Commission chair Jean Bender explained that this was to test a system that may, at some point, become necessary, should members of the county board need to call in from a quarantine situation.

And while there is usually around 60 chairs in the room, this was cut way back, and for the most part, people came in as their particular agenda item came up for discussion.

All of this allowed for the recommended social distancing of six feet or more between people attending. 

Of course, the main items at the meeting dealt with how the county was dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

Jason Gearman, Emergency Management Director, spoke of information from the South Dakota Department of Health and how the county and city emergency teams were handling things.

At the end of the day on Tuesday, March 24, the state reported 30 confirmed cases in the state, with 790 others testing negative.

Also, there were 268 tests listed as “pending.”

In most counties with positive cases, it is believed the virus was brought in from elsewhere, but in Beadle County (Huron) with 13 confirmed cases, officials are looking at a community spread.

Gearman said he expects those numbers to grow quite a bit as more tests become available and more people are tested.

Minnehaha Auditor Bob Litz talked about how his office was dealing with upcoming elections.

Statewide, the combined city and school board elections are still planned for April 14, and he explained that the state legislature would need to act to change that.

He estimated that there would be 70 such elections around the state, and he is hoping the legislature will act on delaying this to the Tuesday, June 2 primary election date.

The legislature will be meeting again for “veto day,” next Monday, March 30.

Litz believed that a single ballot could be easily printed up that would list all candidates for election.

He also said that if the legislature did not act by April 2, he would have to spend $40,000 of taxpayer dollars to have ballots printed for the April 14 election.

In a non-virus-related matter, a second reading and public hearing was held for a re-zoning matter near Renner.

A request was made by James Sorum of Sorum Holdings to have land he owns re-zoned from A-1 agricultural to C-1 commercial.

At their February meeting, the county Planning and Zoning Board voted to deny the application for rezoning, mainly because FEMA is in the process of re-mapping the area and putting the land in question into a flood plain. 

Sorum said his current plans did not involve using all the land for commercial, but he was seeking the change for all the land he owned near the Renner Corner at State Highway 115 and County Highway 130.

Commissioners talked about delaying the process so Sorum could re-do his application, as they did not want to open an entire area in a flood plain for commercial use, but they realized he would need to make a new application for a different zoning change that might be more acceptable.

As it was, commissioners voted 5-0 to uphold the denial.

The Minnehaha Commission has its regular meetings each Tuesday at 9 a.m. on the second floor of the county administration building at 6th and Minnesota in Sioux Falls.

These meetings are open to all, and public comment is usually encouraged, although for people wanting to attend, currently, the only way into the building is at the entrance on the west side of the building, and the number of people allowed into the main commission chamber at any one time may be limited.