The issue of whether to allow commercial-scale wind turbines in the 3-mile zoning radius surrounding Hays again was discussed at Monday’s Hays Area Planning Commission meeting. Commissioners again discussed the merits of permitting taller wind turbines – up to 500 feet tall – within close proximity to town.
A public hearing has been set for Sept. 20 for further discussion.
Under current policy, wind turbines taller than 125 feet are banned from the 3-mile area. That policy was adopted in March 2009, but a request from Fort Hays State University to construct a small project on state property caused commissioners to reconsider.
When it comes to making the change, however, some commissioners said they’re just not sure.
“Philosophically, I’m still kind of torn,” said acting chairman Jim Fouts. “I don’t really like the idea of towers over 125 feet inside the 3-mile zone, specifically because you can never say never. However, I do understand there are potentially some instances where the 125 feet may be … a little more restricting than necessary.”
The commission will consider adding language to allow for turbines up to 500 feet tall to be allowed with the issuance of a special-use permit.
Three members of the planning commission, Chairman Larry Gould, Paul Phillips and Lou Caplan, were asked by City Attorney John Bird to refrain from discussion to prevent a possible conflict of interest. All three are employed at FHSU.
With two commissioners absent, four of the nine members voted to set the public hearing. Bird said this was a sufficient quorum, as three members were abstaining. The public hearing was set in a 3-1 vote, with commissioner Pam Rein dissenting.
“I’m representing the 3-mile zone, and so I’m representing people in that 3-mile zone,” Rein said. “I still have a hard time with 500-foot towers.”
The commission is considering policy revisions submitted by Jesse Rohr, the city’s planning, inspection and enforcement superintendent. The draft would allow towers up to 500 feet tall, and provides more stringent regulations for setback distance, safety requirements, siting and installation, and decommissioning.
Other commissioners spoke in favor of a policy that would allow proposed projects to be considered based on their individual merits.
“This is something closer to what I was thinking originally,” Commissioner Robert Wertenberger said. “We had talked about a special-use permit, giving some latitude … There are some cases that are going to be OK, and there are some that are not.”
Gould said he had some comments to make regarding overall wind energy policy and presented some thoughts following the formal discussion about FHSU’s request. Gould also spoke in favor of a more lenient policy.
“We’ve got to provide as much flexibility and as much opportunity as we possibly can,” he said. “That’s all I’m saying. The state of Kansas has great opportunities in the area of solar and wind energy.”
Bird advised the commission against acting on behalf of any specific project. Rather, he said, the board’s recommendation should be made objectively, taking the entire community into consideration.
“To follow the state statute, you have to do it in the same fashion that you did when we adopted the regulations originally,” Bird said. ” … I have to look at this from the point of view of defending the city, because, on one hand, you have an applicant who wants to do this. On the other hand, as has been shown in this county over the last several years, you have people who are opposed to that.”
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