There wasn’t much official business to discuss at Wednesday evening’s Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, but that didn’t prevent escalating tensions and heated arguments from taking over the meeting room.
Commissioners had received one document proposing changes to the current zoning regulations, as part of a months-long endeavor to revamp existing rules.
The proposal, suggested by the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition, was tabled until next week so board members could review the document and prepare their discussion.
“I would just like to have time … we need time to go over it and read it,” said commissioner Barbara Anderson.
Since the regulations pertained to wind energy, county counselor Bill Jeter could not be present, due to a conflict of interest he cited during the wind farm deliberation last spring.
Dennis Davidson of Russell, who has been appointed to serve as county counselor for applications regarding the wind farm, also was not present, and some commissioners expressed they would rather wait for counsel.
For future consideration, Chairman Gene Bittel suggested commissioners compare the proposal with current zoning regulations, as well as adopted zoning rules for other counties with wind development.
From there, the meeting digressed to what would could be described as a half-hour shouting match. Fingers were pointed and personal accusations were made – by zoning commissioners and audience members alike.
Chairman Gene Bittel requested a representative of the ECEAC to give a presentation of the proposed changes; ECEAC co-chairman John Schmeidler, Catherine, said that never was stated as a requirement.
Schmeidler said, however, a presentation will be prepared for the Feb. 27 meeting, and asked if vice chairman Lance Russell is going to recuse himself from voting on the regulations pertaining to wind turbines as he has done in the past.
While Russell would not have generators on his property, he owns lands adjacent to the proposed project site and has relatives who would have turbines placed on their property.
As chairman of the board during the wind farm permit considerations, he chose to step aside to prevent the appearance of conflicting interest, he told The Hays Daily News last spring.
“Why?” Bittel asked.
“He has a conflict of interest,” Schmeidler replied.
“I don’t own any land in the project,” Russell said.
“He’s already established that in the past; he can hardly argue that he doesn’t have one now,” Schmeidler said.
“Since we’re talking about zoning regulations, I’d like to ask you about some signage,” Bittel said. “You say you represent the coalition? And the coalition’s name’s out on some signage that you don’t have permits for. Would you like to remove those?”
“I don’t know what you’re referring to at the moment,” Schmeidler said. “I don’t believe that’s proper for this committee. There was no agenda item here. And if we can get notice as to if our signs are improper, because it is my opinion they are not.”
“So in other words you just want to pick and choose what zoning regulations you want to abide by?” Bittel asked. “There’s never been a permit established for those signs, I’d like to make a motion that we ask that (zoning administrator) Dale (Wing) pursue enforcing the non-permit.”
“I don’t think we ought to sit here and argue with the audience,” Anderson interjected. “We’ve asked these people to come and give their opinions, and every time someone stands up and gives an opinion, somebody jumps down their throat and I think it’s sick.”
Before the meeting ended, commissioner Dick Klaus made a motion that Wing check whether the anti-wind farm signs throughout the county are in zoning violation, since the signs were installed after zoning was established.
The motion carried 3-2, though there was some protest to the decision. Several in the audience said it was discriminatory for the commission to check only the signs posted by the coalition.
Wing said the department was aware of the signs but had decided not to make it an issue because there was so much animosity toward the project at the time they were posted.
“I’ve been made aware that there’s not just the signage, but some buildings have gone up in the county without permits. People should let us know, or let Dale know,” Bittel said. “We have these regulations to be abiding by, and that’s the bottom line.”
“I think it’s pretty obvious this whole thing is getting out of hand. Everybody’s going to run around spying on everybody else, and I don’t think that’s the way it’s supposed to be done,” Anderson said. “I mean, if we can’t handle it in adult fashion like it’s supposed to be, I think we ought to just forget the whole zoning board.”
By Kaley Lyon
23 January 2008
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